UK Men's Basketball

Mustang Madness preview: UK target Ayton ‘as good as it gets’ in high school basketball

DeAndre Ayton is ranked by as the No. 1 basketball prospect in the recruiting class of 2017. He has said that Kentucky, Kansas and Duke are his top three schools.
DeAndre Ayton is ranked by as the No. 1 basketball prospect in the recruiting class of 2017. He has said that Kentucky, Kansas and Duke are his top three schools. Herald-Leader

The Mustang Madness high school basketball showcase returns to Paducah this week, bringing some of the nation’s top recruits to McCracken County High School for four days of games.

Among the featured players will be Hillcrest (Ariz.) junior DeAndre Ayton, a 7-footer who was named by last year as the No. 1 prospect, regardless of age, in all of high school basketball. He was only a sophomore at the time. director of recruiting Evan Daniels got another look at Ayton at last month’s Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas, and the high praise from last season still stands.

“I thought it was as good as I’ve seen him play,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader this week. “And he’s as good of a prospect as there is in high school basketball. You don’t find too many guys with his type of size, length, mobility, athleticism, and then the skill.

“I think the area that might have impressed me the most was his shooting touch, and his form. ... When he puts effort on playing in the paint, he rebounds everything and he blocks everything. He’s as good as it gets, as far as a prospect in high school basketball.”

Ayton is ranked by, ESPN and 247Sports as the No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2017, but some analysts were down on his game over the summer. dropped him to the No. 4 spot in the class, and 247Sports also moved him down in the rankings (though he recently returned to No. 1 on their board).

The reason was a perceived lack of effort as the summer AAU and camp circuit dragged on.

“I understand it,” Daniels said. “Sometimes last summer, DeAndre didn’t give maximum effort or play real hard. He just wasn’t productive all of the time. As he gets older, his motor is going to continue to improve, and it certainly was much better when I saw him last month.

“I think the next step is just consistently playing hard and trying to be more effective around the basket.”

Daniels noted that — as impressive as Ayton was on the perimeter — he “fell in love” with the outside shot a little too much for a player who has the ability to be so dominant in the paint. Ayton did the same during a stop in Lexington last month, making three three-pointers in the opening minutes of one Hillcrest victory though rarely establishing a post game on the block.

UK Coach John Calipari was in attendance for one of Ayton’s games in Lexington — something that the 7-footer said he was impressed by — and he’s emerging as one of the Wildcats’ top recruiting targets for the class of 2017.

Ayton has repeatedly said that the top three schools on his list are UK, Duke and Kansas.

It will probably be awhile before those programs get an answer from him.

“I don’t think any of these schools have done too much work with him,” Daniels said. “It’s way too early (for a prediction). I don’t think recruiting is something that he’s put a ton of thought in to.”

Ayton’s Hillcrest team will play Friday at 7:30 p.m. CST against Quality Education (N.C.) and Saturday at 8 p.m. CST against Advanced Prep International (Texas).

Vanderbilt a must-see

Five-star forward Jarred Vanderbilt also returns to Kentucky for this week’s Mustang Madness event.

Vanderbilt — a 6-foot-8 prospect from Texas — played two games each in Lexington and Marshall County last month, and John Calipari attended one game at each stop.

One of the top 10 players in the class of 2017, Vanderbilt is clearly one of UK’s top targets among the nation’s juniors. He attended UK’s victory over Arizona State in Rupp Arena during his trip to Lexington last month, the first college game of his recruitment.

“It’s a great program,” Vanderbilt told the Herald-Leader. “Coach Cal’s a great coach, a legendary coach. And it seems like he gets the best out of the guys and puts them in the right position to excel.”

Vanderbilt, who plays for Victory Prep (Texas), says he is not close to a college decision, though Kentucky is thought to be among his top schools at the moment.

Victory Prep plays Huntington Prep (W.Va.) at 4:30 p.m. CST on Friday and Word of God Academy (N.C.) at 4 p.m. CST on Saturday.

Teammates to watch

Class of 2017 standouts Trevon Duval and Billy Preston are both ranked among the top 10 juniors in the country, and both play for Advanced Prep International (Texas).

Kentucky has not shown substantial interest in either player’s recruitment in recent weeks, but that could change moving forward. API is coached by Ray Forsett, who coached former UK recruiting target Emmanuel Mudiay at Prime Prep in Texas.

API plays Hillcrest (Ariz.) at 8 p.m. CST on Saturday and Word of God (N.C.) at noon CST on Sunday.

Other big names

Several major recruits who are no longer on UK’s radar will also be at Mustang Madness.

That list includes uncommitted seniors Josh Jackson (Prolific Prep, Calif.), Thon Maker (Athlete Institute, Ont.), Rawle Alkins (Word of God, N.C.) and Udoka Azubuike (Potter’s House, Fla.). All of those players are five-star recruits in the class of 2016, and Jackson, Alkins and Maker are all projected as one-and-done NBA Draft picks in 2017.

The lineup also includes Michigan State signee Miles Bridges (Huntington Prep) and Alabama commitment Terrance Ferguson (API), two more five-star players in the 2016 class.

More info

For more details and a full schedule of this week’s games, check out the Mustang Madness website at Tickets for the event can be purchased at the gym or from this website.

Ben Roberts: 859-231-3216, @NextCats