UK Men's Basketball

Analyst weighs in on UK’s top basketball targets, and the Cats’ chances to land them

Zion Williamson is the No. 1 overall player in the 247Sports rankings for the class of 2018.
Zion Williamson is the No. 1 overall player in the 247Sports rankings for the class of 2018.

With the early signing period for college basketball now a little more than two weeks away, UK’s recruiting class for 2018 still features just one player: five-star point guard Immanuel Quickley.

He isn’t expected to be the Cats’ lone commitment for much longer.

The four high school seniors most linked to UK in recent weeks — Zion Williamson, Bol Bol, Keldon Johnson and Quentin Grimes — have all taken official visits to Lexington this fall and could all make college decisions in time to sign next month.

All four of those players also participated in the USA Basketball minicamp in Colorado Springs earlier this month. 247Sports national analyst Jerry Meyer scouted that camp, and he spoke to the Herald-Leader this week about what he saw from each player and where UK stands in each recruitment.

Zion Williamson

“It was the usual,” Meyer said of Williamson’s performance at USA Basketball camp. “He was just the most athletic, most dominant player there. Nothing really new; same old Zion.”

The “usual” is a good thing, according to Meyer, who has Williamson ranked as the No. 1 overall player in the 247Sports rankings for the senior class. He told the Herald-Leader that he saw nothing at the USA camp that made him second guess his decision to put Williamson ahead of R.J. Barrett, the top player in the, and ESPN rankings.

“We can’t make him higher than one. We don’t have a zero,” Meyer said with a laugh.

The longtime analyst added that he wasn’t concerned with Williamson’s measurables at the camp: 6-5 with no shoes and 272 pounds. Those numbers raised lots of eyebrows, but Meyer said it’s Williamson’s ability to use his weight to his advantage while still playing at a high level athletically that makes him great.

“He imposes his will on the game,” Meyer said. “And he impacts winning more than any player on the court. He is a physical, dominating presence on the court. I think his ball handling is extremely underrated. I think he also has a feel for passing the ball. He can get to where he wants to get on the court.

“Obviously, his outside shot has room for improvement, which is basically something we can say about almost everyone who’s ever been a five-star recruit, with just a few exceptions. … And the thing about (outside) shooting is that’s probably the skill that’s easiest to develop.”

As far as Williamson’s recruitment, Meyer is predicting a victory for UK.

“I still like Kentucky’s chances,” he said. “I think Kentucky is in a strong position.”

What’s next?: Williamson has taken official visits to UK, Duke and Kansas and cancelled a trip to UCLA previously planned for this weekend. He cut the Bruins but is also still considering North Carolina, South Carolina and Clemson, though he has no more visits scheduled. It’s possible he will sign in the early period (Nov. 8-15).

Bol Bol

The 7-3 son of late NBA star Manute Bol remains a bit of an enigma.

“He’s uniquely skilled,” Meyer said. “At times, you feel like he’s passive though. You feel like he gives it to you in flashes. Say, out of five plays in a game, on one of them he’ll do something that makes your jaw drop. And then on the next four you’ll feel like he had no impact on the game at all. So that’s why he’s a tough one to rank. You see that capability, but if he does it so infrequently …”

Meyer has Bol ranked as the No. 4 overall player in the class. His unique size and skill set make him arguably the high school recruit with the highest ceiling in the country. The question is when it will all come together on a consistent basis.

Meyer noted Bol’s great production on the Nike EYBL circuit this summer, when he averaged 21.4 points, 10.0 rebounds and a league-high 4.5 blocked shots per game, winning league MVP honors. That hasn’t necessarily carried over to his stints at USA camps in Colorado Springs (where he was cut from John Calipari’s U19 squad this summer).

“There were a lot of times where you wouldn’t have known he was on the court except he’s so much taller than everyone,” Meyer said. “But he’s a great talent.”

Bol has a tendency to float on the perimeter on offense, often not factoring into plays as a result. Meyer doesn’t think that will be a problem at the next level.

“I think, when he gets in college, you will see both his consistency of play and his production level rise,” he said. “He’s going to become more consistent, because he’s going to be structured.”

Meyer entered the day Tuesday with a Crystal Ball pick for Bol in favor of Kentucky, but he acknowledged during the interview with the Herald-Leader that the recruitment has been tough to handicap. Meyer has since changed his prediction to Oregon.

