It didn’t take long for John Calipari to get back on the recruiting trail following the Wildcats’ home loss to Tennessee on Tuesday.
Less than 24 hours after that defeat, Calipari and UK assistant coach Kenny Payne were at Wheeler High School in Marietta, Ga., to see five-star post player E.J. Montgomery, who has emerged in recent weeks at the Cats’ top remaining target for the class of 2018.
Montgomery — a 6-foot-10 power forward — is the No. 6 overall player in the latest 247Sports rankings, and he’s the top available big man left in the 2018 class after backing off his commitment to Auburn last fall.
It was actually Payne’s second trip to see Montgomery in a span of eight days. The UK assistant was at Wheeler High last Wednesday, and Calipari likely would have accompanied him on that trip had he not been sidelined with an illness.
The Calipari visit comes at a busy time in Montgomery’s recruitment.
The highly touted prospect is scheduled to take an unofficial visit to North Carolina for the Tar Heels’ home game against Notre Dame on Monday night, then hit Duke two days later for an unofficial visit centered on the Blue Devils’ home game against Virginia Tech.
Montgomery also took a recent visit to Vanderbilt, and the Commodores, who have already signed five-star seniors Darius Garland and Simi Shittu and remain in the final three for top-five prospect Romeo Langford, are considered a serious threat in the recruitment.
Though Montgomery is planning on taking all five of his official visits — and he’s expected to narrow his list of schools soon — Duke is shaping up as the behind-the-scenes favorite at this stage in his recruitment.
National analyst Andrew Slater logged a pro-Duke prediction on Montgomery’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page late last month, and fellow national analyst Jerry Meyer and several others followed with more picks in favor of the Blue Devils in the days that followed.
UK and North Carolina are both making a major push though, and — with Montgomery seemingly in no hurry to make a decision — this could become the most-watched recruitment in the country to close out the 2018 cycle.
Change of plans
John Calipari and Kenny Payne were also planning to watch class of 2019 guard Jalen Lecque, who plays for Christ School (N.C.), on Wednesday night, but the Herald-Leader was told that Lecque came down with the flu, and UK’s coaches pushed back the visit as a result.
Kentucky assistant coach Joel Justus already visited with Lecque a couple of weeks ago, and Calipari is expected to see him sometime soon.
Though he’s currently in the 2019 class, Lecque was originally a class of 2018 prospect, and he has said recently that he’s considering moving back to 2018, a decision that would allow him to play college basketball next season.
UK could need another backcourt player for the 2018 class if Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo all turn pro after this season, which is still very much a possibility. Such a scenario would leave UK with Quade Green, Jemarl Baker (who has not played yet this season due to injury), incoming guards Immanuel Quickley and Tyler Herro, plus incoming wing Keldon Johnson as the scholarship backcourt corps.
Lecque — a 6-4 prospect — is ranked by 247Sports as the No. 2 combo guard and No. 10 overall player in the 2019 class.
There were a couple of interesting Crystal Ball predictions for 2019 recruits this week:
National analyst Andrew Slater switched his pick for No. 1 overall recruit James Wiseman from UK to Memphis. That would be a devastating result for the Cats, who have now gone three consecutive classes without landing a top-five national prospect and haven’t had a No. 1-ranked signee in the composite rankings since Nerlens Noel in 2012.
Wiseman — a 6-11 power forward — is currently a junior at Memphis East High and plays his high school and AAU ball for former NBA star Penny Hardaway. There has been buzz in high school circles for months that Memphis might try to bring in Hardaway, a former Tigers standout, as a coach in the near future.
Every other prediction on Wiseman’s Crystal Ball page is still in favor of Kentucky.
247Sports national analyst Jerry Meyer logged a Crystal Ball pick in favor of Kansas for top-five prospect Matthew Hurt on Wednesday night. Hurt — a 6-10 forward from Minnesota — is the No. 4 player in the 2019 rankings and has an early scholarship offer from UK. Calipari last watched him play in December.
UK has finished either No. 1 or No. 2 in the composite class rankings in every recruiting cycle since John Calipari took over as coach in 2009, but that streak might come to an end later this year.
New commitments this week for UCLA and Kansas pushed both of those programs past Kentucky in the 247Sports team composite rankings, and the Wildcats are now No. 6 nationally with few remaining options to fill out their class.
Duke, Oregon and Louisiana State are the top three schools in the rankings. If Duke holds on to the No. 1 spot — and the Blue Devils probably will — it’ll be the third consecutive No. 1-ranked recruiting class for that program.
Top 50 recruit in town
If you’re in Lexington and have some free time to watch a little basketball Friday night, Louisville Trinity is in town to play at Lafayette High School.
Trinity guard David Johnson is averaging 15.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game while shooting 48 percent from three-point range so far this season. Johnson, a former U of L commitment, is ranked by 247Sports as the No. 40 overall player in the class of 2019.
He just picked up a scholarship offer from Ohio State last week and has been on UK’s campus for recruiting visits in the past. He’s also still considering Louisville.
Trinity is ranked No. 4 in the state in the latest Herald-Leader ratings. Lafayette is No. 9 in those rankings. Tip-off for Friday night’s game is scheduled for 8 p.m.