Top recruit Mohamed Bamba talks about his bond with Quade Green
The regular signing period for college basketball starts Wednesday, and John Calipari’s roster for next season is far from set.
The UK coach added a commitment Tuesday from four-star shooting guard Jemarl Baker, who joins a class that was already ranked No. 1 nationally and included four McDonald’s All-Americans and two other highly touted newcomers.
Calipari could still add a couple of more players to that group over the next few weeks.
An annual disclaimer: the college basketball signing period is nothing like football’s national signing day, which has turned into a national holiday of sorts, an all-day extravaganza of letters of intent and last-minute flips that largely settles a school’s recruiting class by the end of the afternoon.
UK’s recruiting class will not be settled Wednesday. It likely won’t be settled anytime soon. The signing period stretches all the way to May 17, and incoming players can technically sign with a team after that date, too.
What is known is that Baker and five-star forward Jarred Vanderbilt, who committed to UK in December, a few weeks after the early signing period, will officially sign with the Cats, likely this week. They’ll join Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Quade Green, Nick Richards and PJ Washington, who all signed in November, as well as five-shooting guard Hamidou Diallo, who joined UK’s team midway through this past season as a practice player.
Here’s a look at who else Calipari is targeting for next season:
Bamba — a 7-footer from Harlem, N.Y. — has been on Calipari’s recruiting radar longer than anyone on this list. Scout.com currently ranks him as the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2017 class, and he’s regarded as one of the best post defenders and rebounders in the country.
UK, Duke, Michigan and Texas are the finalists for Bamba, who has not set a specific timetable for a college decision.
Kentucky has been seen as the favorite in his recruitment for quite some time, and there is no reason to indicate the Wildcats’ chances have diminished in recent days. Bamba has kept his recruitment quiet, but UK remains the best bet to land him.
Calipari criticized the practice of graduate transfers twice during the recent NCAA Tournament, but Johnson could be a major piece on next season’s UK team. The 6-8 shooting guard from Moon Township, Pa. — that’s Calipari’s hometown — averaged 11.9 points per game and shot 41.5 percent from long range this past season, leading the Panthers in three-point shooting.
Just a sophomore, Johnson is on track to graduate this spring and will have two seasons of immediate eligibility at his next stop. Arizona has been seen as a legitimate landing spot. Texas Christian, where his old coach, Jamie Dixon, now coaches, has also extended a scholarship offer. So have Florida, Ohio State, Michigan, South Carolina and several others.
UK, though, might be his most likely destination. Johnson would bring a veteran presence to another young Wildcats’ team next season and give Calipari’s squad a proven college shooter. There’s no timetable for his (second) college decision.
Knox — a 6-9 forward from Tampa, Fla. — is a versatile prospect who has really picked up his perimeter game over the past year and could be a legitimate outside threat at the next level.
He narrowed his choices to UK, Duke, Florida State and North Carolina, then added Missouri to that mix and took an official visit to Columbia — alongside friend and Tigers’ commitment Michael Porter Jr., the likely No. 1 player in the 2017 class — last weekend. Knox is the No. 7 player in the Scout.com rankings.
Mizzou is now seen as a legitimate threat in Knox’s recruitment, and Duke and UNC have also been mentioned recently as possible favorites.
He’s expected to make a final decision around May 1, and it would be a (fairly major) surprise if he picks Kentucky.
This year’s Illinois Mr. Basketball recipient averaged 21.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 8.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game for Edwardsville High School as a senior, and he received a UK scholarship offer last week.
Smith — a 6-5 guard — also picked up a recent offer from Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo, who hosted him for a visit last weekend. The Spartans are now seen by some as the favorite in Smith’s recruitment, and Baker’s commitment to Kentucky on Tuesday might have closed the door on a possible Smith commitment.
He will play in the Derby Festival Classic in Louisville this week.
The most realistic, best-case scenario for the Wildcats to finish out the 2017 cycle would be to land commitments from Bamba and Johnson to go along with the recent pledge from Baker.
That best-case scenario might also be the most likely one for the Cats.
UK is arguably the favorite for both Bamba and Johnson, and it won’t be a surprise if both of those players join the Wildcats’ 2017 class over the next few weeks.