UK Men's Basketball

Busy week for Zion Williamson, more on Jarred Vanderbilt and other UK basketball notes

Zion Williamson 'ready to make that decision'

Spartanburg Day senior Zion Williamson said he is looking forward to make his college choice.
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Spartanburg Day senior Zion Williamson said he is looking forward to make his college choice.

A week before he announces his college destination, high school basketball phenom Zion Williamson will play in a nationally televised game from the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass.

Williamson — the No. 3 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings for the class of 2018 — leads his Spartanburg Day (S.C.) team against Chino Hills (Calif.) in an 8 p.m. showcase Saturday on ESPN. The game was supposed to match Williamson against five-star prospect LaMelo Ball, but Ball has left Chino Hills and is now playing professionally in Lithuania.

A foot injury has sidelined Williamson for much of his senior season, but he is expected to play in Saturday night’s game.

Williamson — a 6-foot-6 forward — is also scheduled to announce his college decision Jan. 20. The finalists are Kentucky, Clemson, Duke, Kansas, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Clemson — located about an hour away from Williamson’s hometown — has generated the most buzz in recent weeks, and all signs point to the Tigers remaining the favorite going into the final week of his recruitment. Several national analysts have made public predictions in favor of Clemson, which is off to a 14-2 start this season and ranked No. 19 in the country.

Two of UK’s signees for the class of 2018 will also play on national television this weekend.

Five-star point guard Immanuel Quickley leads John Carroll (Md.) against Hudson Catholic (N.J.) at 11 a.m. Monday on ESPNU. UK Coach John Calipari was in the Baltimore area Wednesday night to see Quickley play.

Oak Hill (Va.) wing Keldon Johnson goes up against University School (Fla.) — led by No. 1-ranked junior Vernon Carey — at 1 p.m. Monday on ESPNU. Oak Hill and University School are the No. 2 and No. 3 high school teams, respectively, in the latest USA Today national rankings.

Quickley and Johnson have both signed with UK, and Carey — a 6-10 forward — has an early scholarship offer from the Wildcats.

Five-star recruit Zion Williamson scored 31 points in his first game back since Nov. 21.

Life after Zion

It’s going to be an interesting time for those who follow UK basketball recruiting after Zion Williamson announces his college decision next weekend.

Once Williamson makes a commitment, there will be zero uncommitted players in the class of 2018 with scholarship offers from Kentucky, a rare occurrence for this time of year.

Moses Brown is one of the top centers in the class of 2018. Gregory Payan AP

Five-star center Moses Brown — a 7-footer from Bronx, N.Y. — is the only other 2018 prospect on UK’s radar at the moment. John Calipari visited him in November and watched him play last month, but he has not yet extended a UK scholarship offer.

It still appears that an offer for Brown will be contingent on how badly Calipari thinks he needs another big man for the 2018-19 squad. Sacha Killeya-Jones, Tai Wynyard and PJ Washington — who could be very effective as a small-ball ‘5’ — all seem more likely to return to the Wildcats next season than not.

If starting center Nick Richards returns for a sophomore season — and he’s been sliding on NBA Draft boards as of late — the Cats likely won’t need another frontcourt player, especially with the probability/possibility of 6-9 forwards Wenyen Gabriel/Jarred Vanderbilt coming back.

Maryland has long been seen as the favorite for Brown if bluebloods like UK and Duke don’t come through with scholarship offers, and Florida State has also been picking up some steam in recent weeks. National recruiting analyst Andrew Slater recently made a Crystal Ball prediction in favor of the Seminoles.

No. 1 center Moses Brown talks about the latest in his recruitment and the recent interest from John Calipari and other big-name coaches.

Looking back

There’s been a lot of chatter about UK freshman Jarred Vanderbilt this week following his return to practice and — seemingly — his impending debut for the Wildcats.

As we all wait for him to play his first college basketball game, it’s worth reflecting on the way he finished up his high school basketball career.

Jarred Vanderbilt warmed up before UK’s game against Texas A&M on Tuesday night. Alex Slitz

After missing most of his final summer on the Nike circuit and some of his senior season due to injury, Vanderbilt was one of the stars of the national all-star circuit last spring.

He was a standout performer in the highly competitive practices that led up to the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago, then led his East team with six rebounds in that showcase.

A week later, he had 19 points and 10 rebounds (both game highs) — plus three assists, two steals and two blocked shots — to lead USA Basketball to a victory over a squad of all-star international players in the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Ore.

A week after that, Vanderbilt scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds — both totals were the second most on his team — before suffering a nasty ankle injury at the Jordan Brand Classic in Brooklyn.

Throughout that all-star stretch, recruiting analysts praised his improving jump shot and his continued approach to excellence on the boards, among other areas of his game.

247Sports recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer ended up ranking Vanderbilt at No. 9 overall in the 2017 class, the highest of any of Kentucky’s signees. Meyer talked to the Herald-Leader about Vanderbilt following his McDonald’s Game week performance.

“He’s going to bring a dimension to Kentucky that’s really going to be fun to watch, because he can really rebound,” Meyer said at the time. “He has a great feel for rebounding. He’s instinctual about it. And the way he can bust out on the break with his ball handling — he can really push the ball and he can pass it. So that’s going to be fun to watch. He’s going to be like a point forward type in transition. I imagine they’re going to let him go with it.”

After Kentucky’s 74-73 win over Texas A&M, UK Coach John Calipari was asked about Jarred Vanderbilt, who has begun practicing with the team.

New rankings updated its rankings for the recruiting classes of 2018, 2019 and 2020 this week, and it was nice to see a couple of Kentucky natives on the 2019 list.

University Heights star KyKy Tandy is one of the best prospects in the state of Kentucky. Charles Bertram

Louisville Trinity guard David Johnson is the No. 90 overall prospect in the junior class, and University Heights guard KyKy Tandy is ranked No. 117 overall. Both of those players have taken recruiting visits to UK in the past, though neither has a scholarship offer yet from the Wildcats.

Johnson was committed to U of L but backed off of that pledge in the aftermath of last year’s college basketball scandal. He’s still considering the Cardinals. Tandy has early scholarship offers from Florida and Oklahoma, among others.

The last class that had multiple Kentucky high schoolers in the Rivals 150 rankings was the 2015 group, which included Trinity’s Ray Spalding (No. 63), Owensboro’s Aric Holman (No. 73) and Knott Central’s Cam Justice (No. 122).

In the updated 2018 rankings, UK had all three of its signees in the top 50: Keldon Johnson at No. 14, Immanuel Quickley at No. 15, and Tyler Herro at No. 35.

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