Following Zion Williamson’s commitment to Duke on Saturday night, UK found itself in the rare spot of having no scholarship offers to unpledged players in the senior class.
The Wildcats might have already been quietly zeroing in on their next target.
ESPN basketball analyst Jeff Borzello noted in his Insider post Monday morning that Kentucky has picked up its recruitment of E.J. Montgomery, a five-star power forward from Marietta, Ga., and the top post player remaining in the class of 2018.
Borzello spoke to the Herald-Leader later Monday about the Wildcats’ pursuit of Montgomery, who is No. 16 overall in the new ESPN player rankings.
“Talking to people close to the recruitment, it seems like they’ve come on stronger in the past couple of weeks,” Borzello said. “Now, is that coinciding with the decreased confidence with getting Zion Williamson? Is it the fact that they’re probably not going to end up offering Moses Brown at this point? And that there’s really not a ton of big guys left at this point that they can really get involved with? I think that all plays a role, and I think that Kentucky wants another big guy for next season.
“I don’t think that’s too much of a secret.”
Borzello spoke to the Herald-Leader a few hours before Brown announced his commitment to UCLA on Monday, and the ESPN analyst noted at the time that the Bruins were the favorite to land him soon. UK did not extend a scholarship offer despite three visits from John Calipari in the past couple of months.
Williamson — a big-bodied, 6-foot-6 forward — likely would have played some around the basket had he committed to Kentucky over the weekend, and the Cats could indeed need another frontcourt player for next season, especially if someone like Nick Richards or PJ Washington were to test the NBA Draft waters.
UK is expected to return sophomores Sacha Killeya-Jones, Wenyen Gabriel and Tai Wynyard, too, but Montgomery would add another dynamic big man to that equation (and he’s ranked as high as No. 6 overall, by 247Sports, in this class).
Borzello said he sees Montgomery as “a little more skilled” than Richards, who is averaging 7.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game as the Cats’ starting center. The 6-10 high school senior also doesn’t fit the inside-outside mold of some of UK’s other forwards, like Kevin Knox (who is projected as a lottery pick), Gabriel and Washington.
“I think he would give them a little different dimension up front,” Borzello said. “He’s skilled. He’s long. He’s a lefty that can play in the high post or back to the basket. He’s a fairly good playmaker for someone who’s 6-foot-10. He’s not a great face-up shooter, but that’s OK at this point.
“I just think that his combination of size, skill and versatility in the frontcourt — I think that would be an asset wherever he ends up.”
It’s worth noting that Richards is playing only 17.5 minutes per game this season due to foul trouble and other inconsistencies. So, even if Richards were to return — and he’s not projected as a first-round draft pick at this point — there could be plenty of time for he and Montgomery in the post, with Killeya-Jones and others playing the ‘4’ role.
“If E.J. and Nick have to alternate going on the court, I think they can make that work,” Borzello said. “And Calipari knows that you don’t really pass up on five-star talent, you sort of figure it out as you go.”
So, look for Montgomery to emerge as the Cats’ main frontcourt target in the coming weeks, and it could be a while before his recruitment is settled
He backed out of a longtime commitment to Auburn after that program became embroiled in the federal investigation into college basketball last fall. Since then, Montgomery has said very little about his recruitment.
He’s taken unofficial visits to Clemson and Vanderbilt — and Borzello noted that the Commodores could become major players in this recruitment — while UK and Duke are two schools that have reached out to express interest.
With three months to go until the regular signing period, Montgomery appears to be taking his time. And with so much indecision over who stays and who goes on the current UK team, a drawn-out recruitment wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Cats.
“It’s still early for the Kentucky-E.J. Montgomery relationship,” Borzello said. “He hasn’t done much. There’s still a lot of schools involved. A lot of schools have been coming in, coaches going to watch him and things like that. … I think his recruitment is still kind of in the early stages.”