UK Men's Basketball

If top recruit Bol Bol ends up at Oregon, what are UK’s frontcourt options for 2018?

Bol Bol has cut his recruiting list to Kentucky and Oregon.
Bol Bol has cut his recruiting list to Kentucky and Oregon.

The momentum in five-star basketball prospect Bol Bol’s recruitment has shifted in the favor of Oregon in recent days, and — with Bol possibly ready to make a college decision sometime soon — it could leave Kentucky in an interesting spot.

As of now, Bol — a 7-foot-3 standout from Los Angeles — is the only player listed as a power forward or center with a UK scholarship offer for the class of 2018. He’s the No. 3 recruit nationally in the 247Sports composite rankings. He’s also cut his list to UK and Oregon, and the early signing period is a little more than one week away.

So far this month, national recruiting analysts Jeff Borzello, Evan Daniels, Jerry Meyer and Andrew Slater have all predicted Bol will end up at Oregon.

If that happens, where will John Calipari turn for a frontcourt recruit?

There are a few different possibilities.

Several five-star frontcourt players remain uncommitted in the 2018 class, but Calipari has already taken a closer look at most of them and decided to pass on offering a scholarship.

Vermont Academy’s Simi Shittu is the No. 7 overall player in the class. The 6-9 power forward from Canada hosted Calipari for an open gym at his high school during the first week of the fall recruiting period, and it seemed at the time like things were moving toward a UK offer — and possible commitment — for the talented prospect.

Instead, the recruitment fizzled, Shittu never visited UK, and the Cats offered under-the-radar power forward Jaxson Hayes instead. (Hayes later committed to Texas).

Shittu has taken an official visit to Vanderbilt and has another planned to North Carolina on Nov. 10. If he signs this fall — the early period ends Nov. 15 — then one of those two schools seems the most likely destination. If he waits until the spring, it’s possible Kentucky could rekindle interest, but there’s been nothing recently to indicate that’s in the Wildcats’ plans.

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John Calipari hasn’t targeted many frontcourt players in the 2018 class. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

The next frontcourt player in the 2018 composite rankings is 6-10 power forward Jordan Brown, a California native who has already cut his list of schools and taken official visits to UCLA and St. John’s. The No. 11 player nationally, he was cut from Calipari’s USA Basketball training camp over the summer, and UK has not showed any interest in his recruitment in recent months.

Next up is Moses Brown, a 7-footer from New York and the No. 15 prospect nationally. Calipari visited Brown earlier this year at his high school, and he looked like the Cats’ top option at center going into the summer. UK never extended a scholarship offer, Brown has since moved on in his recruitment, and the Cats have not renewed their interest in recent weeks.

Maryland has 100 percent of the predictions on Brown’s Crystal Ball page.

There was some chatter heading into the fall that UK might try to get back into the recruitment of Emmitt Williams, a 6-8 power forward from Florida and the No. 21 player in the 2018 rankings.

UK had showed interest in Williams — one of the top rebounders on the Nike circuit — over the summer, and he made it clear he would love an offer from the Wildcats.

Rumors of another UK push in his recruitment never materialized, however.

Earlier this month, Williams was arrested on felony sexual battery and false imprisonment charges. He pleaded not guilty to those charges last week.

Louisiana State is the favorite on Williams’ Crystal Ball page.

Former Auburn commitment E.J. Montgomery — a 6-10 power forward from Marietta, Ga. — is No. 25 in the 2018 composite rankings, and could be an intriguing target for the Wildcats, though UK has not yet shown any interest in his recruitment.

Montgomery is a skilled, versatile big man and a talented rebounder. He hasn’t said much about his recruitment since decommitting from Auburn in the wake of the college basketball corruption scandal, and he doesn’t appear to be close to a decision. Scout.com ranks him as the No. 17 player in the class.

The only other uncommitted power forwards or centers in the 2018 class are Kamaka Hepa (No. 50), Bryan Penn-Johnson (No. 74) and J’Raan Brooks (No. 79).

Penn-Johnson — a Utah high school standout — got a quick look from UK coaches during the summer, but nothing has come of that. Hepa and Brooks are both West Coast prospects and have never been linked to Kentucky.

Top 50 prospect Shareef O’Neal — a 6-9 power forward and son of NBA great Shaquille O’Neal — has not shown any signs of wavering in his commitment to Arizona despite recent Crystal Ball predictions that he might flip to Kentucky, but that’s a situation to monitor as the early signing period approaches.

The ongoing federal investigation into college basketball could also ultimately lead to more schools being implicated, which could lead to decommitments and more available recruits, but Bol and Shittu are the only two top-10 frontcourt players in the 2018 class, which appears to be short on can’t-miss, immediate-impact recruits in the post.

There has also been talk that James Wiseman — the No. 1 recruit in the 2019 class — might consider reclassifying to 2018 so he can play college basketball next season. Kentucky is considered the early favorite for the 6-11 power forward from Tennessee, but he won’t turn 18 years old until the week before the 2019 Final Four and has not given any indication that he intends on moving up a grade.

During the summer, there was also some behind-the-scenes talk that UK — perhaps down on the 2018 frontcourt talent pool — might look at international post players for next year’s class. No specific names have come up in that category, but it remains a possibility.

The best solution to filling the UK frontcourt next season might the simplest, old-fashioned one: players who are already on the team.

Sacha Killeya-Jones and Tai Wynyard — both 6-10 power forwards and former top 50 recruits — are projected to be back at UK after this season and will be juniors by the 2018-19 campaign.

PJ Washington — a versatile, 6-7 player with a 7-3 wingspan — can play the ‘4’ or ‘5’ position, and he’s not currently projected by ESPN as a one-and-done NBA Draft pick. Ditto for 6-9 forward Wenyen Gabriel, who will be the most experienced player on this season’s team. Both could be back at UK for another run.

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Nick Richards is a possible one-and-done player at Kentucky. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

ESPN does project 6-11 freshman Nick Richards as a one-and-done pick, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he needed more than a year before moving on to the NBA.

If three or four of those players return, the Cats could fill out the rest of the roster with guards and wings and still have a formidable lineup.

One more possibility to ponder: Zion Williamson at power forward.

Williamson, arguably UK’s top remaining target in the 2018 class, recently measured at 6-5 (without shoes) and 272 pounds. He’s listed as a small forward, but his unique game allows him to play — and dominate — all over the court.

“I’m not worried about him being 6-5 barefoot,” 247Sports analyst Jerry Meyer told the Herald-Leader last week. “Every basketball player out there is listed two inches taller than they are. And then his weight. Well, his weight is what makes him good. The larger, more dense object that moves at a faster speed than the competing objects is the dominant object.”

Williamson would prefer to play on the perimeter — and he’d still get plenty of opportunities to do that at UK — but the “positionless” nature of his game could give the Cats another frontcourt weapon to utilize under the right circumstances.

Kentucky still has to beat out Duke, Kansas and others for his commitment — and he hasn’t confirmed he’ll sign in the early period — but Williamson could end up as the closest thing to an immediate contributor in the frontcourt that UK gets in this class.

And that might be all the Cats really need.

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