UK Men's Basketball

No. 1 basketball recruit R.J. Barrett picks Duke over UK, but Cats have options

R.J. Barrett led Canada to a FIBA gold medal over the summer. He’s the No. 1 recruit in the 2018 class.
R.J. Barrett led Canada to a FIBA gold medal over the summer. He’s the No. 1 recruit in the 2018 class.

Over the summer, R.J. Barrett ended John Calipari’s shot at an international gold medal with his 38-point, 13-rebound, five-assist performance in the FIBA U19 World Cup semifinals.

On Friday night, Barrett delivered another defeat to Calipari — this one on the recruiting trail.

The 6-foot-7 shooting guard from Canada announced his commitment to Duke during a nationally televised ceremony in his home country, giving the Blue Devils their third No. 1 overall recruit in the past five years.

Barrett — entering his final season at Montverde Academy (Fla.) — is ranked by, and ESPN as the top senior in high school basketball.

He led Canada to its first gold medal in basketball in July, knocking off the Calipari-coached USA Basketball squad along the way. He also led the Nike travel circuit in scoring (28 points per game) before joining Team Canada midway through the summer season.

Duke had been seen as the favorite in this recruitment for several weeks, but the lack of information coming out of Barrett’s camp since his official visits to Kentucky and Oregon — the other two finalists — gave fans of those schools some hope heading into Friday’s announcement.

Instead, Barrett joined Marvin Bagley (class of 2017) and Jahlil Okafor (class of 2014) as another No. 1-ranked addition for Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has now secured seven top-five commitments in the past five recruiting classes.

Kentucky has landed just two top-five recruits over that same time period.

Duke is also the frontrunner for the No. 1 class ranking in the 2018 cycle. The Blue Devils had already signed small forward Cameron Reddish — the No. 4 player in the class — and No. 1-ranked point guard Tre Jones.

Kentucky is not without shooting guard options for 2018, however.

The Cats remain in great shape with Oak Hill (Va.) standout Keldon Johnson, a versatile 6-6 prospect who will announce his college decision Saturday at 6 p.m.

Johnson’s other finalists are Maryland, North Carolina State and Texas, but Kentucky is the clear leader on his 247Sports Crystal Ball page. national analyst Evan Daniels declined to give a prediction for Johnson on Thursday, but he did tell the Herald-Leader that he “most definitely” thinks Kentucky is in the top two for Johnson heading into Saturday’s announcement, mentioning Maryland as the Cats’ most likely competition for his commitment. national analyst Corey Evans also told the Herald-Leader on Thursday that he liked UK’s chances to land Johnson, the No. 14 overall recruit in the 247Sports composite rankings for the 2018 class.

Four-star shooting guard Tyler Herro is also on Calipari’s wish list for next season, and the 6-5 senior from Milwaukee is on UK’s campus this weekend for his first official visit.

Herro — the No. 36 overall recruit in the 2018 composite rankings — backed out of a commitment to home-state Wisconsin last month and had planned to take his recruitment into the winter, but the speed at which UK has moved in its pursuit of the talented shooter could lead to a quick commitment.

Daniels is predicting that Kentucky will ultimately land Herro, and he said it’s possible that the recruit will be ready to make a college decision in time to sign with the Wildcats during the early signing period, which ends Wednesday.

“I like Kentucky’s chances,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “If I was on the Kentucky coaching staff, I certainly wouldn’t trade my position with anybody. It think they’re in good shape. I think Tyler wants to go to a blueblood. I think that there’s an affinity for Kentucky, and now he’s going to go check them out, see the school and go from there.”

UK also remains in the mix with five-star combo guard Quentin Grimes, who has narrowed his list to Kentucky, Kansas, Texas and Marquette and is expected to announce a decision sometime before Wednesday. Kansas is considered the leader in that recruitment, however, with the Longhorns likely running second.

Five-star point guard Darius Garland will announce his college decision Monday afternoon, and UK, Indiana, UCLA and hometown Vanderbilt are the finalists. Kentucky is seen as long shot for Garland, the No. 10 player in the class.

Five-star point guard Immanuel Quickley remains UK’s only commitment for the class of 2018, and he officially signed with the Cats on Thursday morning.

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