Last year, when he was in the Houston area to play against the Rockets, former UK basketball star John Wall stopped by a high school gym to see the next five-star point guard in the recent line that he started.
That player was De’Aaron Fox, who had signed with the Wildcats a couple of months earlier. After the visit, Wall posted a picture of himself and the future UK point guard, telling Wildcats fans that Fox was “up next” in John Calipari’s line of point guards, and Fox later spoke excitedly about his visit with the NBA star who helped start the one-and-done era at Kentucky.
A visit from Wall might go a long way with another five-star point guard who has popped up on Calipari’s recruiting radar.
Louisiana native Javonte Smart is ranked by Scout.com as the No. 1 player at that position in the 2018 class, and Calipari has seen him several times over the past few months.
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Smart is well aware of the UK coach’s history.
“John Wall is my favorite point guard,” he said. “He’s great, and Calipari coached him. That’s a great thing. … Everybody says you have to have that dog in you. He’s got that. And that’s what I want to learn from him.”
Smart — a 6-foot-4, 195-pound prospect from Baton Rouge — averaged 25.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game as a junior, winning Louisiana player of the year honors and leading his team to a state championship.
He made the jump to the Nike circuit this summer — he happens to be playing for the team that formerly featured Fox and UK signee Jarred Vanderbilt — and Calipari has watched him each of the past two weekends.
Scout.com’s Evan Daniels evaluated Smart at last weekend’s Nike stop in Virginia.
“I like his size for the position,” Daniels said. “He’s a pretty good ball handler. He’s quick. He made a couple of plays last weekend that very few in this class can make. The next step with him is just consistently bringing it every time he’s on the court.”
Smart played with plenty of energy this weekend in Indiana, and his outside shot has also shown improvement. That was once considered a weakness, but Smart was shooting 38.5 percent from long range through the first few games of the spring.
UK has already extended scholarship offers to class of 2018 point guards Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes, but Smart is still waiting on his.
He told the Herald-Leader that he thinks Calipari is “close” to extending that offer, and the UK coach’s continued interest is a sign that he might be right.
There’s certainly plenty of interest in UK and Calipari on Smart’s side.
“He’s a great coach,” Smart said. “He’s one of the best coaches in college, if not the best.”
He mentioned Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Florida State and Baylor as other schools that have been recruiting him the hardest.
And, of course, there’s Louisiana State, the hometown school.
LSU Coach Will Wade made the short trip to Smart’s high school on his first day with the Tigers, meeting with the local star, his mother and his coaches. LSU’s 34-year-old coach wanted to make sure Smart knew he was a priority. Since then, Wade has been a courtside fixture at Smart’s games on the Nike circuit.
“He talked to me about himself, how young he is and that he likes to win,” Smart said. “It (would be) hard leaving home, because I love Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That’s my city, so I don’t know yet.”