UK Men's Basketball

Which five-star basketball recruit is most likely to join Kentucky’s 2017 class?

PJ Washington threw down a dunk for Team Penny on the Nike circuit earlier this year. He’s one of UK’s top recruiting targets in the class of 2017.
PJ Washington threw down a dunk for Team Penny on the Nike circuit earlier this year. He’s one of UK’s top recruiting targets in the class of 2017. Nike

Asked Monday to name the one high school basketball star that Kentucky has the best chance of adding to its 2017 recruiting class, Scout.com national analyst Evan Daniels offered up the name of a prospect who spent all weekend in Lexington.

“PJ Washington,” said Daniels. “I think they’re in really good shape with him. Obviously, there’s a lot to play out. And if you asked PJ, he probably wouldn’t tell you they’re his leader. But just from being in this business of examining recruitments, he seems to be a guy that Kentucky is in great shape with.”

Washington — ranked by Scout.com as the No. 14 overall player in the class of 2017 — was in town this weekend for his official visit to UK.

John Calipari went all in on Washington’s recruitment earlier this year, making a push for the smart, versatile 6-foot-8 forward who would seemingly be a perfect fit for the Wildcats.

Washington continues to work on his outside game, but he’s at his best around the basket. His 230-plus-pound frame, 7-3 wingspan and ability to read opponents and angles make him one of the best rebounders in the country, and his length allows him to match up well against taller post players.

He’s also a talented scorer (17.4 points per game during the Nike summer season), but he’s more than willing to defer to teammates and rarely takes bad shots. Washington was 62 percent from the floor during the Nike season and made 61 percent of his shots with the FIBA gold medal-winning Team USA U18 squad in July.

Kentucky looks to be in good shape with Washington moving forward, but the recruitment is far from over.

Washington has official visits scheduled to North Carolina (this weekend), Arizona (Oct. 21-23) and Texas (Oct. 28-30), and UNLV has also been mentioned as a possible player in his recruitment. Washington, who was born in Louisville and grew up in Texas, is entering his third and final season at Findlay Prep (Nev.).

There is no timetable for his college announcement.

‘Bona fide star’

The fall recruiting period started a couple of weeks ago, and John Calipari’s first stop was to see five-star center Mohamed Bamba at Westtown School (Pa.).

Bamba — a 7-footer from Harlem, N.Y. — hasn’t been among the class of 2017 players mentioned as most likely to commit to UK, but he is the No. 2 overall prospect in Scout.com’s rankings for that group.

“Mohamed Bamba is such a unique and special talent,” said Scout.com’s Evan Daniels. “It’s not a surprise that would be a guy Calipari would prioritize right out of the gate. He’s a guy that Kentucky would love to add to their class.”

Bamba’s recruitment has been hard to read.

Most of the early predictions pegged Duke as the clear favorite, but that doesn’t appear to be the reality. The Blue Devils are in the mix. Several others are, too.

Bamba took a surprise official visit — the first of his recruitment — to Michigan earlier this month. He followed that up with an unofficial visit to Harvard (and, yes, he’s serious about playing for the Crimson). Then, Calipari stopped by on the first morning of the fall recruiting period.

“It’s hard to handicap his recruitment in terms of who might be leading, or if there even is a leader,” Daniels aid. “He’s starting to take control and really get involved and start to figure out where he really wants to go.”

If the rankings hold, Bamba appears to be UK’s only shot at landing a top-five recruit in the 2017 class. The other four players in the Scout.com top five (and the 247Sports composite rankings) are DeAndre Ayton, Wendell Carter, Trevon Duval and Michael Porter Jr. Ayton is committed to Arizona, Porter is committed to Washington, and UK is not pursuing Carter or Duval.

“(Bamba) would give them a bona fide star, which is always key,” Daniels said. “If you look at past Kentucky classes, they’ve always had a guy or two in that range. It would be a big deal if they were able to gain a pledge for him, but at the same time, he doesn’t make or break their class. They’re in good shape for guys like PJ Washington and Trae Young and some others.

“Whether they get Mohamed Bamba or not, they’re still going to have a good class.”

Guessing game

Speaking of tough recruitments to read, no one seems to know just what five-star shooting guard Hamidou Diallo is thinking.

Kentucky was a behind-the-scenes favorite of sorts before even extending Diallo a scholarship offer earlier this year, but the 6-5 prospect from Queens, N.Y., isn’t saying much of note about his recruitment.

UConn has been pursuing him as hard as any school, and the Huskies are probably among the frontrunners. Syracuse and Arizona are two other schools that have popped up in recent weeks as possible landing spots.

(The last five picks on Diallo’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page convey the confusion: Two for UConn, and one each for UK, Arizona and Syracuse).

“I don’t think Hamidou is in a hurry,” said Scout.com’s Evan Daniels. “He hasn’t really narrowed down his list. He hasn’t taken any official visits. I know there’s been a bunch of schools going and seeing him at his school, but he doesn’t seem like he’s taken a dive into the recruiting process yet.

“So I think that’s probably why there’s not a lot going around about him.”

UK assistant coach Tony Barbee and UConn Coach Kevin Ollie visited Diallo on the first day of the fall recruiting period, then John Calipari met with Diallo at his high school a few days later. Arizona Coach Sean Miller and Kansas Coach Bill Self visited him after Calipari, and an assistant coach from Syracuse was scheduled to see Diallo on Monday.

Scout.com ranks him as the No. 10 overall player in the 2017 class.

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