ESPN released its updated basketball recruiting rankings for the class of 2018 last week, and one future Wildcat held steady with a notable distinction.
UK signee Keldon Johnson — a 6-foot-6 wing from South Hill, Va. — is the No. 6 overall prospect in those rankings, and that makes him the only player committed to the Cats with a top-10 ranking from any of the major recruiting services.
Rivals.com ranks Johnson as the No. 14 player in the class, and 247Sports pegs him as the No. 15 prospect for 2018.
ESPN recruiting analyst Jeff Borzello spoke to the Herald-Leader recently about what makes Johnson stand out among his talented peers.
“It’s his consistency — that’s what is most impressive. He always brings it,” Borzello said. “He’s not a knockdown perimeter shooter, but he’s killer in the mid-range. He gets to the basket. He’s got a good body. I think his frame is college ready.
“He’s not too high, not too low — he’s not going to go 3-for-17 or 18-for-18 — I think he just brings it every night. He’s not a crazy athlete, but he just sort of finds ways to get points.”
Johnson is in his senior season at national powerhouse Oak Hill Academy (Va.), and he’s playing alongside talented teammates like Kansas signee David McCormack, Florida signee Keyontae Johnson and Oregon signee Will Richardson — all Top 100 recruits in the class of 2018.
Sharing the ball with other great players will obviously prepare him well for his time at Kentucky. Johnson’s find-a-way-to-contribute approach to the game will also be a plus for Coach John Calipari, who annually must figure out how to get several five-star recruits to play team ball.
“Just the fact that he can do a lot of different things on the offensive end and doesn’t need perfect conditions to have a good game, I think that makes him important,” Borzello said. “You can always count on him. Even as a freshman, I think he’ll be able to come in and Calipari will be able to count on him, night in and night out.”
ESPN’s recruiting team also has a higher opinion of UK signee Tyler Herro than the other major websites.
Herro — a 6-5 shooting guard from Milwaukee — moved up two spots to No. 25 overall in the new ESPN rankings, and ESPN is now the only recruiting service to grade Herro as a five-star prospect. Rivals.com has him at No. 35 overall, and 247Sports ranks him as the No. 37 recruit in the class.
Borzello said Herro was especially impressive at the USA Basketball training camp in October, a weekend event that attracted many of the top prospects in the 2018 class.
“I think he really impressed a lot of people that maybe hadn’t watched him closely before,” he said. “He really stood out. He’s got good size, but he was also a pretty good playmaker, from what we saw at USA Basketball. He’s a really good shooter — that’s what he’s known for — but he was creating off the dribble, he was creating for other guys.
“I think what he brings to the table for Kentucky is something they’ve sort of been lacking this year: a wing that can make shots and make plays off the dribble. And I think him and Keldon Johnson both will help in that regard.”
That USA Basketball camp in October was the final Team USA-affiliated event before players were chosen for the Nike Hoop Summit, and Herro announced last week that he has accepted an invitation to play in that event. (The full USA team has not yet been announced). He’s also already scored 40 or more points in six games this season.
The Hoop Summit is set for April 13 in Portland, Ore., and it will give recruiting analysts and NBA scouts a weeklong opportunity to watch Herro compete with and against some of the best amateur players in the world.
▪ UK’s other signee, point guard Immanuel Quickley is No. 17 in the new ESPN rankings. 247Sports has Quickley as the No. 14 player in the class, and Rivals.com ranks him at No. 15.
The new Fab Five?
Perhaps no recruiting class in recent memory has been as hyped as the 1991 Michigan group, famously nicknamed “The Fab Five” and featuring Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson — a quintet that led the Wolverines to two national title game appearances in two seasons together.
According to the recruiting rankings, Duke’s potential five-man haul in 2018 will be better.
The Blue Devils have already signed the top two players in the class — R.J. Barrett and Cameron Reddish — as well as No. 1 point guard Tre Jones, the No. 9 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings. Duke also has a commitment from No. 3 overall player Zion Williamson, who will sign in April.
Now, the Blue Devils appear to be the favorite to land top available post player E.J. Montgomery, the No. 12 overall prospect in the 2018 composite rankings. Though UK and North Carolina are among the others involved — coaches from both schools visited Montgomery on Wednesday — Duke will get his first official visit later this month, and the Blue Devils have picked up recent Crystal Ball predictions from national analyst Andrew Slater and others.
Montgomery to Duke would give the Blue Devils the Nos. 1, 2, 3, 9 and 12 players in the senior class.
According to recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons’ rankings at the time, the Fab Five consisted of the Nos. 1, 4, 10, 12 and 76 players in the 1991 class.
Five years ago, Kentucky landed five of the top 10 players in the 2013 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings: No. 2 Julius Randle, No. 5 Andrew Harrison, No. 6 Aaron Harrison, No. 9 James Young and No. 10 Dakari Johnson.
UK’s version of the Fab Five also advanced all the way to the national title game.
More good news for Duke?
One interesting tidbit that came out of player interviews at the Hoophall Classic in Massachusetts last month: There’s a big text message group featuring an early Duke commitment and a few of his most talented 2019 recruiting classmates.
Scottie Lewis, one of UK’s top targets in the class, told reporters that he’s been in a group chat with teammate and friend Bryan Antoine, No. 2-ranked Vernon Carey, five-star post player Amrando Bacot and five-star small forward Joey Baker, who committed to the Blue Devils back in October.
All of those players have reported scholarship offers from Duke. Three of them — Lewis, Antoine and Carey — have offers from Kentucky, and UK assistant coach Joel Justus visited Bacot earlier this season.
Relationships often matter in the recruiting process, and Duke is likely on the verge of another elite — quite possibly No. 1 — recruiting class in 2019.
But don’t necessarily expect all five of these guys to be in that Blue Devils class.
The Herald-Leader was told this week that Duke remains the school to beat for Antoine, the No. 7 player and top-ranked shooting guard in the 247Sports composite rankings. Duke also leads on the Crystal Ball pages of Carey and Bacot, though their recruitments are a little tougher to handicap.
Lewis, the player who actually mentioned the group text, is not expected to end up with the Blue Devils. The high-flying, electric wing from New Jersey — ranked No. 6 in the class — is expected to narrow his school list soon, and Florida, UK and Villanova appear to be the three programs with the most momentum right now.