Last week, UK added five-star power forward EJ Montgomery to its 2018 recruiting class.
A day after that, five-star point guard Ashton Hagans committed to the Cats, and he’s widely expected to reclassify to 2018 and play college basketball next season.
Is Tyrese Maxey next?
Maxey — a 6-foot-3 point guard from Garland, Texas — has openly acknowledged that he, too, is considering moving to the 2018 class from his current 2019 class, where he’s ranked as the No. 2 point guard — behind only Hagans — and No. 13 overall prospect nationally.
Since last fall, there has been serious recruiting buzz that UK is the leader in Maxey’s recruitment. The 247Sports Crystal Ball recently went through a major shift to reflect that notion, and — though he hasn’t yet made his own Crystal Ball prediction — 247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels likes the Cats’ chances.
“I think — if he’s going to reclassify to 2018 — I’d probably classify Kentucky as the favorite,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader on Wednesday. “But he’s still going through this process and meeting with other schools and playing it by ear.”
Daniels, who spoke to Maxey after his latest round of in-home visits earlier this week, said he’s not sure which recruiting class the star point guard will ultimately wind up in, but college coaches could know soon.
“He’s still trying to sort that out and figure it out, but I would bet that we have an answer in the very near future,” he said.
John Calipari, who has met with Maxey twice in the past two weeks and at least five times over the past six months, clearly would like to add him to UK’s 2018 class.
The incoming group already includes five-star point guard Immanuel Quickley and four-star shooting guard Tyler Herro, the likely addition of Hagans, and the Cats could return Quade Green and Jemarl Baker, too.
Maxey, who doesn’t turn 18 years old until November, averaged 22.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game — scoring 46 points in a state semifinal loss — as a high school junior this past season. He also shot 37 percent from three-point range during the regular season portion of the Nike circuit last summer.
“Tyrese Maxey’s biggest strength is his ability to score, and — at 6-3 — he is just wired up to get buckets,” Daniels said. “And he can do it at all three levels. He’s tough. He’s competitive. He’s aggressive off the dribble. But I think scoring is where he really excels.
“I think Tyrese is much more of a combo than he is a true point guard. Where Hagans, I think, is more of a true ball-handling point guard that can distribute and facilitate. Tyrese Maxey’s biggest impact is felt on his ability to score.”
EJ and PJ?
Watching new UK commitment EJ Montgomery during the McDonald’s All-American practices late last month, it was difficult not to imagine the possibility of the skilled, versatile big man teaming up with PJ Washington at UK next season.
Washington is currently testing the NBA Draft waters, though he hasn’t yet hired an agent, leaving open the possibility to return to Lexington for a sophomore campaign.
By the end of UK’s most recent season, Washington — listed at 6-7 — had emerged as the Cats’ best post scorer. Montgomery — listed at 6-11 — possesses many of the same qualities. Both can score in a variety of ways. Both are at their best when active on the boards. Both were known in high school as above-average passers.
An “EJ and PJ Show” in the paint at UK next season could be big for the Cats, as well as mutually beneficial to the two prospective NBA players.
“When you have two guys with the offensive abilities that those two guys would have playing together, it makes the other more effective,” Daniels said. “I also think that PJ is a terrific rebounder and EJ has really improved in that area. So, from an offensive and rebounding standpoint, that would be a really good frontcourt.”
Montgomery — the No. 6 overall player in the 247Sports rankings — averaged 25.6 points, 13.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game this past season.
Washington has until May 30 to make a final decision on his future with Kentucky.
Still a contender
The subject of one of John Calipari’s first visits when the spring recruiting period began earlier this month was Vernon Carey, the No. 2 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings for the 2019 class.
The ranking is reason enough for Calipari to make the trip to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to see Carey, a 6-9 power forward. The visit did raise a few eyebrows, however. UK has been seen as a long shot, at best, to ultimately land Carey’s commitment.
At various points in his recruitment, perceived leaders have included Miami, where his father was a football star; Michigan State, where he took his first official visit in February; and Duke, which has landed more top-five recruits than anyone in recent years.
Over the past few days, Carey has hosted Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, Roy Williams and Jim Larranaga for in-home visits. Could a decision be coming soon?
“Vernon Carey is certainly going through the process, but he also seems like somebody that wants to get the process done with,” Daniels said, noting that he’s already taken an official visit at a relatively early time in the his recruitment.
“Now, maybe it slows down now that the spring and summer are here and he’s about to start playing a lot. Initially, everyone thought he was going to go to Michigan State. And then it was, ‘He’s going to go to Duke.’ Now, it does seem to have maybe opened up some.”
Has it “opened up” to the point where UK has a legitimate shot? “I honestly don’t know,” Daniels acknowledged.
Carey, who plays on the Nike circuit, averaged 26.0 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, leading his team to a state championship this past season while earning national junior of the year honors from MaxPreps.com.
Carey has also been the subject of reclassification rumors in recent weeks, but he’s made no indication that it’s a real possibility, and he doesn’t turn 18 years old until late February, meaning — if he were to move to 2018 — he’d play almost his entire freshman season at 17 years old. That seems unlikely.
It’s been a busy week for those following the recruitment of James Wiseman, the No. 1-ranked player in the 2019 class and the top target on UK’s recruiting board.
Wiseman — a 6-11 power forward — hosted John Calipari and Wildcats assistant Joel Justus for his first in-home recruiting visit Monday. On Wednesday, he hosted Memphis Coach Penny Hardaway and new Tigers assistant Mike Miller for his second in-home recruiting visit of the spring.
It’ll be UK vs. Memphis from here on out.
“I would be shocked if another school actually had a legitimate chance,” Daniels said.
Hardaway, of course, was Wiseman’s coach with Team Penny on the Nike circuit, and the star recruit moved from Nashville to Memphis last summer so he could play for Hardaway at the high school level, where they ultimately teamed up for a state title.
Will the familiarity be enough for Hardaway to land his former pupil?
Daniels, who logged a Crystal Ball prediction in favor of Kentucky in October, still hasn’t backed off that pick … yet.
“I’m not going to change until I have a reason to change,” he said Wednesday. “I think it’s 50/50 between Kentucky and Memphis. I Crystal Ball’d Kentucky because I think they’ve been the favorite for a long time. I think most people assume — because Penny Hardaway is now the coach at Memphis — that’s where he ends up.
“But I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that he ends up at Memphis.”
Daniels’ colleague at 247Sports, national recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer, changed his Crystal Ball pick from UK to Memphis on Wednesday, right around the time the news broke that Wiseman would host Hardaway for a visit that day. Meyer’s switch moved the Crystal Ball to an exact 50/50 split between the two schools.
A bit of good news for the Cats: earlier this week, Rivals.com national analyst Eric Bossi and ESPN recruiting analyst Paul Biancardi both indicated the buzz in recruiting circles is that UK remains the favorite for Wiseman.
He’s scheduled to begin his final season for the Bluff City Legends — formerly Team Penny — on the Nike circuit in Dallas this weekend. There’s no timeframe for his college announcement.