John Calipari is always on the lookout for the next great point guard, and Javonte Smart is a player who has been on UK’s radar for well over a year now.
Smart — a 6-foot-5 prospect from Baton Rouge, La. — has played in front of the Wildcats’ coaches multiple times, and he got his first look at UK on Saturday, when he came to town on an unofficial visit to see the Cats defeat Florida in Rupp Arena.
Scout.com ranks Smart as the No. 9 overall recruit and No. 1 point guard in the class of 2018.
“He has good size for the position,” Scout.com’s Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “And he’s a guy that’s pretty versatile — in the sense that he can run a team and distribute the ball, and he can also attack the rim and score. He has potential as a defender. He’s pretty good in pick-and-roll situations. There’s a lot to like about him.”
Smart is averaging 25.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 2.1 steals as a junior this season. He’s also shooting 38 percent from three-point range, and he has the size and skill set to play off the ball at the next level. That could be important, with neither of UK’s 2017 point guard signees — Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — currently being projected as one-and-done players.
Kentucky has yet to extend a scholarship offer to Smart, but the Cats have been monitoring his recruitment closely and probably will be regulars at his games this spring and summer. He does have early offers from Baylor, Louisiana State, Oklahoma and several others.
His willingness to make the long trip from Louisiana to Lexington is telling, said Daniels.
“When you take an unofficial visit in the middle of your high school season — and take a trip on your own dime to go watch a team play — I think it shows that there’s serious interest on both sides,” he said. “Especially when you travel as far as he did.”
Smart competed on the Under Armour circuit last summer but will make the switch to Nike this year and play for Houston Hoops, the same squad that has featured De’Aaron Fox and UK commitment Jarred Vanderbilt in recent summers.
Scout.com released its updated rankings for the class of 2019 last week, and Trinity guard David Johnson made his debut on the list as the No. 49 sophomore in the country.
Johnson, who visited Lexington for Saturday’s game against Florida, has had coaches from UK, Louisville, Indiana, Xavier and others watch him practice and play this season. He’s averaging 10.8 points and shooting 37 percent from three-point range for the Shamrocks.
“I was very impressed with him when I saw him over the summer, and I held off on ranking him until I saw him with his high school team,” Scout.com’s Evan Daniels said. “And what I saw in the summer was right. He’s a kid with good size – 6-foot-5 – and he’s a good athlete. … I just really like his potential as a wing scorer, and that’s why we opted to put him in there.”
The last Kentucky high school player to make the Scout.com Top 50 rankings was Louisville’s Ray Spalding, who also played for Trinity and was ranked No. 31 in the class of 2015.
Trinity is favored to win the 7th Region Tournament, so Johnson could be back in Rupp Arena in a couple of weeks for the Sweet Sixteen.
Bamba’s last visit
Five-star post player Mohamed Bamba arrived in Durham on Monday night for his official visit to Duke, the last such trip of his recruitment.
Bamba — a 7-footer from Harlem, N.Y., ranked No. 2 in the 2017 class by Scout.com — has narrowed his list to UK, Duke, Michigan and Texas, and there is no timetable for his college commitment, though he has already visited the other three schools on his list.
Kentucky is the current favorite on Bamba’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page.
Nike Hoop Summit
USA Basketball announced Tuesday that UK commitments Quade Green and Jarred Vanderbilt will play in this year’s Nike Hoop Summit all-star game, set for April 7 in Portland, Ore.
UK targets Mohamed Bamba and Kevin Knox are also on the 12-player team, along with Troy Brown (Oregon), Wendell Carter (Duke), Jaren Jackson (Michigan State), Michael Porter Jr. (Washington), Collin Sexton (Alabama), Gary Trent Jr. (Duke) and uncommitted guards Trevon Duval and M.J. Walker.
The annual game pits the USA squad against the World Select team, which is expected to be announced in March.