UK Men's Basketball

What will Zion Williamson do? ... And other UK basketball recruiting questions for 2018

Recruiting is all about looking ahead, and there are lots of questions regarding UK’s basketball pursuits heading into the 2018 calendar year.

Here are 10 things to watch over the next 12 months — and we should have answers to all of these questions by Jan. 1, 2019:

What will Zion Williamson do?

The biggest immediate question for followers of UK basketball recruiting revolves around Williamson — the No. 2 overall high school senior in the 247Sports composite rankings — and where he’ll play his college ball.

The 6-foot-6 forward from Spartanburg, S.C., said in his USA Today blog last week that he feels like he’ll “be making a decision soon” and then told reporters at the Beach Ball Classic that he intends to announce a college choice by the end of January. UK, Clemson, Duke, Kansas, North Carolina and South Carolina are the finalists.

We’ve been hearing that the decision could actually come in the next couple of weeks, and it’s worth noting that Williamson’s team has a game set to be televised by ESPN on Jan. 13. We’ve also been told that local option Clemson is the team to beat heading into the new year.

Will UK add a big man to its 2018 class?

The Cats have a trio of outstanding early signees — Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley — but they’re all backcourt players. If Nick Richards were to leave for the NBA Draft after this season, UK could need another post player for the 2018-19 campaign.

Nick
If Nick Richards goes to the NBA after this season, the Cats might need another post player for 2018. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

The problem: there simply aren’t many options left in the 2018 class.

The Cats are still showing interest in five-star center Moses Brown — the No. 27 player in the new 247Sports rankings — but they’ve been hesitant to pull the trigger on a scholarship offer.

No. 6 overall senior and 6-10 power forward E.J. Montgomery is still available, but UK hasn’t been linked to his recruitment.

If the Cats don’t land someone from the 2018 class, they could turn to a graduate transfer or hope that a major post player from the 2019 class moves up a grade late in the process (more on that later).

Who will land the No. 1 recruiting class?

UK will end up with another stellar recruiting class, but it seems unlikely that the Cats will have the No. 1-ranked group this year.

Kansas is currently on top of the 247Sports composite rankings, holding a slight lead over Oregon. Duke has signed the top two players in the new 247 rankings — Cameron Reddish and R.J. Barrett — and the Blue Devils also have a signature from No. 9 recruit Tre Jones.

Meanwhile, Vanderbilt is No. 6 on that list after signing top-12 national recruits Darius Garland and Simi Shittu, and the Commodores are in a good spot with No. 5 overall recruit Romeo Langford.

Who stays, who goes after this season?

It’s always a topic of conversation around the UK basketball program these days, and this season’s group seems as wide open as any in recent years.

Knox
Kevin Knox is projected as a lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Kevin Knox is considered a lottery pick in the latest ESPN projections, and Hamidou Diallo is ranked No. 21 on that list. Both seem likely to leave UK after this season.

High-upside center Nick Richards is No. 28 on the ESPN list and could also go pro.

No other Wildcat is in first-round range, though PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt (who still hasn’t played yet) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (who had his best two games as a Cat over the weekend) have all been mentioned as possible picks.

Those players’ decisions — and any surprises from others — will affect how many new guys UK brings in.

Will any changes be made to the NBA one-and-done rule?

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been in favor of ending the one-and-done rule — remember, it’s an NBA rule, not a college one — and Silver and players’ association boss Michele Roberts met with the new Commission on College Basketball recently to discuss the future of one and done.

Any changes, which ultimately would have to be agreed upon by the league and players’ union, would certainly have an impact on the way UK recruits. It seems like those changes are coming sooner rather than later, and John Calipari and the Cats will be watching closely.

Will UK end its drought with No. 1-ranked recruits?

For all of Calipari’s amazing recruiting success at UK, it’s been six years since he landed the No. 1 player in the 247Sports composite rankings (Nerlens Noel). Duke has signed three No. 1 players since then, Kansas two and Louisiana State one.

The 2019 cycle could put an end to that skid.

James Wiseman — currently No. 2 in the 247 composite rankings — could easily move to No. 1 on that list before too long, and UK is seen as the major favorite in his recruitment. It won’t be a surprise if he’s ready to make his decision this year.

Which 2019 recruits will the Cats add early?

Calipari has signed at least three players in each of the past six early signing periods, so it’s safe to assume UK ends up with multiple early signees for the 2019 class.

The aforementioned James Wiseman appears likely to sign with the Cats at some point. UK is probably in a better spot with top-five recruit Matthew Hurt than the Cats are being given credit for, and he could be a fall signee.

Five-star forward D.J. Jeffries grew up a Calipari fan in the Memphis area and has had nothing but good things to say about UK. Top point guard Tyrese Maxey is another with lots of behind-the-scenes buzz already in UK’s favor.

It could be a very good early haul for the Cats come November.

Will any big stars in the 2019 class move to 2018?

The recent trend would indicate the answer to this one will be yes.

There are already rumblings that a small handful of 2019 recruits might follow Marvin Bagley’s path of “play Peach Jam in July then head to college in August.”

James Wiseman was adamant last month that he intends to stick in the 2019 class, but reclassification questions will likely continue to dog him. Expect at least one or two current 2019 five-stars to make this move.

Will any in-state prospects emerge as UK targets?

There are currently zero in-state players on scholarship at UK, and it doesn’t appear that anyone will emerge in the 2018 class to change that for next season.

The in-state 2019 class includes two four-star recruits — Trinity’s David Johnson and University Heights’ Dekeyvan Tandy — and both have visited UK in the past.

What else will come out of the federal investigation into college basketball?

Things have been relatively quiet on this front in recent weeks, but there’s still an expectation that 2018 will bring accusations against additional schools and coaches.

The first wave in the feds’ investigation led to a rash of high-profile decommitments and shook up the recruiting world. Any future developments will surely have a similar impact, and college basketball will be waiting anxiously to see if 2018 brings more bad news.

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