Recruiting never stops, and that’s not just true for college coaches.
Most of the high school basketball stars who have gathered here for this week’s McDonald’s All-American Game are already committed to play for the college of their choice next season. They’ve been in the ear of those who remain undecided.
That dynamic is most clear in the interactions between the recruits committed to Kentucky, those committed to Duke, and the two five-star players — Mohamed Bamba and Kevin Knox — on the wish list of both college basketball powers.
Bamba — a 7-footer from Harlem, N.Y. — told a story Tuesday about one of those interactions. He, Knox, Duke signees Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr., and UK commitments Jarred Vanderbilt and PJ Washington were sitting around a TV earlier this week when the video of Christian Laettner’s shot to beat the Wildcats in the 1992 NCAA Tournament came on the screen.
Trent — one of the most outspoken players in the class — immediately started “talking smack” about the famous Blue Devils victory, which led to some back and forth between the two sides. Bamba and Knox were caught in the crossfire.
“Me and Kevin were just looking at each other, just sinking down in our seats,” Bamba said with a laugh. “Me and Kevin have talked about it a bunch. How — it’s not quite stressful — but that it is going to be a hard decision.”
Bamba is the No. 2 overall player in the Scout.com rankings for the class of 2017. Knox — a 6-8 small forward from Tampa, Fla. — is the No. 7 player on that list.
UK and Duke are among the final four schools for both players. Bamba is also looking at Michigan and Texas. Knox is also considering North Carolina and Florida State. No commitments from those four schools made this McDonald’s Game, so the recruiting wars have turned into a UK-Duke battle — as they often do — this week.
On Tuesday, Washington, Vanderbilt and fellow UK commitment Nick Richards were sitting at a table when someone requested a group photo. Vanderbilt quickly put his arm around Knox’s shoulder and pulled him into the frame.
“Oh, they know,” Vanderbilt said. “I’ve been in their ear all week. It would be great to have those guys. With the addition of them, we could really have a dynasty over there.”
Earlier in the week, the UK guys made cookies for Bamba and Knox that had “BBN” scrawled across the top in frosting.
“I didn’t eat any of the cookies,” Knox said. “They were kind of mad I didn’t eat the cookies. … I’m not really a big sweets guy.”
Quade Green said he tells the two undecideds “BBN” every day. Ditto for the rest of the Wildcats’ recruiting class, already ranked No. 1 in the country.
Both would be huge additions to a team that is once again expected to lose much of its core from this past season. Three seniors will be gone, at least three more players will probably move on to the NBA. Others could also explore opportunities elsewhere.
Bamba, who averaged 12 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots as a senior, is one of the best post defenders and rebounders in the class. Knox averaged 28.9 points and 11.3 rebounds this past season, and he has blossomed into a solid three-point shooter, something the Wildcats could certainly use next season.
It’s not yet clear when Bamba will make a college decision. He said Tuesday he has no timetable for the announcement. But the Wildcats are in good shape.
“I like Kentucky,” said Scout.com’s Evan Daniels, who recorded a podcast with Bamba that will be available online Wednesday. “If I was going to take a guess at where I thought he was going to go, I’d say Kentucky.”
Knox plans to announce his decision a few days after the Jordan Brand Classic on April 14.
“I like Carolina and Duke in that one,” Daniels said. “If I was going to take a pick, I would go with one of those two.”