John Calipari will be in Colorado next weekend to oversee training camp for the USA Basketball U19 team — a series of workouts that will include several of the Wildcats’ top recruiting targets — but Calipari won’t be the only UK coach in close proximity to five-star prospects this month.
UK assistant Joel Justus is traveling to Argentina this week to evaluate several top recruits from the classes of 2019 and 2020 in the FIBA Americas U16 championships, the Herald-Leader has learned.
Justus was elevated to full assistant coach before last season and has been a key part of the Wildcats’ recruiting efforts over the past year, especially when it comes to establishing relationships with younger prospects.
“Putting Joel in a position to really attack and establish us with some young kids — at least have our presence known with young kids — I thought was important,” Calipari said last year.
For many recruits, Justus is the first UK basketball coach that they’ll encounter in person. He traveled the country at the beginning of the fall recruiting period last year on behalf of the Wildcats’ program, and he’s formed early bonds with players such as five-star point guard Immanuel Quickley, who will be a senior this season and lists UK as one of the four finalists in his recruitment.
Quickley will try out for Calipari’s U19 team starting next weekend.
The 12-player U16 squad that arrived in Argentina on Sunday morning — the actual games start Wednesday — is stacked with some of the top rising sophomores and juniors in the country.
The class of 2019 prospects on UK’s radar include power forwards Vernon Carey Jr., and James Wiseman, who are both ranked by Scout.com as top-10 players in that group. The Cats are also showing interest in North Carolina small forward Wendell Moore, a four-star prospect who already has a scholarship offer from the Tar Heels and could be hearing more from UK in the future.
It’s still early for the class of 2020 — those prospects will be sophomores in high school next season — but the Cats have already been linked to Texas point guard R.J. Hampton, Minnesota point guard Jalen Suggs and Virginia power forward Isaiah Todd, who might be the No. 1 prospect in the class.
The only 2021 recruit on the Team USA squad is Zion Harmon, who helped lead Bowling Green to a Sweet Sixteen title in Rupp Arena earlier this year.
A few of these players could be Wildcats down the road.
“Here, we’re looking for the right fit,” Justus said last fall of what he’s seeking in young recruits. “The right person who wants to come in and embraces the type of player that comes to Kentucky.”