UK Men's Basketball

UK basketball recruiting: Thoughts on Derryck Thornton’s transfer from Duke

Derryck Thornton was considered the No. 3 point guard and No. 14 overall recruit in the class of 2015, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. He committed to Duke out of high school.
Derryck Thornton was considered the No. 3 point guard and No. 14 overall recruit in the class of 2015, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. He committed to Duke out of high school. Associated Press

For the past few weeks, rumors that Duke freshman point guard Derryck Thornton would leave the Blue Devils’ program after one season were prevalent in college basketball circles.

The rumors proved to be true Sunday, with the news that Thornton indeed plans to transfer.

The 6-foot-2 player from Chatsworth, Calif., was originally a member of the class of 2016 — and he was UK’s top point guard target in the class — before he decided to reclassify and leave Findlay Prep (Nev.) early to play college basketball.

Thornton averaged 7.1 points and 2.6 assists in 26.0 minutes per game for the Blue Devils this past season, starting in 20 of the team’s 36 games. The arrival of five-star point guard Frank Jackson likely would have led to a decrease in playing time next season.

Some thoughts on how Thornton’s transfer might affect UK recruiting:

▪  First, it’s possible that Kentucky could pursue Thornton, who was John Calipari’s No. 1 target at the point guard position early in the 2016 recruiting process. Thornton and his father — Derryck “Tank” Thornton Sr. — were both big fans of UK’s program during the recruitment, and they visited Lexington multiple times.

▪  Tank Thornton was the high school coach of Enes Kanter, who signed with UK and was with the team for the 2010-11 season but was ruled ineligible to play because of benefits he received while with a professional team in Turkey before coming to the United States. The elder Thornton remains close to Calipari and his coaching staff.

▪  The Cats could have a need for Thornton in the 2017-18 season, after he sits out one season as a transfer. Incoming freshmen De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk are already projected as one-and-done NBA Draft picks after next season. If Isaiah Briscoe returns for next season, he too will be projected as an NBA pick following his sophomore year. Dominique Hawkins will be a senior next season. That leaves Charles Matthews — not a point guard — as the only backcourt player expected to return in 2017-18. Additionally, Calipari has not shown considerable interest in many point guards in the recruiting class of 2017. Trae Young is the only point guard from that class with a scholarship offer from Kentucky, and several other major programs are also heavily recruiting him. UK has not shown much interest in Trevon Duval or Troy Brown, who are the top two point guards in the class, according to 247Sports composite rankings. Indianapolis native Paul Scruggs is the only other 2017 recruit listed as a point guard who has drawn interest from UK. Scruggs does not yet have an offer from the Wildcats.

▪  If UK does want Thornton, available scholarships could be an issue. The Cats are looking to add one more post player to their class of 2016, but, if they do, they would need Briscoe to go pro or another current player to transfer. That’s in addition to taking a scholarship away from preferred walk-on E.J. Floreal, who has had one the past three seasons at UK. So even if the Cats miss on another 2016 post player, they’d need another departure to make room for Thornton, unless Briscoe goes pro. (UK’s current projected scholarship players for 2016-17: Hawkins, Willis, Lee, Mulder, Matthews, Briscoe, Humphries, Adebayo, Fox, Gabriel, Killeya-Jones, Monk and Wynyard).

▪  There will be a lot of other schools interested in Thornton, who also listed Arizona, California, Louisville, Miami, Michigan, North Carolina State, UNLV and Southern Cal toward the end of his recruitment.

▪  Thornton’s departure helps Duke make room for five-star center Marques Bolden, who is also UK’s top remaining target in the 2016 class. The Blue Devils are now at 13 scholarship players for next season, but it’s possible another player could transfer — or Duke could take a scholarship away from freshman Justin Robinson, who did not play this past season and is the son of NBA great David Robinson — to make room for Bolden, who is expected to host Duke’s coaching staff for an in-home visit Sunday night and make a decision sometime soon. The Blue Devils are considered the favorite in Bolden’s recruitment.

Ben Roberts: 859-231-3216, @NextCats