UK Men's Basketball

Mohamed Bamba preps for final visit in recruitment that’s too close to call

Mohamed Bamba is the No. 2 overall recruit in the class of 2017, according to
Mohamed Bamba is the No. 2 overall recruit in the class of 2017, according to AP

Every basketball recruiting cycle includes at least one or two high-profile prospects that keep everyone guessing as to their ultimate college destination.

In this 2017 class, Mohamed Bamba goes into that category.

Bamba — a 7-footer from Harlem, N.Y. — has taken a bit of an unconventional path through the recruiting process, going on official visits with little or no notice, listing schools such as Harvard prominently in his recruitment and giving away very little in the few recruiting-related interviews he’s done.

His commitment is likely only a few weeks away, but Bamba’s landing spot is still a mystery.

He recently narrowed his list to four schools — UK, Duke, Michigan and Texas — and he’ll take his final official visit to Durham at the end of this weekend, likely staying in town through the Blue Devils’ home game against Florida State on Tuesday night.

Duke was long seen by many as the favorite for Bamba, but that outlook has shifted in recent months, and Kentucky is now viewed as a possible frontrunner.

In a podcast last week, analysts Evan Daniels and Brian Snow broke down Bamba’s recruitment, concluding that — if they had to handicap a top two at the moment — the co-favorites would be UK and Texas.

Daniels spoke to the Herald-Leader about the Bamba recruitment this week.

“There’s not a team I could point to and say, ‘Hey, you’re the favorite.’ I think it’s very fluid,” he said. “Since that podcast, I’ve had people tell me, ‘Don’t count out Michigan.’ And the truth is you can never count out Duke. So we’ll see what happens.

“His recruitment is hard to get information on, and he doesn’t do a lot of interviews. He keeps it pretty close to his vest.”

Texas Coach Shaka Smart, who was Bamba’s head coach with the Team USA U18 squad last summer, visited the five-star recruit this week. Calipari has also been a regular visitor to Bamba’s high school in eastern Pennsylvania.

Though this weekend will mark the final official visit in Bamba’s recruitment, it appears likely that his decision won’t come until sometime around the McDonald’s All-American Game on March 29, at the earliest. “I think all signs point to that,” Daniels said of a late decision. The regular signing period begins April 12. ranks Bamba as the No. 2 overall recruit in the 2017 class. Kentucky is the current favorite on his 247Sports Crystal Ball page.

Cal ‘cares’

Kevin Knox Sr. — the father of five-star small forward Kevin Knox — had nothing but good things to say about UK’s program during an interview with the Herald-Leader this week.

The elder Knox praised John Calipari’s success with sending players to the NBA and his knack for bringing several five-star recruits together and getting them to play unselfish ball. He also spoke of a more personal side of the UK coach that came out during the Knox family’s official visit to Lexington late last month.

“A lot of people see the flair of Coach Calipari, and they see the antics on the sideline,” Knox Sr. said. “But they don’t always see that he truly, sincerely cares for all of these kids. We saw that on this visit. And I don’t think he gets enough credit for that.”

Knox — the No. 7 player in the rankings — is planning to announce a college decision in early April. UK, Duke, Florida State and North Carolina are the finalists.

Get used to it

PJ Washington “gets it” when it comes to embracing everything that goes along with being a UK basketball player.

The five-star recruit was in Marshall County this past weekend for two high school games, and he wore Wildcats gear during the entire trip, even warming up with a UK T-shirt over his jersey both days. Washington — a class of 2017 signee — posed for photos with fans and signed autographs before and after each game.

He said he got similar treatment during his most recent trip to Lexington for UK’s game against Kansas a few weeks ago. Fans recognized him, called out his name and stopped him in the street during that trip.

Washington also experienced his first game at Rupp Arena on that visit.

“The atmosphere was crazy,” he said with a smile. “It was so loud, my ears started to hurt.”

Watch highlights of UK signee PJ Washington from two games at the Kentucky Lake Showcase in Marshall County.

Naismith finalists

The Atlanta Tipoff Club announced the five finalists for this season’s Naismith boys’ basketball player of the year award Wednesday.

Those players are Arizona signee DeAndre Ayton, UK target Mohamed Bamba, Duke signee Wendell Carter, uncommitted point guard Trevon Duval and Washington signee Michael Porter Jr.

No UK recruit has won the award since Ron Mercer in 1995 — the only Wildcat to earn the honor, which originated in 1987. Unless Bamba commits to UK and wins the award, that drought will continue for another year.