UK Basketball Recruiting

Will anyone else join Kentucky’s basketball recruiting class?

Marques Bolden ( photo)
Marques Bolden ( photo)

Kentucky is back on top of the recruiting rankings with an early signing period flurry of commitments that included top-10 prospects De’Aaron Fox, Edrice “Bam” Adebayo and Malik Monk.

The Cats don’t really need to add anybody else to be a national title contender in 2016-17, but does that mean they’re finished recruiting for the class of 2016?

Seven high school seniors that have been tied to UK at one time or another remained uncommitted through the early signing period. Three of them (Jarrett Allen, Marques Bolden and Kobi Simmons) have already taken official visits to Kentucky. The other four have shown varying levels of interest in UK’s program over the past few months.

Here’s a closer look at each player:

Jarrett Allen: The 6-foot-9 power forward from Austin, Texas took his official visit to UK earlier this month, and the Cats were seen by some as the favorite heading into that trip. Those predictions were nothing more than guesswork, as Allen has been extremely quiet about his recruitment. Kansas has emerged as the new favorite on Allen’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page, but there’s still a lot of guessing going on with that recruitment. Houston, Notre Dame and Texas are also firmly in the mix. As for Kentucky, some close to Allen didn’t think it would be a great fit anyway because of his low-key demeanor and possible hesitance to step into the fishbowl that is UK basketball. Now that the Cats have signed Adebayo — to go along with Sacha Killeya-Jones, Tai Wynyard, Isaac Humphries and the possible return of Marcus Lee — there simply won’t be many minutes to go around in the frontcourt next season. UK would certainly take Allen’s commitment, but it seems unlikely that he’ll join the Cats’ class at this point.

Marques Bolden: The same fact about the already crowded UK frontcourt for the 2016-17 season might also make it a difficult sell for Bolden, a 6-10 center from DeSoto, Texas. He took his official visit to UK in September but has also been on official visits to Duke, Kansas and Oklahoma, as well as an unofficial visit to Alabama. Even before Adebayo’s commitment to UK, it seemed like the Cats were on the outside looking in with Bolden. Duke and Kansas are the two schools mentioned the most in his recruitment (some say Alabama could be a darkhorse) and those remain the most likely landing spots.

Kobi Simmons: At one point during the summer, it looked like Simmons — a 6-5 combo guard from the Atlanta area — was the most likely player from the class of 2016 to commit to the Cats. That changed when Calipari made Fox his No. 1 point guard priority, and the recent addition of Monk could also have an effect on Simmons’ standing with the Cats. He was originally expected to choose from three schools — UK, Ohio State and UNLV — in the early signing period, but that timetable got pushed back. Some say he was waiting to see what guards like Fox and Monk would do. Some say UK didn’t want to take a commitment from him until Fox and Monk made their decisions. Some say Simmons, who’s always been high on the Cats, soured when Calipari targeted Fox. His father has said none of that is true, and Simmons is simply undecided about where he wants to go to school. His decision to wait until the spring could allow other schools to jump into his recruitment — rebooting the whole process, in a way — and it’s likely that additional programs outside of those three finalists will be tied to Simmons before he makes his decision. UK will almost certainly have a backcourt in 2016-17 that consists of Fox, Monk, Charles Matthews, Dominique Hawkins (and Derek Willis, Wenyen Gabriel and Mychal Mulder on the wing). That’s a lot of talent. If any of the Cats’ current point guards — Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray or Isaiah Briscoe — decide to return after this season, it’s very unlikely that Simmons would join the Cats’ class. If all of those three leave, however, Simmons could ultimately be a Wildcat. Of course, under that scenario, he would have to hold off on his own college decision until after Ulis, Briscoe and Murray make their NBA decisions. That might not happen.

Rawle Alkins: The 6-5 shooting guard from Brooklyn — now playing at John Wall’s alma mater in North Carolina — tried to set up an official visit to Kentucky for Big Blue Madness weekend, but that trip did not materialize. Calipari has not been to see him at his new school, and UK has barely had any contact with him over the past few weeks. N.C. State, North Carolina, Indiana and St. John’s are among the schools showing him the most attention. At this point, it seems highly unlikely that he ends up at Kentucky.

Udoka Azubuike: UK reportedly offered a scholarship to Azubuike during the summer of 2014, but no one from UK’s staff has been to Florida to see him since then. There has been some contact between Azubuike and the Wildcats coaching staff, but he’s already taken several official visits and seemingly has no plans to add a trip to UK to that list. The recent addition of Adebayo — plus the fact that UK will return Wynyard and Humphries — make it unlikely that they re-establish contact with Azubuike. There were rumors on the final day of the early signing period that he would commit to Florida State, which has long been seen as one of the favorites. That did not happen. Florida, Kansas and N.C. State are among the others in the mix.

Josh Jackson: UK’s recruitment of Jackson went nowhere in the early stages of the process, and there hasn’t been any contact between the two parties for a while. There’s virtually zero chance he ends up at UK. The schools at the top of his list are Arizona, Michigan State, Kansas, Maryland and UCLA.

Thon Maker: UK has always been mentioned as a possible destination for Maker, but that continues to look less likely as his much-watched high school career enters its final season. He mentioned UK as one of six schools on his list during last week’s nationally televised recruiting special on ESPN, but there hasn’t been much recent contact there. He’s already scheduled an official visit to Arizona State — the perceived favorite — and recently told that Indiana and Notre Dame were also recruiting him hard. Until Calipari shows up at one of his games — or Maker shows up in Rupp Arena — it’s probably safe to assume that there’s not much chance of him being a Wildcat.

Anybody else?: Barring the unforeseen, UK should have at least 11 scholarship players for 2016-17 (Fox, Monk, Gabriel, Adebayo, Killeya-Jones, Matthews, Humphries, Willis, Hawkins, Mulder and Wynyard). There’s also the possibility that Ulis, Briscoe, Lee or Alex Poythress could return for another season (Murray and Skal Labissiere are almost certainly one-and-dones). If all six of those players head to the NBA, that would leave UK with two open scholarships. Calipari has shown in the past that he has no problem “under-recruiting” and giving those leftover scholarships to players who were brought in as preferred walk-ons (such as E.J. Floreal and Jonny David). There’s also the possibility that a player not currently on UK’s 2016 radar could fill a spot. Murray and Humphries decided to reclassify late in the 2015 cycle and weren’t seen as possible UK additions at this time last year. Same goes for Mulder, a junior-college All-American who didn’t pop up on UK’s radar until the spring. At this point, if UK is going to add anyone else to its 2016 class, the most likely scenario might just be a player that we aren’t even talking about yet.

Ben Roberts: 859-231-3216, @NextCats