What’s next?: Bol has taken official visits to both of his finalists — UK and Oregon — and a commitment could come at any time. Or he could wait until the spring (and possibly consider new schools) before announcing a college decision.

Keldon Johnson

247Sports ranks Johnson — a 6-6 wing from Oak Hill Academy (Va.) — as the No. 11 overall recruit in the class of 2018.

Keldon Johnson was one of the top scorers on the Nike circuit this summer. Mike Fender

“I’m a huge fan,” Meyer said. “And moreso even after watching him in Colorado Springs. He just has such composure to his game, but yet is uber-athletic and uber-aggressive. Rarely do you see those three come together for a player. And then he’s skilled. He’s a better shooter than we view him, because he does the other things so well. He has consummate shooting guard size. I think he’s a great prospect.”

Meyer noted that things have been relatively quiet in Johnson’s recruitment since he wrapped up his official visits a few weeks ago.

“But my pick is Kentucky, and I haven’t felt like I should change that,” he said.

What’s next?: Johnson has taken official visits to UK, Maryland, North Carolina State and Texas, and he’s expected to sign with one of those schools next month. He hasn’t set a commitment date, but it’s likely to come in the next couple of weeks.

Quentin Grimes

The 6-5 combo guard from Texas is ranked No. 17 nationally by 247Sports, and he’s one of nine point guards or combo guards in the top 20 for the 2018 class. Meyer said it’s been difficult to separate many of those players.

“Truth be told, he’s probably a little underrated,” he said. “The thing Quentin Grimes has is size. He’s 6-4, 6-5 and strong. He’s just as quick as all these other guys. He has the versatility to play the point or the ‘2.’ Heck, he could play the ‘3’ in a small lineup. So I think he just brings a lot of value to a team.

“He does it all at a pretty high level. He’s a good-enough shooter. He can make plays in traffic because of his strength. He has some explosiveness. He really controls the ball. He’s a good ball handler, a good passer. He’s just good at everything.”

Kansas currently has 100 percent of the predictions — including Meyer’s — on Grimes’ 247Sports Crystal Ball page. Bill Self and his entire coaching staff were in Texas on Monday to see him, and they’ve made Grimes their No. 1 backcourt priority for a while.

“I think they’re in the lead,” Meyer said. “The intel I’ve gathered — I mean, Kentucky is a threat — but Kansas has had him as a top priority for so long. I think the only hurdle has been his concern that he’s just going to be set off on the wing or in the corner and Devon Dotson will have the ball. But I like Kansas’ chances.”

Dotson — a highly touted point guard — has already committed to the Jayhawks, but Meyer envisions a pairing much like Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham, who both enjoyed great success sharing the backcourt at Kansas last season, and he said the Jayhawks’ coaches are likely trying to sell Grimes on a similar setup.

“That would be a vicious combination,” Meyer said.

What’s next?: Grimes has taken official visits to UK, Kansas, Marquette and Texas, and he will ultimately choose one of those four schools. He has not set a commitment date, but a fall decision appears likely.

Other notes

▪  R.J. Barrett is the No. 1 player in the 247Sports composite rankings and has narrowed his recruiting list to Kentucky, Duke and Oregon in advance of his college announcement planned for Nov. 10. Though UK has made the 6-7 shooting guard from Canada a top priority, Duke is getting all of the buzz in recruiting circles as his commitment date nears. Meyer said he continues to hear that Duke is the most likely destination.

▪  UK has also extended scholarship offers to five-star guards Darius Garland and Romeo Langford, though the Cats are not considered to be among the favorites for either player. Garland is also considering Indiana, UCLA and hometown Vanderbilt, while Langford also lists home-state Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, UCLA and Vanderbilt. Meyer is currently predicting Vandy for Garland and Kansas for Langford.

▪  UK has been linked to four-star shooting guard Tyler Herro — a top-40 recruit in the 2018 class who recently decommitted from Wisconsin — but there has been no confirmation yet that the Cats will indeed pay Herro a visit this week.

▪  Highly touted forward Shareef O’Neal took his official visit to Arizona as planned over the weekend and remains committed to Coach Sean Miller’s program despite the uncertainty stemming from the college basketball corruption scandal. There have been no recent indications of any UK involvement in his recruitment.

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