Nearly all of the 13 high school basketball players with University of Kentucky scholarship offers from the class of 2017 have been on the Wildcats’ radar — and possessed those offers — for at least the past several months.
The latest UK offer recipient, five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker, didn’t catch John Calipari’s eye until the most recent spring evaluation period.
A little more than a month ago, after watching Walker play for a couple of weekends on the Nike tour, one of UK’s assistant coaches called the player’s father to talk recruiting. Then, Calipari called and asked to speak to the 17-year-old recruit.
That’s when he told Walker that he had a scholarship offer to play for the Wildcats.
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“He said he really loves my game,” Walker told the Herald-Leader. “It was rejuvenating. I had an abundant amount of feelings going through my stomach. Words I can’t really express.”
Walker — a 6-foot-5 prospect from Reading, Pa. — has earned the reputation as one of the best shooters among the top-tier recruits in the class of 2017.
Everyone knows Kentucky. In and out, NBA players. That’s his thing. And he knows how to coach them. ... He makes them better players.
Lonnie Walker, five-star shooting guard
He averaged 16.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists playing alongside fellow UK target Cameron Reddish during the Nike EYBL regular season. Of particular importance to Calipari, he shot 40 percent from three-point range.
“I can play both ends of the court, and I can also play multiple positions. He really appreciates the way I play, how I run the floor, how I shoot,” Walker said. “He really loves my jump shot, feels that I have a really good flow with it. He told me that a few times.”
Walker has spent the past few days at Team USA U18 training camp in Colorado, trying out for one of 12 spots on the national squad that will compete for a FIBA gold medal in Chile next month. He made it past the first cut Thursday after showing off his two-way game during the initial scrimmages.
Scout.com ranks Walker as the No. 23 overall prospect in the class of 2017.
“He has good size and length for the position, and he’s a really good athlete,” said Scout.com’s Evan Daniels. “He’s one of the better perimeter scorers in the country, and he’s really ramped up his play in EYBL. And that’s what soon-to-be seniors are supposed to do. He’s shooting it at a pretty high clip, but he’s more than just that.
“When you have a guy that’s 6-5 and long, with that type of athleticism, that can make shots, it opens things up.”
Kentucky will be looking to add several backcourt players to its 2017 recruiting class. Three guards on next season’s team — Isaiah Briscoe, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk — are already projected to be picked in the 2017 NBA Draft. The other two scholarship guards — Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder — will be seniors and out of eligibility by the end of the season.
UK has offered four shooting guards in the class of 2017 so far. Of those players, Walker has been shooting the best from three-point range this spring.
He listed Virginia, Syracuse, Miami, Indiana, Alabama and Florida State as some of the other schools recruiting him hard, and some analysts see local program Villanova as a prominent player in his recruitment.
Now that Calipari is involved, it will be hard to ignore the Cats.
“Everyone knows Kentucky,” Walker said. “In and out, NBA players. That’s his thing. And he knows how to coach them. He coaches the top talent. Not only does he coach them, but he makes them better players. Works on their weaknesses and their overall game, and that’s what makes them a lot better when they go into the league.”
Walker said he doesn’t have any plans to visit UK — or any other school — any time soon. He intends to sit down with his father after next month’s Nike Peach Jam finals, cut his list of schools and plan some recruiting trips.
He wants to take all five official visits in the fall and make a final decision before the start of his senior season.
“If you’ve already found the right school, why waste other schools’ time, you know,” he said. “So if I really love a school, and I feel as though that’s my perfect fit and I should go there, then I’m going to go there.
“And once my senior year starts, I don’t really have to worry about all the colleges calling me and all that extra pressure while I’m playing.”