UK Recruiting

With elite basketball recruit’s decision not far off, UK emerges as clear favorite

Kahlil Whitney has emerged as one of the top perimeter players in the 2019 recruiting class.
Kahlil Whitney has emerged as one of the top perimeter players in the 2019 recruiting class. Nike

It’s been less than a week since five-star basketball prospect Kahlil Whitney received a coveted scholarship offer from Kentucky, but it’s already becoming apparent how this recruitment is likely to end.

Whitney — a 6-foot-6 wing from Chicago, now attending Isaiah Briscoe’s old high school in New Jersey — was one of the top scorers on the Nike circuit this spring and has quickly emerged as one of John Calipari’s top recruiting targets in the class of 2019.

Still just 17 years old, Whitney already checks many of the boxes that Calipari looks for in his wing players. And he still has plenty of potential for growth on the court.

“Kahlil Whitney has elite physical gifts,” 247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader this week. “He’s got the frame of a Greek god — wide, broad shoulders, long arms, and he’s already pretty strong. He’s a freakish athlete. So all the physical tools are there, and he’s been progressing across the board. He has a lot of potential as a defender. He’s a really good rebounder. He’s still quite inconsistent as a shooter, but he has really good mechanics, so I think there’s a lot of potential there.

“Physically, he can do some things that very few in this class can. And that’s what makes him so intriguing as a prospect, because he’s far from a finished product. He still lacks polish in a lot of areas, but the upside and the ceiling is limitless.”

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Whitney, who is ranked by 247Sports as the No. 14 overall player in the class, averaged 21.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game on the Nike circuit this past spring. His scoring is what stands out now, but his length and athleticism should pay off on the other end of the floor.

“He has all the tools to be a great defender. He’s not a great defender yet,” Daniels said. “And part of that is consistency with his effort. When he plays hard and he uses those tools, he’s good on that end. The next step for him as a player — and he admitted this to me recently — is keeping the foot on the gas and not letting up. Once he learns that, we’re talking about a future NBA player.”

Last month, Whitney was one of 30 players invited to take part in the USA Basketball U17 training camp in Colorado Springs. He ultimately didn’t make the star-studded, 12-man team — he didn’t even make it past the first cut to 18 finalists — but it was apparently a rewarding experience all the same.

“He said that was really good for him — not only to see the other talented players — but just to see how hard guys are going,” Daniels said. “And I think it’s a lesson that he’s learned. He’s progressively getting better. … And he has all the tools in the world.”

Offensively, he was a top-10 scorer on the highly competitive Nike circuit, showing his ability to get points in a variety of ways.

Most importantly for those UK fans who have bemoaned the Cats’ outside shooting struggles at times in the recent past, Whitney is emerging as a legitimate threat from long range. At the recent Nike Peach Jam Invitational, he was 10-for-20 from deep through his team’s first four games before a 2-for-9 performance in the finale — his fifth game in less than 48 hours — brought down his average.

Whitney shot 38 percent (41-for-108) from three in 20 Nike league games, and Daniels mentioned those solid shooting mechanics. That’s good news for his future as an outside scorer.

“It’s a great sign. I think he’s already made really good strides in the last 12-18 months as a shot-maker, and that’s promising,” Daniels said. “You throw in the good mechanics — a lot of it is repetition, and some of it with him is taking good shots. When he takes good shots, gets his feet set, doesn’t rush, doesn’t shoot off-the-dribble jumpers — he can shoot and make them at a good clip.”

It’s looking more and more likely that he’ll be putting up shots while wearing a Wildcats uniform this time next year.

Back in 2016, when he was coming off his freshman year of high school, Whitney told NBC Sports that he already had a dream college.

“I want to go to Kentucky,” Whitney said at the time. “I like Coach Calipari. He’s a great coach. You can display your talent at the highest level and I just love the atmosphere there for games.”

In the past few days — and in the immediate aftermath of UK’s scholarship offer to Whitney — recruiting experts haven’t been shy about their predictions.

On Tuesday morning, Daniels joined several other national recruiting analysts in logging a pro-UK pick on Whitney’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page. Later that day, it was confirmed that Whitney had scheduled an official visit to Kentucky for next weekend.

“I would catapult Kentucky to the top of his list,” Daniels said. “Seems like there’s a lot of mutual interest there, and I think they’re going to be a significant player in his recruitment.”

And the recruitment might not last much longer.

Illinois has long been a major player. Georgetown, too, has regularly been mentioned as a possibility. And Louisville has gained some steam, with Chris Mack extending a scholarship offer to Whitney even before he’d been formally introduced as the Cards’ new head coach.

That was all before the UK offer, though, and things are now moving toward a conclusion in the next few weeks, well ahead of the early signing period in November.

“I don’t think he’s going to play around with this recruiting process for too long,” Daniels said. “He wants to narrow his list after July, set up visits, and get this thing over with. It’s not going to be a long, drawn-out recruitment.”

UK’s top targets in the class of 2019

DJ JeffriesSFOlive Branch, Miss.No. 37 in 247Sports composite
Tyrese MaxeyPGGarland, TexasNo. 8 in 247Sports composite
Bryan AntoineSGEatontown, N.J.No. 10 in 247Sports composite
Keion BrooksSFFort Wayne, Ind.No. 15 in 247Sports composite
Vernon CareyPFFort Lauderdale, Fla.No. 2 in 247Sports composite
Matthew HurtFRochester, Minn.No. 6 in 247Sports composite
Jalen LecqueGTeaneck, N.J.No. 13 in 247Sports composite
Scottie LewisG/FEatontown, N.J.No. 9 in 247Sports composite
Kahlil WhitneyG/FChicago, Ill.No. 19 in 247Sports composite
James WisemanPFNashville, Tenn.No. 1 in 247Sports composite