The departure of Devin Booker, Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison could ultimately help Kentucky in its pursuit of five-star combo guard Malik Newman, who remains open in his recruitment.
Newman has narrowed his list of schools to UK, Kansas, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and N.C. State. He has been on recruiting trips to most of those campuses, but he has not yet taken any of his official visits.
Callaway (Miss.) head coach David Sanders talked to the Herald-Leader on Thursday — after seven UK players declared for the NBA Draft — and discussed the recruitment of his star player. Here’s part of that conversation:
Were you surprised that UK lost seven players to the NBA?
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“I figured all of those guys were going to leave. My philosophy has always been: If you’re a top-20, top-30 pick in the draft, you’re not going to get too much better than that. That’s a great opportunity to have. And all of those guys proved themselves this year. I pretty much expected it. And I think it’s well deserved. I had a chance to watch them when we went over to LSU (to see them play Kentucky). I was really impressed. Great group of kids, and they played well together with all that talent. I think Coach Cal did a great job with it.”
How do you think the guards leaving — Devin Booker and the Harrison twins — might affect what Malik ends up doing?
“Well, I think it definitely helps. Malik is a guy who wants to play. I know one of the main things he talks about on that level, is he’s a competitive guy and he loves to be on the floor competing. With all those guys leaving — not to say that he couldn’t have come in and played with them — but it definitely opens up some spots for him to come in and play major minutes. And when you get through with all that, it’s still the University of Kentucky. What they’ve done there, it’s always going to be an option.”
Malik didn’t talk about recruiting much during the season. Have you noticed a chance since the season ended?
“He talks about it a little bit more now. It’s coming down to the wire. Each year I’ve been around him, he’s talked about it more during (NCAA) Tournament time. He’s a lot more learned this year than he was last year, as far as what’s going on with the different teams. He’s talked about how well Booker has done with Kentucky. I made the statement that, you know, that 10 points a game that Booker averaged — you take that 10 points a game to another school that’s not Kentucky, and it probably doesn’t look as good. But, playing at Kentucky, and them being such a prestigious school, and playing at a high level every night, it definitely enhances your game.
“One of the statements that was made was about Rodney Hood — he played at (Mississippi) State and had a good freshman year. Then he left State and went to Duke, sat out a year. Then played the next year, and the next thing you know he’s a top-20 pick in the draft. So, when you have a chance to play on that level, it’s always something that you have to take very seriously. I know Malik is definitely interested in Kentucky.”
LSU and Mississippi State seem to have a lot of buzz lately, while some people don’t seem to like Kentucky’s chances. You’re saying that he’s definitely still very interested in Kentucky?
“I don’t think anybody is off his list yet. I don’t think he’s made a decision. I’ve heard all kinds of things. I’ve heard people say he’s already committed to LSU and all this crazy stuff. Me and him laugh about it all the time. I don’t know where this LSU stuff came from. Now, LSU is definitely an option. But we went down for that visit, just to watch a game, and the next thing you know (people are saying) he’s committed to LSU. I’ve grown accustomed to not really paying attention to that stuff. Malik is still just wide open with it. He hasn’t made a decision one way or another. I don’t think anybody’s out. He’s kind of just waiting to see. I don’t know what he’s going to do visit-wise, but he could probably end up not taking any visits. Malik knows the schools, he knows what they have to offer. And, like I said, the main thing I think he was looking at was to see who all was leaving and going to the draft. Now that that’s done, I think the process will probably speed up a little bit.”
Do you have any sense for when he might make the decision?
“I don’t know, but I would much rather find out in the newspapers. People are asking so much. I want to stay as far away from it as possible. And I’m the type of coach that — I never influence guys to go here or go there. I played at Ole Miss. Malik has Ole Miss on his list. Would I love to see him in a Rebel uniform? I would. But, if that’s not the best thing for him, I don’t want him to make that decision just because I played there. I let the decision be up to my players and their parents, and I try to stay as far away from that as possible. At the end of the day, I’m his high school coach. And I don’t want him to feel uncomfortable around me, thinking that I’m taking news back to somebody about where they’re going to school.
“If he wants to talk about it, we talk about it. If he doesn’t, we talk about something else. I’ll be up for wherever he goes. I’ll be a fan of them for however long he’s there, whatever school he picks.”