UK Men's Basketball

National analyst handicaps UK’s chances with top basketball recruits in 2018 class

Zion Williamson is the No. 2 recruit in the 247Sports composite rankings for the class of 2018.
Zion Williamson is the No. 2 recruit in the 247Sports composite rankings for the class of 2018. Adidas

The first day of college basketball’s early signing period is approaching, and the question remains: who will Kentucky add to its 2018 recruiting class?

The Cats already have a commitment from five-star point guard Immanuel Quickley, and they’ve targeted several other highly touted players to join him next season, but — with a little more than a week until the signing period begins — it remains unclear who else will commit to Kentucky this fall.

Scout.com national analyst Evan Daniels talked to the Herald-Leader on Monday evening about five highly touted prospects who have been at the top of the Cats’ wish list in recent months. Judging from Daniels’ comments, it’s likely to be a hectic couple of weeks for John Calipari and the UK coaching staff.

Starting with the bad news for the Cats, it appears unlikely that they’ll land either of the top two recruits in the Scout.com rankings for the class of 2018.

R.J. Barrett — a 6-foot-7 shooting guard from Montverde Academy (Fla.) and the No. 1 overall player in the Scout rankings — has narrowed his list to UK, Duke and Oregon, and he’s already scheduled a college announcement for Nov. 10. (The early signing period is Nov. 8-15).

Daniels logged a pro-Duke pick on Barrett’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page in late September, and he said Monday that he’s still OK with that prediction.

“I would say that my confidence meter is not at 100 percent, but I like Duke’s positioning,” Daniels said.

If Barrett does indeed pick the Blue Devils, he would be joining a class that already includes point guard Tre Jones and small forward Cam Reddish, two more players ranked among the top 10 prospects in 2018.

“Man, that would be a pretty ridiculous perimeter,” Daniels said. “A guy that I think is probably the best setup man in all of high school basketball matched with two guys that absolutely know how to score. That gives them size, athleticism and scoring ability. That would be a tough perimeter to compete with.”

Bol Bol — a 7-3 power forward from Los Angeles and the No. 2 player in the Scout rankings — is down to UK and Oregon, and Daniels made a Crystal Ball pick in favor of the Ducks last week that led to a wave of such predictions.

“I think all signs point to Oregon,” he said Monday. “It’s a two-horse race with Kentucky and Oregon, and I think Oregon is the leader heading down the stretch.”

Bol has not yet set a decision date, but Daniels expects a fall announcement.

“I would be surprised if he didn’t,” he said, noting that he hasn’t heard anything that would indicate Bol will wait until the spring or open his recruitment back up to other schools.

It’s worth noting that Daniels has been correct on his last 36 Crystal Ball predictions, as of Tuesday morning.

Now, for the (relatively) good news for Kentucky.

Calipari has made Oak Hill (Va.) shooting guard Keldon Johnson a major priority this fall, and he still appears to be the most likely UK commitment in the near future.

“It seems like Kentucky is in really good shape heading down the stretch,” Daniels said. “I think they made a lot of headway and made up a lot of ground quickly. Information is tough to come by, but I probably wouldn’t trade Kentucky’s position with anybody.”

Daniels did add that the other schools left in Johnson’s recruitment — Maryland, North Carolina State and Texas — shouldn’t be discounted just yet, specifically mentioning the Terrapins as a threat to Kentucky.

Johnson — a 6-6 prospect and the No. 14 player in the 247Sports composite rankings — is widely expected to announced a college decision in time to sign in November.

UK has also made Texas combo guard Quentin Grimes a priority recently. Calipari has traveled to the Houston area multiple times this fall to visit with Grimes, and UK assistant coach Kenny Payne was there last week for another visit.

Grimes — a 6-5 recruit and the No. 11 player in the Scout.com rankings — is also considering Kansas, Marquette and Texas.

“His is a hard one to handicap,” Daniels said. “I think he’s kind of coming down the stretch here, and I’ve always believed that Kansas kind of led. And I think that Texas is probably right there. But after that, I think it’s hard to handicap. I would expect that he makes his college choice sometime here in the next couple of weeks.”

Kansas coaches visited Grimes twice in a span of six days last week, with Bill Self taking the entire Jayhawks’ staff to see him last Monday.

Perhaps the most intriguing high-profile recruitment remaining for the 2018 class is that of Zion Williamson, the No. 2 player in the 247Sports composite rankings.

Williamson — a 6-6 small forward from Spartanburg, S.C. — is still considering UK, Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, Clemson and South Carolina, and he’s taken visits to all six schools this fall. UK assistant coach Joel Justus is expected to meet with him Tuesday.

“The scuttlebutt is that it’s a race between Kentucky and Duke,” Daniels said. “There’s not a lot of new information coming out about that recruitment.”

Williamson — arguably UK’s top remaining target in this class — made an impromptu visit to UNC over the weekend, and he’s been careful not to tip his hand in the few media interviews he’s done lately.

He also hasn’t set a date for his college announcement.

“It would appear that he’s getting close to making a college decision, but you never really know,” Daniels said. “I don’t think he really knows either.”

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