UK Men's Basketball

Which recruits are most likely to commit to UK for 2018? Here’s an early projection.

Spartanburg Day’s Zion Williamson (12) is one of the top basketball recruits nationally for the class of 2018.
Spartanburg Day’s Zion Williamson (12) is one of the top basketball recruits nationally for the class of 2018. tglantz@thestate.com

With five-star recruit Cameron Reddish’s commitment to Duke last week, the number of high school basketball prospects from the class of 2018 with serious interest from Kentucky is down to nine.

Based on recent conversations with recruiting analysts, players, parents and coaches, we’ve ranked those nine prospects in order of least to most likely to ultimately commit to Kentucky.

Keep in mind that the early signing period begins Nov. 8, and most of the players on this list are expected to be committed in time to sign in the fall.

9. Romeo Langford

Kentucky was one of seven schools to make Langford’s most recent list, but there just hasn’t been any serious buzz around the Cats and the 6-foot-5 shooting guard from Indiana in recent months. Louisville, Indiana and Kansas remain the most likely landing spots. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Langford take an official visit to UK at some point, but the Cats enter the fall as major long-shots for the elite scorer.

8. Darius Garland

Under different circumstances, UK would probably have a much better shot at Garland, who has had great things to say about John Calipari and the Wildcats’ program in recent months. But the reality is that another five-star point guard, Immanuel Quickley, is expected to commit to UK in the next few weeks, and the team could return two other five-star point guards — freshmen Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — from this season’s team. Garland and his father have said he can co-exist alongside another elite point guard, but it seems unlikely he’d join a squad that already has this many players at the position.

7. Quentin Grimes

Kansas is considered the major favorite for Grimes, and that remains his most likely landing spot, but UK hasn’t given up on his recruitment and Grimes isn’t shutting the door on the Wildcats. The 6-5 combo guard from Texas has size and a versatile skill set that would work well alongside other elite point guards, such as Quickley and possible returnees Green and Gilgeous-Alexander. That, seemingly, makes him a better fit for next season’s projected roster than Garland. Still, the Jayhawks — and the Texas schools on Grimes’ list — will be tough to beat.

Five-star basketball recruit Romeo Langford is being recruited by Kentucky, Duke, Louisville, Indiana, Kansas and North Carolina.

6. Bol Bol

A few months ago — following UK’s scholarship offer to Bol — the Wildcats looked like the favorites in this recruitment. That’s no longer the case. There did seem to be some fraying of Bol’s relationship with UK after he was left off of Calipari’s USA Basketball U19 team — though it’s worth noting that decision was made by a committee, not just Calipari. A couple of West Coast schools have also emerged as serious players in Bol’s recruitment since his recent move to the Los Angeles area. Southern Cal was getting a lot of buzz as a possible favorite at Nike’s Peach Jam event in July, and Arizona might be considered an even bigger favorite than the Trojans entering the fall.

The 7-3 forward is arguably the most interesting prospect in the class, and there is still some hope for UK fans. One, he plans to take an official visit to Lexington, a sign he’s still serious about Calipari’s program. Two, he told the Herald-Leader in June that he could see himself being the last five-star recruit in this class to make a college decision. The longer this recruitment goes, the more interesting it could get.

5. Keldon Johnson

Here’s where it gets a little dicey. An example of how quickly minds and perceptions can change on the recruiting trail: A week ago, Johnson probably would have been No. 2 on this list. He had finally received a coveted scholarship offer from UK, a team that he’d been praising in interviews with the Herald-Leader and other media outlets all summer. Johnson had visited Lexington several times, and he often spoke with a kind of awe when discussing Calipari’s program.

When I told one recruiting insider late last week of the plan to put Johnson much further down this list, he cautioned against that. Beware Texas, that recruiting guru said. Sure enough, the buzz out of Johnson’s official visit to Austin over the weekend suggests the Longhorns might still be the team to beat. Coach Shaka Smart has been recruiting Johnson for years and developed a great relationship with him before UK got seriously involved. On Monday, 247Sports national analysts Jerry Meyer and Andrew Slater both changed their predictions from UK to Texas.

There’s still time, however, with Johnson scheduled to take official visits to Florida State, North Carolina State and Maryland later this month, with the possibility of a return visit to UK after that. If he keeps to that schedule, he might be further down this list a few weeks from now.

But Texas seems to be the school with the buzz at the moment.

4. R.J. Barrett

The No. 1 overall prospect in the 2018 class took his official visit to UK over the weekend, and it was the first such trip of his recruitment. Visits to Duke, Arizona, Oregon and Michigan will follow, and Barrett is planning to sign in the fall. We asked a group of national recruiting analysts last week to handicap the Canadian star’s recruitment, and Duke came back as the overwhelming favorite. UK was second in our poll, and it seems like Barrett could realistically land at any of the five schools on his list. That uncertainty keeps him a spot behind the next guy on this countdown.

Five-star basketball recruit Keldon Johnson is moving to Oak Hill Academy for his senior season, and UK is interested in his recruitment.

3. Zion Williamson

Arguably the most hyped high school basketball player since LeBron James was a senior 15 years ago, Williamson got UK fans very excited this summer with his comments about a potential “package deal” with likely Wildcats commitment Immanuel Quickley, his friend from the Adidas circuit. That talk has died down a bit — though the two players are still talking about the possibility — and Kansas has since emerged as a possible favorite. The Jayhawks have the Adidas connection. They’ve offered a scholarship to Dontarius James, one of Williamson’s teammates and close friends. They’ve also taken over the lead on Williamson’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page (though those predictions can change on a dime). The 6-6 small forward from South Carolina has all of the big names on his list, but — going into the fall — this one looks like a UK-Kansas battle.

2. Simi Shittu

Technically, he doesn’t have a scholarship offer from the Wildcats, but that is expected to change soon, likely when he makes his first visit to Lexington, a trip we’re still expecting to happen this fall. Shittu — a 6-8 power forward from Canada — is one of only six players in the 2018 class to earn a top-10 rating from every national recruiting service. (The others are Barrett, Williamson, Bol , Reddish and Langford). His well-rounded game is also a perfect fit for Calipari’s recent obsession with “positionless” players. Shittu still has 10 schools on his list, but UK is the only one to make that cut despite not extending an offer, one of many signs pointing to the Cats as a serious player.

1. Immanuel Quickley

For months, Quickley — a 6-3 point guard from Maryland — has occupied the No. 1 spot on this list. There’s no reason to change that now. He’s down to UK, Kansas and Miami and has official visits scheduled for all three schools this month. He’s expected to announce a final decision in early October, at the latest, and Kentucky remains the heavy, heavy favorite to be his pick. Quickley will be in Lexington on Sept. 16 for his official visit. We wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in town a month later at Big Blue Madness to help Calipari out with a little recruiting.

Early projection: With several talented players likely to return from this season’s team, Calipari’s 2018 class probably won’t be deeper than four or five players. Fans who follow recruiting know how quickly things can change, but here’s guessing UK ends up with Quickley, Shittu and one of either Williamson, Barrett or Johnson (we’re leaning toward Williamson at the moment).

That could give Calipari three legitimate top-10 recruits, and all of those players could sign early. If that happens, it would be a great start to what should be another stellar recruiting class at UK.

Five-star point guard Immanuel Quickley talks about his friendship with fellow top recruit Zion Williamson.

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