A couple of weeks ago, Tyrese Maxey said he was unconcerned about a possible logjam in the Kentucky backcourt if he were to commit to the Cats and make a move to the class of 2018.
McDonald’s All-American point guards Immanuel Quickley, an incoming freshman, and Quade Green, a rising sophomore, will be playing for UK next season, and No. 1-ranked point guard recruit Ashton Hagans is expected to join them.
Too many players at the position?
“No, sir,” Maxey said then. “Coach Cal always tells me that he’s good with guards — having a lot of guards. He just keeps it in the back of my mind that he’s done this before.
“Coach Calipari has pro guards. Every guard he gets, they have a good chance of getting to the league. So that’s very intriguing when you talk about Kentucky.”
Maxey, the No. 2-ranked point guard in the class of 2019, did indeed commit to UK on Wednesday, but, for now, he won’t be making a move to the 2018 class. Unless something changes this summer, Maxey will play one more season of high school basketball and join the Wildcats’ program a little more than a year from now.
So, what does that mean for next season’s UK team?
The backcourt is still loaded, and John Calipari will have plenty of talented options. He’ll also have plenty of talented players to keep happy.
Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader this week that he fully expects Hagans to reclassify and join the Cats later this summer — he still has some academic work to make that happen — and that would give UK three point guards with five-star recruiting rankings.
Asked how Calipari would make the arrangement work, Evans tossed another name into the mix.
“Let’s throw Tyler Herro in there, too,” he said. “Tyler Herro, to me, is actually a better playmaker than a perimeter shooter, in my mind. So you have three, four ball handlers, playmakers — whatever you want to call them — it’s going to be interesting.”
Herro – a 6-foot-5 shooting guard – was on the cusp of a five-star ranking in the 2018 recruiting class and was selected for the Nike Hoop Summit and Jordan Brand Classic all-star events. He’s known for his perimeter shooting, but he’s also adept at making plays off the dribble.
Calipari will also have shooting guard Jemarl Baker healthy next season after a knee injury sidelined the former Top 100 recruit for his entire freshman campaign.
UK also brings in McDonald’s All-American wing Keldon Johnson, who has honed his ball handling and shooting skills over the past few months and is likely to play primarily on the perimeter next season.
Ever since Calipari used the “platoon” system during the 2014-15 season, which started with a 38-0 record, the UK coach has been critical of the lineup strategy, saying he’d never do it again.
So it was interesting to hear Evans bring up the possibility of its return next season. The analyst also noted that it’s something Maxey has talked about in recent weeks, a takeaway from his own conversations with Calipari.
“The one thing that I think Calipari goes back to is the whole lineup change,” Evans told the Herald-Leader. “I think he does the five in, five out kind of thing. And Tyrese Maxey talked to me about that last week, about selling the idea. And honestly that’s the only way it can all work — to make everyone happy and get the best of both worlds.”
Calipari might have the roster to do it next season.
That backcourt will be stacked, whether or not Maxey ultimately reclassifies, and UK has also signed five-star power forward EJ Montgomery to go along with the returning Nick Richards, who started every game at center this past season.
The Cats are still waiting on final stay-or-go decisions from frontcourt players PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt and Wenyen Gabriel, but if two (or all three) of those guys return, it’d be difficult to cut the rotation to fewer than 10 players.
“It could work,” Evans said of a possible platoon.
And UK still might not be finished adding players for next season’s team.
If two or more of the undecided frontcourt Cats leave, Calipari might look closer at graduate transfers. There’s also the possibility that another five-star guard currently in high school could join the Kentucky backcourt.
UK recent extended a scholarship offer to Jalen Lecque, ranked as one of the top 10 prospects in the 2019 class but originally a member of the 2018 group. Lecque, a super athletic, 6-2 point guard, has openly discussed the possibility of jumping back to the 2018 class and playing college basketball next season, and the recruiting buzz throughout the season was that an offer from a school like UK might lead to such a move.
“I know the Kentucky offer was pretty big for him, as it is for most kids,” Evans said. “Here’s a kid that — a year ago — was a mid-level prospect entering the April period and blew up. A year later, now he’s a blue blood recruit. Was originally a member of the 2018 class, so he has the grades in order to make it happen.”
There’s another twist in his recruitment.
He could move to 2018, stay in 2019, or … jump straight from high school to the NBA. The league’s current age rules would allow Lecque to make that jump if he graduates from high school now and plays one season of post-grad ball.
Anfernee Simons, a former Louisville commitment, did that this past season, and he’s likely to be a first-round NBA pick next month. Kentucky guard Hamidou Diallo considered following a similar path before enrolling in classes at UK midway through his post-graduate year of high school.
“I think that’s one thing that kind of intrigues him,” Evans said of Lecque, who Rivals.com ranks as the No. 9 overall player in the 2019 class.
While UK’s roster continues to sort itself out over the next few weeks, the apparent decision by Maxey to stick in the 2019 class could benefit the Wildcats’ future on the recruiting trail.
Maxey — a funny, outgoing player off the court — appears to be someone that his five-star peers would like to play alongside at the next level. In fact, UK’s top 2019 recruiting target — No. 1-ranked prospect James Wiseman — mentioned Maxey’s name first when asked a couple of weeks ago who he’d like to team up with in college.
Could Calipari deputize Maxey in UK’s remaining 2019 recruiting efforts?
“No doubt about it,” Evans said. “Positionally, some of these guys don’t want to be recruited by the same position or the same spot. Tyrese is so versatile that he can play different spots. He’s one of the few five-star guys that doesn’t really care what he is. He just wants the ball. And his personality — he’s a really good, easy-going kid off the floor. A lot of guys want to play with him. … I think a guy like Tyrese Maxey helps the cause for Kentucky.”