UK Recruiting

Calipari has done 'phenomenal job' with top recruit James Wiseman. Will it be enough?

James Wiseman defends while playing in the 2018 Nike Elite Youth Basketball League in Westfield, Ind.
James Wiseman defends while playing in the 2018 Nike Elite Youth Basketball League in Westfield, Ind.

Last week, the basketball recruiting staff was asked to make predictions for the top 15 uncommitted prospects in the 2019 class.

The No. 3 player in the new Rivals rankings — James Wiseman — has long been the No. 1 target on John Calipari’s 2019 board, and the Cats still have plenty of reason for hope in that high-profile recruitment.

The first two predictions under Wiseman’s name were from national analysts Eric Bossi and Corey Evans, and both were in Kentucky’s favor.

“I just think that Calipari has really done a phenomenal job of making him such a priority. They’ve really built that relationship,” Evans told the Herald-Leader.

The other two picks, from analysts Dan McDonald and Krysten Peek, were in favor of Memphis, the program now coached by basketball legend Penny Hardaway in the city where Wiseman recently wrapped up his junior year of high school.

Hardaway, of course, was Wiseman’s coach last summer with Team Penny on the Nike circuit and this past season at Memphis East High School, which won a state championship shortly before Hardaway landed the top job with the Memphis Tigers.

Since he took over at his alma mater, Hardaway has landed several of his former high school and AAU players as recruits.

“Penny’s going to get his guys, which he’s already done. But I think this is kind of a different dynamic,” Evans said. “I’m not saying Penny can’t get him. What he’s done — getting the best guys in Memphis in such a short period — is humungous. But can he get this guy? Until he proves it, why not go with the guy who’s done it consistently?”

That guy is Calipari, who started recruiting Wiseman around the same time that the star prospect — a 7-footer with tremendous versatility and upside — jumped to Hardaway’s squad on the Nike circuit late last spring.

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UK has obviously landed more than its fair share of top-flight recruits since Calipari took over. Hardaway is still looking for his first five-star commitment as a college head coach. Evans acknowledges that this one is basically a toss-up.

“I think it’s a back and forth battle every day,” he said. “I think if you ask 10 of the most informed, in-the-know people in our industry, you’d get five ‘Kentucky’ and five ‘Memphis.’”

Wiseman, who is No. 1 overall in the ESPN and 247Sports rankings, has not yet set a clear timetable for his college decision, and he’s still saying that his recruitment remains open to schools other than Kentucky and Memphis, even teasing a “top 8” list on Twitter last week.

The reality of the situation: this is and will remain a Kentucky-Memphis battle to the end.

“If it’s someone else outside those two, I would be very surprised,” Evans said. “But I don’t see anyone else being involved.”

No. 1-ranked basketball recruit James Wiseman discusses the Memphis vs. Kentucky battle that is brewing in his recruitment.

On the radar?

Another interesting subject to come out of the recent predictions was the recruitment of Jaden McDaniels, who has ascended to the No. 4 overall spot in that website’s latest rankings.

Evans and Peek are predicting that McDaniels — a 6-8 forward from Seattle — will end up at Arizona, while Bossi and McDonald logged picks for … Kentucky.

Jaden McDaniels is one of the top basketball prospects in the class of 2019. Joshua Bessex

The problem with the latter projection? There’s still be no real sign that UK has shown serious interest in McDaniels, who has been one of the hottest recruits in the country this spring but, as a West Coast prospect, might ultimately be a tougher pull for Kentucky.

McDaniels, who recently told the Herald-Leader that he hasn’t heard from the Cats, has been notoriously quiet about his own recruitment.

“Jaden is a different kind of kid, in a positive way,” Evans said. “He’s not big into the whole recruitment. He’s not big into posting every offer he receives.

“It’s kind of refreshing, getting guys like that. The first time he and I talked, it was Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas were the three to beat. And I think those three are pretty heavily involved. And obviously San Diego State with his brother (playing there). … Does he want to leave the West Coast? We’ll see. He’s a loyal kid. I think Arizona being involved early on in the process and having that name-brand recognition is pretty big, as well.”

Evans did note, however, that McDaniels has said he plans to wait out his recruitment and take in the entire process, perhaps hinting at a late decision. That would give UK ample time to jump into the mix and form a relationship, and the Cats could take another step in that direction at the Nike Peach Jam event later this week.

“He’s in no rush whatsoever. And he shouldn’t be,” Evans said. “A prospect like him — that kid could finish No. 1 in America in April. So he has the leverage.”

It’s also worth noting that Evans has told the Herald-Leader in the past that he thinks a UK scholarship offer would be a major deal for McDaniels. Would the analyst have switched his prediction from Arizona to Kentucky if Calipari’s Cats had already extended such an offer?

“Yeah, in a heartbeat,” Evans said.

Stay tuned on this recruitment.

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Off the radar

Another one of this spring’s breakout stars has been Irish big man Aidan Igiehon, who has risen to five-star status and plays his high school ball in New York.

Aidan Igiehon has emerged as a five-star post player in the 2019 class. Kelly Kline Under Armour

Igiehon included UK on his list of 10 last month, even though the Wildcats had not extended a scholarship offer. At the time, it was assumed that Kentucky was still highly interested in Igiehon, but the Herald-Leader was recently told that UK is not actively recruiting the class of 2019 post player, instead focusing on other frontcourt targets.

Elite power forwards James Wiseman, Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt all have long-standing offers from Kentucky, which has also shown more recent interest in top-10 recruit Isaiah Stewart, another highly touted power forward.

And the Cats could return some frontcourt talent from this season’s team, which will feature sophomores PJ Washington and Nick Richards, as well as McDonald’s All-American freshman EJ Montgomery.

The other nine schools on Igiehon’s list are Florida, Georgetown, Georgia, Louisville, Oregon, Pittsburgh, St. John’s, Stanford and Vanderbilt.

247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels recently logged a prediction in favor of Louisville on Igiehon’s Crystal Ball page.

Big stage

Pendleton County star Dontaie Allen will be playing with his M.A.T.T.S. Mustangs teammates in the Under Armour Challenge in Cartersville, Ga., this week, and he’s likely to see quite a few college coaches in the stands.

The Mustangs do not play in one of the major shoe company leagues, so this event — featuring top Under Armour squads and other unaffiliated travel teams — will serve as a major showcase for some possibly overlooked prospects.

Allen — a 6-6 wing in the 2019 class — was not included in last week’s update to the 150 national rankings, and he was also absent from the new ESPN 100 rankings late last month. 247Sports ranks him as the No. 153 recruit nationally for 2019.

College coaches have still found him on the trail, though, with scholarship offers coming in this spring from Xavier, West Virginia, Purdue, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, Nevada and Western Kentucky.

UK also hosted Allen for a visit last month, and the Wildcats are expected to watch him again this week in Georgia. He was sidelined by an injury during that trip to Lexington — and, thus, unable to compete in pickup games against the current Cats — but the Herald-Leader has been told he will be ready to go this week.

It’ll be a prime opportunity for the in-state standout to get even more exposure, both with college coaches and the national recruiting analysts who come up with the rankings.

The competition begins Wednesday night, when Allen’s Mustangs face off against a team from South Carolina that features Josiah James, a five-star recruit in the 2019 class.

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