UK Men's Basketball

How E.J. Montgomery fits in at UK, Duke and UNC (and more basketball recruiting notes)

E.J. Montgomery was one of the top players on the Adidas circuit last summer.
E.J. Montgomery was one of the top players on the Adidas circuit last summer. adidas

Almost lost in the all of the hoopla leading up to Saturday night’s UK-Missouri game — notably, the Yahoo Sports report on scandal in college basketball and the will-he-or-won’t-he-play question surrounding Michael Porter Jr. — was the fact that one of the top high school recruits in the country was set to be in Lexington for a visit.

Five-star power forward E.J. Montgomery was tough to miss once the Rupp Arena doors opened.

The highly touted, 6-foot-10 prospect from Marietta, Ga., walked into the arena with UK assistant coach Kenny Payne about two hours before tip-off Saturday night. A little while after that, Payne, Montgomery and the star recruit’s parents walked out onto the Rupp Arena court and took a seat together on the visitor’s bench.

They chatted as UK players went through early shootarounds in front of them. At one point, Wildcats freshman Kevin Knox walked onto the court, grabbed a ball and started heading toward one of the baskets before he noticed Montgomery sitting courtside.

Knox shot him a big smile, walked over to the bench and shook hands with the star recruit and his family before joining his UK teammates for warmups.

Montgomery would likely never play with Knox at the college level — the UK freshman is projected as a one-and-done NBA lottery pick this year — but he’d be a big addition for the Wildcats’ future.

UK has made Montgomery its No. 1 target in the 2018 class, too.

Payne has been to his high school twice in recent weeks, the second time bringing UK Coach John Calipari along for the visit. Montgomery is ranked by 247Sports as the No. 6 overall prospect in the 2018 class. He’s the best uncommitted post player in the country, and Kentucky still hasn’t signed a prospect taller than 6-6 for its 2018 class.

The competition in Montgomery’s recruitment is stiff, however. He took recruiting visits to Duke and North Carolina earlier this month, and those programs have also made him a major priority to close out the 2018 cycle.

The Cats clearly want Montgomery, who decommitted from Auburn last fall, to be part of their 2018 signing class. How much they need him is yet to be seen, and that probably won’t be known for a couple of months.

Based on current NBA Draft projections, UK could return starting center Nick Richards next season, along with frontcourt rotation players Jarred Vanderbilt, PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones. No one on that list is projected as a first-round draft pick this year, though that could change, and UK has seen its share of (somewhat) surprising postseason decisions in the recent past.

If all — or even most — of those players returned, Montgomery would be a luxury on next season’s roster. But he’s not just an insurance policy for Calipari.

Montgomery is likely to be an instant-impact player for whichever team he picks, no matter who returns from the previous season.

“I think his mentality and his physical tools and his skill would allow him to be a major-impact contributor from day one, wherever he chooses,” 247Sports analyst Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader recently.

Montgomery is a versatile offensive threat who can score from the post or step out and make shots from mid-range. He’s also a capable rebounder with the length and athleticism to be a good defender at the next level.

Duke also has zero commitments from post players in the 2018 class, though the Blue Devils are likely to return Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier — both averaging about 13 minutes per game — from this season’s team.

UNC also has zero frontcourt commitments for the 2018 class. The only three scholarship players taller than 6-8 on the Heels’ roster are freshmen Garrison Brooks, Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley (none of those three were Top 100 recruits, according to 247Sports composite rankings). Brooks has played the most of that trio, starting 16 of 29 games with 15.3 minutes per contest.

Duke remains the leader on Montgomery’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page.

In-state visitor

University Heights Academy guard KyKy Tandy was also at Rupp Arena on Saturday night, and while the Wildcats have not yet extended a scholarship offer to the in-state star, they are monitoring his recruitment.

University Heights star KyKy Tandy visited UK on Saturday. Charles Bertram

The Herald-Leader has been told that UK coaches are expected to watch Tandy play sometime soon, either in the high school postseason or on the upcoming spring travel circuit.

The 2nd Region Tournament starts Thursday night for University Heights with the semifinals set for Saturday night. With UK playing a big game at Florida to wrap up the regular season Saturday, it’s unlikely anyone from the coaching staff would be able to make either of those games. UK could see Tandy play in the 2nd Region finals the following Monday, if University Heights makes it that far.

Whether or not the Cats get a look at Tandy in the next few days, there will still be ample opportunity to see him play before he nears a college decision. The 6-2 guard is a member of the 2019 class and has one more season of high school after this.

He’s the No. 150 overall player in the class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. Tandy has early scholarship offers from Florida, Tennessee and Cincinnati, among others.

Tandy is averaging 30.6 points per game and shooting 45.0 percent from three-point range for UHA this season.

Team effort

Shareef O’Neal — the son of former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal — announced Saturday that he is no longer committed to Arizona due to that program’s ongoing problems related to the federal investigation into corruption in college basketball.

As the No. 33 overall prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings for the 2018 class, O’Neal immediately becomes one of the top available high school seniors in the country. UK was often mentioned as a possible destination before he committed to Arizona last spring, and Kentucky’s early signees for the 2018 class wasted no time in reaching out to the 6-9 power forward from California.

About three hours after O’Neal announced his recruitment was open, UK signee Tyler Herro tweeted “BBN” at the star prospect. A few hours after that, UK signee Immanuel Quickley did the same.

UK’s other signee for the 2018 class, Keldon Johnson, is not active on social media.

It’s too early to tell which way O’Neal’s recruitment will go next, but — as of Monday morning — Kentucky had all of the predictions on his 247Sports Crystal Ball page.

Back on the court

Speaking of Immanuel Quickley, the UK signee took a nasty fall in a game a couple of weeks ago and the Herald-Leader reported a few days later that he would undergo an MRI on his knee and was being held out of games as a precaution.

Quickley ended up missing two more games that next weekend, but he returned to the court Tuesday night — going for 21 points and 10 assists while leading his team to a win. He scored 22 points and hit a buzzer-beater to lead his squad to another victory Thursday night, and Quickley and John Carroll High School (Md.) won a conference championship Sunday.

Going into the conference playoffs, Quickley was averaging 20 points, six rebounds and six assists per game.