It’s still six months away, but UK’s annual Big Blue Madness event is already in the plans for a handful of the best high school basketball recruits in the country.
Madness regularly draws some of Coach John Calipari’s top recruiting targets, and four highly touted players from next season’s senior class said over the weekend that they will attend this year’s season-opening showcase.
Five-star prospects Wendell Carter, John Petty, Gary Trent Jr., and P.J. Washington all confirmed that they’re planning to be at Big Blue Madness, which is typically in mid-October.
ESPN ranks all of those players among the top 20 overall recruits in the class of 2017, with Carter coming in as the No. 2 prospect in the country.
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“Seeing what the atmosphere is like during big games, how the fans treat their players and them coming out and filling up in the gym,” said Carter of the reasons he wants to be at Madness.
The 6-foot-10 post player from Atlanta added that he also plans to return to UK during the regular season to see an actual game. Petty and Trent attended last year’s Madness, and Washington has already been to UK for an unofficial visit, too.
They likely won’t be the only five-star recruits in Lexington that night.
While none of the other UK targets at this past weekend’s Nike event in Indianapolis confirmed their visit plans, many of those players are expected to make trips to UK at some point over the next few months, and the over-the-top aspects of Madness weekend have made it one of the nation’s top destinations for recruits.
It won’t be a surprise if players such as Mohamed Bamba, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, Michael Porter Jr. and Trae Young — all major UK targets — choose that date for their official visits.
If the recent scholarship offer from Kentucky pushed the Wildcats to the top of Hamidou Diallo’s recruiting list, he isn’t letting on.
Diallo — widely regarded as the No. 1 shooting guard in the class of 2017 — earned his long-awaited offer from UK last week during an in-home visit with John Calipari, one day after picking up an offer from Duke.
Many recruiting analysts regard the Cats as the frontrunners for Diallo, a 6-5 prospect from Queens, N.Y. He said there’s no favorite at the moment, and he doesn’t sound like he’s in any hurry to make a college decision.
“I don’t have a timetable right now,” he said. “I’m still just going to play it out throughout the whole summer, and then after the summer I’ll take some time off and sit with my family and then start setting up some unofficial visits.”
Calipari has watched Diallo play several times over the past two weekends.
“His pitch was just like how he sends guys to the NBA and if that’s something I want to do, him saying that it that would be the best place to go,” Diallo said. “But at the end of the day it’s just my decision, and I gotta see how I feel about everywhere.”
UConn, Kansas, Syracuse, Indiana and St. John’s are among the other schools that have extended scholarship offers.
One class of 2017 recruit that UK’s coaches have watched quite a bit over the past few weeks is Brian Bowen, who is still looking for an offer from the Wildcats.
“I mean, I would love it, but I’m not really sure where their minds are right now and who they’re really recruiting,” he said. “We’ll see what happens in the future.”
John Calipari watched Bowen at La Lumiere School (Ind.) earlier this month and UK’s entire coaching staff has now seen him play at various times. The 6-7 wing, originally from Saginaw, Mich., has also visited UK twice.
“It’s a great campus,” Bowen said. “The fans are really into it. Coach Calipari and his staff — it’s a great staff, one of the best staffs in the country. And you know, they put guys in the pros, as well. The atmosphere there was really great, and I really loved it.”
Bowen averaged 20.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per game for La Lumiere this past season, leading them to the finals of the nationally televised Dick’s Sporting Goods tournament.
He’s playing this summer on the Nike circuit for Chicago-based MeanStreets, the former AAU club of Anthony Davis, Tyler Ulis and Charles Matthews.
Bowen said he plans to trim his list of schools sometime soon, possibly later this month. He said programs that have not yet offered him a scholarship wouldn’t necessarily be cut for that reason.
Michigan State has been recruiting him since his freshman year, and former Spartans star Jason Richardson is Bowen’s cousin.
“People say I’m a lock because my cousin went there, but it’s not true at all,” Bowen said. “I love Michigan State. It’s a great school, but I’m open to any school in the country.”
Some stats through seven games of Nike EYBL play:
▪ Gary Trent Jr.’s Howard Pulley (Minn.) squad is the only team with a perfect 7-0 record after the first two sessions. Trent is second in the league with 22.7 points per game.
▪ Of the nine players on the circuit averaging double-doubles, six have UK offers: DeAndre Ayton (19.7 points and 12.3 rebounds), Mohamed Bamba (12.7 points and 13.9 rebounds), Wendell Carter (18.8 points and 13.5 rebounds), Michael Porter Jr. (19.3 points and 10.3 rebounds), Jarred Vanderbilt (13.7 points and 10.7 rebounds) and P.J. Washington (20.1 points and 11.4 rebounds).
▪ Bamba leads the league in rebounds and is second with 3.1 blocks per game.
▪ UK point guard target Trae Young is second in the league with 6.3 assists per game. He’s averaging 18.0 points per game and is 17-for-51 on threes (33.3 percent).
▪ Kevin Knox (21.3 points) and Hamidou Diallo (20.3 points) are both top five in scoring. Diallo is 5-for-22 on threes (22.7 percent).
▪ Calipari is still looking for point guards, and Philadelphia’s Quade Green is leading the EYBL with a whopping 11.0 assists per game, to go along with 12.9 points per game. The 6-footer is teammates with Bamba and ranked by 247Sports as the No. 31 overall player in the class of 2017.