UK Men's Basketball

UK recruiting younger brother of Hoosier whose three-pointer beat the Cats

Justus: Goal is to identify players who see Kentucky as ultimate destination

Kentucky basketball assistant Joel Justus describes Wildcats' recruiting strategy and the landscape of basketball recruiting.
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Kentucky basketball assistant Joel Justus describes Wildcats' recruiting strategy and the landscape of basketball recruiting.

A little more than five years ago, Christian Watford nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to hand the Kentucky Wildcats their first — and ultimately only — loss of the 2011-12 regular season.

That UK team went on to win the national championship a few months later, but the replay of Watford’s shot — and the rushing of the Assembly Hall court that followed — was shown over and over.

A couple of years from now, another member of the Watford family will be playing college basketball. And this one might end up on the other side of the UK-IU rivalry.

Trendon Watford — a 6-foot-7 forward from Mountain Brook, Ala. — is ranked by every major recruiting service as one of the top 20 prospects in the class of 2019. ESPN pegs him as the No. 5 overall prospect from that group.

Last October, he was in Lexington for Big Blue Madness.

“I loved it,” Watford told the Herald-Leader over the weekend. “I bonded with the players, the fans. The fans showed love. It was just a great atmosphere. It was pretty crazy.”

Watford led Mountain Brook High School to a state championship this past season, averaging 23 points and 9.9 rebounds per game and winning Alabama class 7A player of the year honors. MaxPreps.com named him a first-team member of its sophomore All-American squad.

College coaches aren’t permitted to contact Watford directly until June 15 — per NCAA rules — but he’s already getting plenty of inquiries into his recruitment.

One of UK’s coaches told his father before the first Nike league session a couple of weeks ago that the Wildcats would be watching Watford during the April evaluation period. John Calipari and all three assistants have been present for Nike games over the past two weekends, and they’ve been peeking in on the five-star prospect.

“It’s a great program,” Watford said of UK. “They get you to the next level fast, but they also improve you as a player on and off the court. You just have to be a great player when you go there.”

He also mentioned Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, Auburn, Texas Christian and Iowa as schools that are showing interest in his recruitment.

Watford was in the Indianapolis area this past weekend with Nike Team Florida, a squad that also includes fellow class of 2019 UK targets Vernon Carey Jr. and Balsa Koprivica. It was a homecoming of sorts for a player that closely followed his older brother’s college career with the Hoosiers.

“This was basically my second home,” Watford said. “I was up here like every week watching him play.”

He said he’s “not very familiar” with new Indiana head coach Archie Miller but added that the new Hoosiers’ coaching staff recently reached out to his brother to find out more about his recruitment.

Trendon Watford said Christian hasn’t really started talking up the Hoosiers yet, though he expects to hear an Indiana recruiting pitch or two once he starts to get more serious about his college choice. “If I take an official visit there, he’ll probably come with me,” Trendon said with a smile.

And if the mutual interest between the young recruit and the UK coaching staff continues to grow, how would Christian Watford feel about his little brother playing for the former enemy?

“He’s going to support me regardless,” Trendon said. “Whatever’s the best for me — to get to the next level and improve as a player — he’s going to support me.”

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