College basketball coaches were on their way back home from the recruiting trail Sunday, the final day of the final open recruiting period of the summer.
The next six weeks will be a “quiet period” for recruits, meaning coaches and their high school targets won’t be able to have any in-person contact outside of college campuses.
The Herald-Leader covered several recruiting events around the country this spring and summer. Here’s a rundown of the biggest narratives of the recruiting season, and a few things UK fans should be looking out for as the 2017 recruiting cycle goes on:
The next leader: There’s almost always a high level of turnover in point guard personnel at UK, and whichever top-ranked point guard signs with the Cats in the 2017 class is likely to be the day-one starter. Oklahoma star Trae Young remains at the top of John Calipari’s wish list, and he’s expected to pick either the Cats or hometown Sooners. Philly native Quade Green was the Nike assists leader this summer and has emerged as another top UK target, though Duke has made Green its No. 1 priority at point guard. If the Cats miss on both, Connecticut native Tremont Waters seems to be the backup plan. It’s highly likely that one of those three will be running the show for UK in 2017-18.
What’s up with No. 1?: Bahamian 7-footer DeAndre Ayton is widely considered the No. 1 recruit in the 2017 class, but there are still many questions about his future. Ayton, who plays his high school ball in Arizona, has denied rumors that he won’t be eligible academically to play college basketball or that he intends to skip college and jump straight to the pros. UK, Arizona and Kansas are the three at the top of his list, and he’s indicated behind the scenes that he’s serious about Kentucky. Will the Cats go all-in on a recruitment with so many unanswered questions?
SEC battle: Five-star wing John Petty was the first 2017 prospect to earn a UK scholarship offer, and his recruitment looks like a two-school race between the Cats and home-state Alabama. The Crimson Tide have made Petty their No. 1 priority. There’s buzz out of Bama that UK has given the impression it’s looking harder at other players at his position, but the Cats would still be the team to beat if they go hard after Petty.
Straight talk: The so-called “package deal” is one of the most needlessly discussed topics in recruiting right now. Every year, five-star players talk about their intentions to play together in college, and such arrangements usually fall through in the end. UK target Kevin Knox has been mentioned in a package deal with Mohamed Bamba, Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr., all five-star players. Knox’s reaction this month to such a plan was refreshing: “I don’t really do package deals,” he said. The 6-9 forward from Tampa made it clear that he’ll be making his own college choice, and that decision won’t come until the spring. UK remains a real possibility.
Moving on: Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr. are still listing the Wildcats, but the UK coaches have made it pretty clear they’re no longer interested. The feeling is that those two players are leaning elsewhere, and Kentucky likes its chances with other — just-as-talented — prospects at their positions. Unless something changes soon, Calipari and his assistants will be focusing their time on other top stars in the class.
No offers, for now: Brian Bowen, Trevon Duval, Billy Preston, Mitchell Robinson, Paul Scruggs and Kris Wilkes are all five-star recruits in the class of 2017, and all six have been open about their wish for a UK scholarship offer. The Cats haven’t offered any of the players on that list, for various reasons. The UK coaches seem content to take their chances with other talented players in the 2017 class, despite the likely need to add six or seven top prospects in this cycle. Perhaps a sign that the Cats feel pretty good about their prospects elsewhere?
Nail-biter: Calipari is accustomed to landing early commitments, but it’s looking like he’ll have to wait on many of the top players in the 2017 class. Several of UK’s biggest targets have said or implied that they won’t make a college decision until the spring. With so many Wildcats projected to leave after this season, that could cause some heartburn late in the recruiting cycle, no matter how confident UK is now.
Staying quiet: Not only does it appear that many top recruits will be deciding late, but several of the best in 2017 aren’t saying much at all about their recruitments. Popular narratives have formed regarding which schools lead for such prospects as Mohamed Bamba, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt and Lonnie Walker, but little of that information is coming from the players themselves. That could make for some surprise decisions later in the process.
The Swoosh still rules: The Nike circuit has produced the majority of Calipari’s signees since he arrived at UK, which is, of course, a Nike school. That wasn’t the case in 2016, when three of five signees came from travel teams affiliated with other shoe companies. The 2017 class will restore the Nike order. All 14 of the players with UK scholarship offers sported the Swoosh this summer.
Get ’em now: Looking ahead, the 2018 recruiting class is not well regarded — some analysts are already calling it the least-talented group in years — and that makes UK’s 2017 recruiting efforts all the more important. It looks like it will be difficult to build a contending team of primarily 2018 prospects, so UK will need to find a handful of multi-year players in the class of 2017 to maintain the program’s long-term success.