Still waiting to hear decisions from a couple of highly touted point guards who he has been recruiting for months, John Calipari on Monday landed a playmaker with five-star potential.
Shai Alexander — a 6-foot-4 prospect from Hamilton, Ont. — announced his commitment to the University of Kentucky on Monday morning, giving the Wildcats their third commitment in less than a week and first from a backcourt player.
Alexander, who plays for Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Tennessee, had been committed to Florida for nearly a year before he backed out of that pledge last month and reopened his recruitment. UK assistant coach Joel Justus visited him a few days later, and Calipari traveled to Tennessee the following week, extending Alexander a scholarship offer during that trip.
Less than a week after that, Alexander was on UK’s campus for an official visit and it was clear that the Wildcats were the new frontrunner in his recruitment.
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Scout.com ranks Alexander as the No. 46 overall prospect in the 2017 class.
“The thing that sticks out to me the most is his facilitating and ability to be able to pass and create shot opportunities for his teammates,” said Scout.com’s Evan Daniels. “He’s a really talented passer. He’s got really good size for the position, good length, good quickness. He just finds ways to get in the paint.
“And he seems to be a pretty good competitor, too.”
Player page: Bio info, rankings, video for new UK commitment Shai Alexander
Alexander averaged 15.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game on the Nike circuit this past summer before representing Team Canada at the FIBA U18 tournament in Chile and then being selected for the Canadian senior national team — he was the youngest player on that squad by four years — that competed in the Olympic qualifying tournament in the Philippines.
He was 9-for-23 (39.1 percent) from three-point range on the Nike circuit and shot 38 percent from outside as a junior in high school. Daniels noted that Alexander, who has a 6-10 wing span, is still growing and is almost at 6-5 right now, giving him great size for the backcourt.
There’s some debate over which position Alexander is best suited for at the next level. Most of the recruiting services classify him as a point guard, and loose comparisons have been made to Andrew Harrison, who helped lead UK to Final Fours in both of his seasons as the Wildcats’ starting point guard.
247Sports classifies Alexander as a combo guard, capable of playing on or off the ball.
“I like him best as a shooting guard,” 247 national analyst Jerry Meyer recently told the Herald-Leader. “He also has point-guard-type playmaking from that position. So he’s a double threat at the guard position, which fits in very well with how Coach Calipari wants to play. He can create for himself and others off the dribble. He can really score. He rebounds well for his position. He has nice length. He’s just an overall good player.”
That versatility is an important addition to a UK backcourt that will draw most — maybe all — of its players from this 2017 recruiting class.
There’s a good chance that the Cats could lose underclassmen guards Isaiah Briscoe, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk to the NBA Draft after this season, and seniors Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder will be gone, too. That would leave UK with zero returning, scholarship players in the backcourt.
UK is still pursuing five-star point guards Quade Green, who will announce his college decision Saturday night, and Trae Young, who is expected to wait until the winter before picking a school. The Cats are also recruiting five-star shooting guards Hamidou Diallo and Lonnie Walker.
In Alexander, the UK coaching staff has found a player capable of playing the majority of the team’s point guard minutes as a freshman, but the goal is still to add either Green or Young to the mix to form a more versatile package at the position.
“Shai and one of those two could certainly co-exist on the court at the same time,” Daniels said.
Alexander joins five-star frontcourt players Nick Richards and PJ Washington in UK’s recruiting class of 2017, which is now ranked No. 4 nationally by Scout.com.
Rankings for UK’s commitments in the 2017 class