UK Men's Basketball

Does Calipari need to add another basketball recruit to his 2018 class? And will he?

John Calipari signed three highly touted basketball recruits in November.
John Calipari signed three highly touted basketball recruits in November.

With zero scholarship offers extended to uncommitted basketball prospects in the high school class of 2018, it’s an uncertain time for UK on the recruiting trail.

Usually, at this point in a cycle, there are at least a couple of late-deciding five-star players that have been on John Calipari’s radar for months. Think Kevin Knox, Mohamed Bamba, Marques Bolden and Jaylen Brown, just to name a few, in recent years.

Zion Williamson, the only remaining recipient of a UK offer until he committed to Duke last weekend, is off the board. So, too, is five-star center Moses Brown, who had attracted interest — but no offer — from Calipari before committing to UCLA on Monday.

Kentucky has already signed a trio of highly touted players for next season: point guard Immanuel Quickley, shooting guard Tyler Herro and wing Keldon Johnson. The Cats are also expected to return several talented players from this season’s team.

Does UK need to add another recruit — and is Calipari likely to do so — for next season? The answer is probably yes.

As of right now, the Cats are carrying 11 scholarship players, two fewer than the limit, and that relative lack of bodies has been noticeable at times this season with freshmen Jarred Vanderbilt (out 17 games) and Jemarl Baker (out all 20 games so far) sidelined for most of it, and Quade Green and Tai Wynyard also missing time with injuries.

Unless UK adds another recruit to its 2018 class, it’s hard to imagine the Cats having more than 11 scholarship players on next season’s squad.

This week, we’ve printed a series of stories with insight on the current team’s future prospects from ESPN’s lead NBA Draft analyst, Jonathan Givony, who currently has three Kentucky players in the first round of his 2018 mock draft: Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo. That trio has also been consistently listed in other mock drafts throughout the season.

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UK freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is projected as a first-round NBA pick. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Knox and Diallo have been considered likely one-and-done players since the fall (and that’s still the expectation). Gilgeous-Alexander is a more recent addition to that conversation.

Even if one of those three Cats decides to come back to UK for another season (which would theoretically give UK a roster of 12 scholarship players), another one (or two or three) could unexpectedly decide to leave early.

NBA Draft stock, as UK fans well know, hasn’t been that great of a barometer for whether players have gone or stayed in recent seasons. There have been some surprising transfers, as well.

Isaiah Briscoe and Isaac Humphries both turned pro after their sophomore seasons last year. Neither was projected as an NBA pick. Neither was selected in the NBA Draft.

Marcus Lee and Charles Matthews both transferred from UK after the 2015-16 season. The Harrison twins and Dakari Johnson both turned pro as sophomores the year before that, and Andrew Harrison and Johnson were drafted in the second round. Aaron Harrison wasn’t picked at all.

So, it wouldn’t be that big of a shocker if a player like Jarred Vanderbilt or PJ Washington or Nick Richards decided to test the NBA waters. Or if someone currently on the roster chose to move on to another school.

A three-player class would also be an all-time low for Calipari in his 10 recruiting cycles at UK. He’s signed four recruits only three times, and every other class has featured at least five — and as many as eight — new scholarship players.

So, if the Cats do add another player, who’s on the list of possibilities?

Five-star power forward E.J. Montgomery is the biggest 2018 name that has popped up in the post-Zion-to-Duke world. Montgomery is a 6-foot-10 prospect from Marietta, Ga., and he’s the best available big man in the 2018 class, according to the rankings.

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E.J. Montgomery is the best post player available in the 2018 class. Todd Burandt Adidas

ESPN’s Jeff Borzello first reported this week that UK has reached out to Montgomery, and Borzello told the Herald-Leader that the Cats should have a solid shot if things get serious.

“I’ve been told that Kentucky’s made a stronger push, Duke’s made a stronger push. And right now, in my opinion, I’m guessing Kentucky would be the more likely of the two to really keep pursuing him, given that they really want another frontcourt player,” he said, also mentioning Vanderbilt as a potential major player in his recruitment.

Montgomery is, by all accounts, in no hurry to make a college decision.

Another name to watch in the 2018 class is one-time U of L commitment Anfernee Simons, the No. 7 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings.

Simons — a 6-3 shooting guard — has not yet been publicly linked to UK as a recruit, but don’t be surprised if that changes in the coming weeks. He’s a tremendous perimeter scorer and could be one of the most dynamic offensive players in the country for whichever school he chooses — if he goes to college at all.

Simons is in a post-graduate year at IMG Academy (Fla.) and meets all eligibility requirements for this year’s NBA Draft. He’s expected to test that process — much as Diallo did last year — and make a spring decision on college or the NBA.

Tennessee and Florida have generated a lot of buzz in his recruitment, and he’s expected to visit North Carolina State next month.

No other recruits in the 2018 class are currently seen as potential prominent targets for Kentucky, but there are other ways to get players.

Graduate transfers are always an option — UK pursued Pittsburgh’s Cam Johnson last spring — and those names usually don’t pop up until March or April.

A player currently in the 2019 class could also make a late decision to move up a grade — as Duke’s Marvin Bagley did last summer — and play college basketball next season.

James Wiseman, the No. 1 player in the junior class, has shot down reports that he’s considering such a move, but those rumors have continued since he last spoke on the subject last month. UK is the major favorite for the 6-11 power forward.

Kentucky has also been recruiting five-star combo guard Jalen Lecque, who was originally in the class of 2018, moved to the class of 2019, but has acknowledged in recent weeks that he is considering moving back to 2018 and playing college ball next season.

If a blueblood like UK offers an opportunity to play, Lecque is expected make that jump. He’s the No. 10 overall player in the new 247Sports rankings for 2019.

Calipari gave a simple “don’t know yet” when asked Monday — two days after Williamson picked Duke — if his 2018 recruiting class is complete.

Don’t expect him to finish this cycle with only three new players.

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