UK Men's Basketball

This weekend, Calipari will hand over UK’s basketball recruiting reins to someone else

Immanuel Quickley talks about his time in Egypt with Calipari

Five-star point guard Immanuel Quickley discusses his Team USA experience and wanting to team up in college with Cameron Reddish.
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Five-star point guard Immanuel Quickley discusses his Team USA experience and wanting to team up in college with Cameron Reddish.

John Calipari won’t be hosting any top high school basketball players for official visits in Lexington this weekend, but it could end up being an important couple of days for the Wildcats’ recruiting prospects nonetheless.

Starting Saturday, new UK commitment Immanuel Quickley — the Cats’ lone pledge so far for the class of 2018 — will get an opportunity to recruit on Calipari’s behalf.

Quickley — a 6-foot-3 point guard from Maryland — is one of 54 high school players expected to be at the USA Basketball junior national team minicamp in Colorado Springs. The camp is set for Saturday and Sunday.

Joining Quickley at the minicamp will be fellow class of 2018 stars Bol Bol, Darius Garland, Quentin Grimes, Keldon Johnson, Romeo Langford and Zion Williamson — all players with Kentucky scholarship offers.

Quickley told the Herald-Leader over the summer that he fully intended to recruit for the school of his choice as soon as he made that commitment public. The five-star prospect announced his pledge to Kentucky last month, and he’s reiterated since then that he would try to lobby other players in his class to join him at UK.

Williamson is the name at the top of that list, and Quickley will surely be in his ear about the Wildcats this weekend. The two are close friends from their time on the Adidas circuit and have talked often about the possibility of teaming up in college.

Quickley has also specifically mentioned Johnson — a five-star wing out of Oak Hill Academy (Va.) — as a player he’d like to see commit to UK, which appears to be locked in a two-team battle with Texas for his commitment. (Though Maryland and North Carolina State are also in contention).

Bol and Grimes are two other five-star 2018 recruits that Kentucky seems to be gaining ground with in recent weeks.

The USA Basketball minicamp roster also includes Vernon Carey and James Wiseman — the top two players in the 2019 class — who have both received early scholarship offers from Kentucky.

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

Buzz on Bol

Bol Bol — the 7-3 son of former NBA star Manute Bol — has a recruitment that’s been tough to handicap over the past few months, but that picture could be clearing up.

Bol
Bol Bol was one of the top players on the Nike circuit this summer. Mike Fender

Going into last week, Bol had narrowed his choices to Arizona, Kentucky, Oregon, Southern Cal and UCLA, and he’d already scheduled official visits to all three schools.

Bol, who lives in the Los Angeles area, has not publicly commented on the scandal that’s rocked college basketball over the past several days, but his mother told SEC Country on Wednesday that they’ve postponed visits to Arizona and USC. Those two schools both had assistant coaches arrested and charged with crimes stemming from the federal investigation into corruption in the sport.

The Herald-Leader was told earlier this week that Bol’s recruitment, as of now, looks to be a two-team race between Kentucky and Oregon, which he visited last weekend.

Bol, the No. 2 overall player in the Scout.com rankings for 2018, is scheduled to be in Lexington next weekend for his official visit, a trip that will include Big Blue Madness.

John Calipari spoke about five-star recruit Bol Bol from Team USA training camp Sunday night.

Guest list growing

Speaking of Big Blue Madness, it looks like that will yet again be a major recruiting event for the Wildcats.

As of Friday morning, the guest list includes UK commitment Immanuel Quickley, five-star 2018 recruits Bol Bol and Darius Garland, and five-star 2019 recruits James Wiseman and D.J. Jeffries (two Nike league teammates from the Memphis area with early scholarship offers from Kentucky).

ZionH
Zion Harmon played on the top Nike circuit as a rising freshman this summer. Mike Fender

Wisconsin small forward Jalen Johnson — a top-10 recruit in the 2020 class — is also expected to attend Madness, as is Adair County freshman Zion Harmon, who visited UK a couple of weeks ago and is already on the Cats’ radar for 2021 (though he could eventually reclassify to the 2020 class).

There’s also a possibility that top-50 recruit Shareef O’Neal — the son of NBA great Shaquille O’Neal — could end up in Lexington for Big Blue Madness. O’Neal is currently committed to Arizona, but the uncertainty surrounding that program has led to speculation that he could back out of that commitment soon, and UK could be a possible landing spot if he does.

O’Neal and Bol were teammates on the Nike circuit.

It’s also worth noting that five-star small forward Zion Williamson, who had to postpone his official visit to UK last month due to a family situation, currently has the date of Big Blue Madness weekend free on his recruiting calendar. Williamson will reschedule his trip to Lexington, and he remains a possibility for next week.

There always seem to be some last-minute surprises to the Madness guest list.

Remember, last year, five-star post player Mohamed Bamba showed up at Rupp Arena for the event, and it went unreported until just a few minutes before he stepped into the building.

James Wiseman, one of the top class of 2019 recruits, talks about his interest in Kentucky and what he likes about John Calipari.

What about Shittu?

John Calipari visited five-star power forward Simi Shittu early in the fall recruiting period, but he never extended a scholarship offer. UK fans have been asking the past few days if Shittu — the No. 7 overall player in the 2018 class — is likely to get an offer anytime soon, especially after the Cats missed out on under-the-radar power forward Jaxson Hayes last week.

While you should never rule anything out in recruiting, there’s been no buzz recently that Kentucky intends to get back involved with the Shittu recruitment.

The 6-foot-10 prospect from Canada is expected to take his official visit to Vanderbilt this weekend, and the Commodores now have a majority of the picks on Shittu’s Crystal Ball page, including predictions in their favor from 247Sports national analysts Jerry Meyer and Andrew Slater.

Arizona had emerged as a possible favorite after UK’s recruitment of Shittu seemingly fizzled last month, but he canceled an official visit to Tucson in wake of the federal investigation that led to the arrest of Arizona assistant coach Book Richardson last week.

Shittu does have an official visit planned to North Carolina next month.

Starting five

Even with the injury to Jarred Vanderbilt last week, there are several different possibilities for the Wildcats’ starting five to begin the 2017-18 season.

CBS Sports college basketball insider Jon Rothstein attended a UK practice earlier this week and offered up his prediction for the team’s starting five: point guard Quade Green, shooting guard Hamidou Diallo, small forward Kevin Knox, power forward Wenyen Gabriel and center Nick Richards.

PJ
Kentucky forward PJ Washington should be one of the Wildcats’ top freshmen this season. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

That’s one possibility, but it seems crazy to leave five-star freshman PJ Washington out of any starting-five scenario. Though listed at 6-7 by UK, he has been measured with a 7-3 wingspan and has a high basketball IQ that will allow him to play pretty much any position on the court, including the ‘5’, depending on matchups.

Going into the summer, my prediction for UK’s starting lineup was Green, Diallo, Knox, Washington and Richards, the latter to be based on how quickly he adapted to the college game and continued his rapid improvement in the post.

Given the constant buzz over Gabriel’s progress during the offseason, a case could be made that John Calipari will opt for a Green-Diallo-Knox-Gabriel-Washington lineup, one that lacks a true center but includes three players 6-7 or taller (plus the 6-5 Diallo, who has a 6-11 wingspan).

Expect Richards to play considerable minutes, whether he starts or not. Five-star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander should also be expected to get lots of playing time this season (and he’s another darkhorse candidate for a starting spot, depending on how Calipari wants to play it).

As Rothstein pointed out in his series of tweets this week, sophomore power forward Sacha Killeya-Jones will also be counted on by the Cats, especially with the loss of Vanderbilt for the first couple of months of the season.

Calipari has been touting “positionless” basketball for a couple of years now, and this team will be the best example yet of that vision.

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