UK Men's Basketball

How much success has Calipari had with the elite recruits who visit Big Blue Madness?

Sacha Killeya-Jones was already committed to Kentucky when he came to Big Blue Madness as a high school senior two years ago.

Still, he was wowed by the experience.

“It was crazy,” Killeya-Jones said this week. “I had been to other midnight madnesses and stuff, but it was always in their auxiliary gym or something like that with only a couple of thousand people in there. But you walk into Big Blue Madness in Rupp, that was something you’d never seen before. I’d never seen it in my life — 25,000 people screaming.”

At the time, Killeya-Jones was the only UK commitment for the class of 2016, but he wasn’t the only Wildcats recruiting target from that group in Rupp Arena on that night.

The program’s guest list that year also included top-10 national prospects De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Harry Giles — all uncommitted seniors at the time.

Of course, Fox and Monk would go on to commit to UK a few weeks later, while Giles ended up at Duke. Killeya-Jones said he thought the night had an impact on the entire group.

“I knew a lot about the program and had taken a couple of visits up here, but that was my first time really getting to witness Big Blue Nation,” he said. “I was talking to some of those guys like, ‘This is it. This is the way to go. This is the spot.’ I think, obviously, a lot of those guys were excited about it. Maybe not all of them came here, but I think they all recognized that Big Blue Madness and Big Blue Nation, in general, is something completely different.”

PJ Washington — now a UK freshman — was in a similar spot last year. He attended Big Blue Madness as an uncommitted recruit and pledged to the Cats a few weeks later. “I had never seen nothing like it,” he said of that night in Rupp Arena.

The visit for Madness weekend — particularly his interactions with UK fans on that trip — also helped solidify Lexington as the place he wanted to be.

“How the fans interacted with me — they knew my name and everything — it was just great,” Washington said. “I felt like this was home.”

Recent success

Overall, John Calipari hasn’t had a tremendous success rate with uncommitted seniors who attend Big Blue Madness, but his percentages in that category have been on the rise in recent years.

Going into the 2015 edition of Madness, only four of the 15 uncommitted seniors who attended the event ultimately ended up at Kentucky.

Over the past two Madness events, however, six of nine uncommitted seniors picked the Wildcats. De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk both committed to UK after Madness two years ago (Harry Giles picked Duke), and Quade Green, Kevin Knox, Nick Richards and PJ Washington all committed to Kentucky after attending Madness last year. Mohamed Bamba (Texas) and Trae Young (Oklahoma) were also at last year’s Madness.

That recent success could continue in the current recruiting cycle. As of Friday morning, three uncommitted seniors are expected to attend Big Blue Madness: Bol Bol, Darius Garland and Zion Williamson.

UK appears to be trending in the right direction for both Bol and Williamson, two of the top three recruits in the 2018 class.

One bad year

UK went 0-for-5 with uncommitted seniors in 2014, when Carlton Bragg (Kansas), Jaylen Brown (California), Brandon Ingram (Duke), Malik Newman (Mississippi State) and Stephen Zimmerman (UNLV) all ultimately committed to other schools.

Other than that, John Calipari has landed at least one commitment from a high school senior in every Madness dating back to 2010, when all four of UK’s eventual signees — Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer — were already committed by the time of the event.

UK also didn’t land a commitment from a senior in 2009, but only two such players (Tobias Harris and Kyrie Irving) visited that year, and Madness hadn’t quite reached its current state as a recruiting destination by that early point in Calipari’s tenure.

Early impression

Six high school juniors have come to Big Blue Madness uncommitted and later given their pledge to John Calipari.

Every one of those players — Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Trey Lyles, Karl-Anthony Towns and Immanuel Quickley — have returned to Madness as seniors. (Update: Quickley, the Cats’ only commitment so far for 2018, will not be able to attend Big Blue Madness on Friday night).

UK certainly hopes to add to this list in the future.

The juniors on Friday night’s guest list are No. 1 overall recruit James Wiseman and five-star prospects Keion Brooks, D.J. Jeffries and Tyrese Maxey.

Wiseman, in particular, has been viewed as a possible Kentucky lean in the early stages of his recruitment. His Nike league teammate, Jeffries, is also thought to have the Wildcats very high on his recruiting list, possibly No. 1.

A little patience

Don’t expect any commitments this weekend.

A total of 10 high school seniors over the past six years have picked Kentucky after attending Big Blue Madness, but Marcus Lee was the only one of those players to announce a commitment within two weeks of the visit. (Lee committed to UK six days after his Madness trip).

Willie Cauley-Stein, De’Aaron Fox, Quade Green, Trey Lyles, Malik Monk, Alex Poythress, Nick Richards and PJ Washington all announced their commitments to Kentucky within a few weeks of Madness, in time to sign during the early period (which runs from Nov. 8-15 this year).

Only Kevin Knox has waited any considerable length of time between Madness and his UK commitment. Knox announced for the Wildcats on Kentucky Derby Day this year, nearly seven months after attending UK’s marquee recruiting event.

Shaq’s son

As of Friday morning, there was no confirmation that five-star forward Shareef O’Neal planned to be at Big Blue Madness on Friday night.

O’Neal — the son of NBA great Shaquille O’Neal and one of the top players in the class of 2018 — is currently committed to Arizona, but the uncertainty surrounding that program has led to speculation that he might re-open his recruitment. O’Neal is good friends with Bol Bol, who will be at Big Blue Madness.

He has said that he still plans to visit Arizona for next weekend’s Red-Blue Game, the program’s annual preseason scrimmage.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader