UK Men's Basketball

With early signing period nearing, how close is Calipari to landing more commitments?

Zion Williamson will be a senior at Spartanburg Day (S.C.) this season.
Zion Williamson will be a senior at Spartanburg Day (S.C.) this season.

All three of the high school seniors who were scheduled to attend Big Blue Madness as UK’s recruiting guests did indeed make it to Lexington on Friday night, and it looks like that could be the end of official visits for the Wildcats this fall.

Five-star recruits Bol Bol, Darius Garland and Zion Williamson were all in town for their official visits over the weekend. Three fellow uncommitted prospects from the 2018 class — R.J. Barrett, Quentin Grimes and Keldon Johnson — had already taken official visits to Kentucky this fall.

With the early signing period a little more than three weeks away — it starts Nov. 8 — here’s where the Wildcats stand with each of their recruiting targets for 2018.

R.J. Barrett: The No. 1 prospect in high school basketball has narrowed his list to UK, Duke and Oregon, and he is scheduled to make his college announcement Nov. 10 and sign early. Barrett — a 6-foot-7 shooting guard from Canada — has already taken official visits to all three of his finalists, and he wants to get his college decision out of the way to concentrate on his final season at Montverde Academy (Fla.).

Duke is the heavy favorite on Barrett’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page, where national analysts Evan Daniels, Jerry Meyer and Andrew Slater have all logged predictions in favor of the Blue Devils.

Bol Bol visited Kentucky over the weekend. Mike Fender

Bol Bol: The No. 3 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings, Bol has said that he’s now considering only Kentucky and Oregon, cutting Arizona and Southern Cal from his list after assistant coaches from those schools were arrested in connection with the federal investigation into corruption in college basketball.

Bol’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page recently took a turn in UK’s favor — with Meyer and Slater both picking the Cats — though Bol’s recruitment has already taken a few twists, and he still hasn’t set a decision date. It’s worth noting that Daniels has a “foggy” pick for the 7-3 power forward, meaning the analyst is not siding with any school at the moment.

Darius Garland: A top-10 player nationally, the Nashville standout has now taken official visits to Vanderbilt and Kentucky, with trips to Indiana and UCLA set for the next two weekends. Those are his four finalists, and he’s planning to make an early decision.

Though Garland did visit UK over the weekend, the Wildcats are not thought to be favorites in his recruitment. Indiana and hometown Vanderbilt are now seen as the frontrunners, with the Commodores on top of his Crystal Ball page.

Quentin Grimes: The five-star combo guard from the Houston area visited Kansas over the weekend and has already taken official visits to Kentucky and Texas. His other finalist, Marquette, is expected to host Grimes this weekend, and he’s also planning to make a decision in time for the early signing period.

Kansas still has 100 percent of the picks on Grimes’ Crystal Ball page, though neither Daniels nor Slater has logged a prediction yet. Daniels told the Herald-Leader recently that UK has a better shot at Grimes than the Cats are being credited with.

Keldon Johnson is expected to make a college decision soon. Mike Fender

Keldon Johnson: The Oak Hill (Va.) wing took September official visits to Kentucky, Texas, Maryland and North Carolina State, and his college decision is expected to come down to those four schools. Oak Hill Coach Steve Smith also told the Herald-Leader recently that he would be “shocked” if Johnson doesn’t sign in the early period.

The Herald-Leader has been hearing good things about UK’s chances with Johnson for weeks, and that’s now being reflected on his Crystal Ball page. Meyer and Slater both switched their picks from Texas to Kentucky last week, and the Cats now have a majority of the predictions for Johnson, who might be the most likely candidate to be UK’s next commitment.

Romeo Langford: The No. 5 overall recruit in the 247Sports composite rankings, Langford took an official visit to North Carolina over the weekend. That followed earlier trips to Vanderbilt and UCLA, and he has future visits set for Indiana and Kansas. The only other school on his current list is Kentucky, but there has been no major contact between Langford and the Wildcats in recent months, and UK is not expected to remain on his list when he cuts it to three in November.

Indiana — the home-state school for the 6-5 shooting guard — is the leader on his Crystal Ball page.

Zion Williamson: The No. 2 overall recruit in the 247Sports composite rankings, Williamson has now taken official visits to Kansas and Kentucky with trips to Duke and UCLA set for the next two weekends. Home-state schools Clemson and South Carolina are also on the 6-6 small forward’s list (and he hasn’t ruled out North Carolina yet either).

As of Monday morning, Kansas was still the favorite on Williamson’s Crystal Ball page — and the Jayhawks certainly have a shot — but the Herald-Leader continues to hear positive buzz for Kentucky. There’s no set date for Williamson’s announcement, but an early decision could be in the works.

Immanuel Quickley, of course, is Kentucky’s only commitment so far for the 2018 class. The 6-3 point guard is the No. 8 player in the 247Sports composite rankings.

In the spotlight

Early in Zion Williamson’s high school career, there was talk in recruiting circles that the budding star might shy away from the glaring spotlight that goes along with basketball meccas such as Kentucky, Duke and Kansas.

There was nothing shy about Williamson during the run-up to Big Blue Madness on Friday night.

All 10 of UK’s visiting recruits for Madness were ushered to an area right behind the “blue carpet” that was set up as an arrival spot for former Wildcats and the current Kentucky players. That put the recruits in clear view of several dozen UK fans, and within arms-reach of several dozen more.

The fans took advantage of the opportunity, getting photos with and autographs from some of the visiting recruits. None of the recruits was more popular than Williamson, and he took to the attention like a natural.

The 6-6 small forward from Spartanburg, S.C., flashed a big smile for several photos with UK fans, joking around with the kids and signing basketballs for the adults. On the other side of the blue carpet, more UK fans chanted Williamson’s name (and a couple shouted out jokes at the expense of Kansas, one of the star recruit’s fellow finalists).

After the UK team arrived on the blue carpet and entered the arena, assistant coach Joel Justus led the visiting recruits from the main entrance facing High Street to the normal players’ entrance at the back of the building. It wasn’t an easy job. Several more UK fans stopped the recruits — Williamson included — for more photos and autographs.

Another guest

All 10 recruits who were expected to be at Big Blue Madness made the trip to Lexington, and there was at least one surprise guest beyond that.

Five-star prospect Chandler Lawson — a 6-8 small forward from Memphis — was in Rupp Arena on Friday night, along with new high school teammate James Wiseman, the No. 1 player in the class of 2019 and an expected guest for Madness.

Lawson is the No. 21 overall recruit in the class of 2019, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, and he’s the younger brother of Kansas players Dedric and K.J. Lawson (both transfers from Memphis).

Highly touted forward Shareef O’Neal — the son of NBA great Shaquille O’Neal and a standout in the 2018 class — was rumored this month to be a possible Madness guest, but he was not in Kentucky over the weekend.

O’Neal — a 6-9 prospect from California — is committed to Arizona, and he has said that he still plans to visit for that program’s preseason scrimmage this weekend, despite the Wildcats’ connection to the federal investigation into college basketball.

There’s been some buzz in recent days that O’Neal might ultimately flip his commitment to Kentucky — which has received lots of past praise from his famous father — but the star recruit has noted in exchanges with UK fans on social media that the Wildcats have never formally offered him a scholarship.

O’Neal’s recruitment will still be worth monitoring as the signing period approaches.

Recruiting from afar

UK commitment Immanuel Quickley had originally planned to be at Big Blue Madness, but his AAU team director told the Herald-Leader on Friday morning that the five-star point guard would regretfully have to miss the Wildcats’ big event.

Quickley had to stay home in Maryland for some activities related to his high school basketball team after missing fall-league games the previous weekend so he could participate in the USA Basketball training camp in Colorado Springs.

Not being in Lexington didn’t stop him from doing a little recruiting.

On Friday morning, Quickley posted a photo of himself with his friend Zion Williamson — the Cats’ high-profile recruiting visitor for Madness — from one of their summer basketball trips together. “BBN show my bro a lot of love,” the tweet said.

On Saturday morning — while Williamson was still on his official visit to Lexington — Quickley tweeted a graphic of the two players, both wearing UK jerseys with the Rupp Arena court in the background.

Quickley will officially sign with the Cats during the early period in November, and he’s clearly hoping that Williamson will do the same.

Rupp Arena was filled with UK basketball fans as the men’s and women’s basketball teams held their first open practice of the season at the Big Blue Madness event in Rupp Arena on October 13.