UK Recruiting

Ten big basketball recruiting questions for UK (and others) as a busy season begins

James Wiseman is arguably the best overall prospect in the class of 2019.
James Wiseman is arguably the best overall prospect in the class of 2019.

The calendar says we’re right smack in the middle of the summer, but — in the world of college basketball recruiting — summer pretty much ended Sunday evening.

That was the last day of the final in-person evaluation period for college coaches, who spent the past three weekends flying all over the country to get a few more looks at their top targets in the class of 2019.

The next time coaches will be able to watch those players will be when the high school season begins, and off-campus visits are not permitted until the start of the fall recruiting period on Sept. 9.

That doesn’t mean recruiting will take a break. The next few weeks will be filled with new scholarship offers, on-campus visits, trimmed-down lists, and, possibly, some high-profile commitments from rising seniors looking to end their recruitments early.

Here are 10 questions worth asking as the recruiting calendar turns from summer to fall:

Who will be UK’s next commitment? The Cats already have a pledge from five-star point guard Tyrese Maxey for next year, and they’ll surely add to that list between now and the early signing period, which starts Nov. 14.

Right now, the player most likely to commit to the Cats seems to be Kahlil Whitney, a 6-foot-6 wing from Chicago who picked up a UK scholarship offer a couple of weeks ago and is scheduled to be in Lexington this weekend. While a commitment is not necessarily expected during the trip — that almost never happens at Kentucky — it probably won’t be long before Whitney is ready to make an announcement, and the Cats go into this weekend as the major favorites in his recruitment.

Will Kentucky land a top-five recruit? It’s been three full cycles since it’s happened, a somewhat-amazing stat given John Calipari’s epic success on the recruiting trail. UK hasn’t signed a consensus top-five prospect since Skal Labissiere in the 2015 class, and the Cats haven’t signed the No. 1 overall recruit since Nerlens Noel back in 2012.

The 2019 class could end that skid.

Going into the summer evaluation periods, the top five prospects in the class were James Wiseman, Vernon Carey, Cole Anthony, Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart. The first four players on that list seem like locks to remain in the top five come spring, and UK is actively recruiting all of them. This might be the Cats’ best chance in the past few years to land a top-five player.

Five-star point guard Cole Anthony talks about his recruitment and the possibility of teaming up with Tyrese Maxey at Kentucky.

Will Dontaie Allen receive a UK offer? This might be the first question on the list to get an answer. Allen, a standout player at Pendleton County High School, is scheduled to visit UK on Wednesday, a trip set up by Calipari himself. The 6-foot-6 wing had a terrific summer with his M.A.T.T.S. Mustangs travel team, and Calipari watched him play for the first time during the initial July evaluation period.

Calipari likes to meet with prospects on campus before extending an offer — if possible — and the signs over the past few weeks are pointing toward this week’s visit as the possible timing for that offer.

Will anyone jump ship on the 2019 class? This is a question that will definitely get a quick answer. Last year, top-ranked recruit Marvin Bagley waited until Aug. 14 before announcing that he was moving from the 2018 class to the 2017 class. Could such a thing happen again?

UK target Jalen Lecque has long flirted with the possibility of jumping to the 2018 class to play college basketball this season, though his recent comments have indicated he’s likely to stay in 2019. Another UK target, five-star guard Kira Lewis, told reporters last week that he was considering a move to 2018 and would make that decision soon. Lewis just turned 17 years old in April, and Alabama has emerged as the favorite in his recruitment.

If Lecque, Lewis or any other 2019 stars do make the reclassification move, it seems unlikely they’d end up at UK, which already has a stacked roster for the coming season.

Who will get the nation’s No. 1 class? It’s not likely to be settled until the spring, but the bulk of five-star commitments in the 2019 class will come this fall, and clear favorites will emerge for the top class in the country.

Duke has earned that honor the past two cycles, and the Blue Devils are well-positioned with several stars in the 2019 class. Kentucky, of course, should be right in the thick of things and could very well reclaim the recruiting crown. Defending champ Villanova already has two Top 100 commitments and seems to be a serious player for more five-star prospects than usual in this class.

As of now, Southern Cal is actually on top of the 2019 team rankings with commitments from four Top 100 recruits, two of them five-star prospects. Kansas and Arizona also appear to be in line for highly ranked hauls in 2019.

Will Duke slow down without Jeff Capel? The answer to this question will surely have an effect on the race for the No. 1 class. Jon Scheyer, an underrated recruiter until now, has taken the reins as the Blue Devils’ top guy and should flourish in that role. Duke is already in great shape for several five-star prospects, including Vernon Carey, Isaiah Stewart, Bryan Antoine, Josiah James and possibly Cole Anthony — all top-15 national players — and Capel’s departure for Pittsburgh in the spring seems to have had little impact on those recruitments.

Based on conversations the Herald-Leader has had with recruiting insiders this summer, it’s more likely that Capel’s exit will be felt with the 2020 class (and beyond) than with this 2019 group. Capel was great at building relationships early in the process, and — by the time he left for Pitt — many of those 2019 relationships had already been solidified across the coaching staff.

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Can Penny Hardaway land a top recruit? Another non-Kentucky question that could have a major impact on UK recruiting. Hardaway — the former NBA star — has already pulled in several highly touted commitments at Memphis, but he hasn’t yet landed a five-star guy. The former head of Nike powerhouse Team Penny is clearly hoping that happens with the 2019 class.

DJ Jeffries is a consensus four-star player who decommitted from UK on Monday afternoon, and Memphis is now seen as the favorite in his recruitment. James Wiseman, another former Team Penny player, is obviously No. 1 on Hardaway’s list, but Memphis is also making major runs at top-10 recruit Matthew Hurt, top-15 recruit Trendon Watford and five-star point guard RJ Hampton, who is currently a member of the 2020 class but has openly entertained the idea of reclassification to 2019. Best guess going into the fall: Penny will get a five-star player.

How will Chris Mack fare on the trail? So far, so good for the new Louisville head coach. Mack obviously jumped into a difficult situation — and he wasn’t able to land any impact high school commitments late in the 2018 cycle — but he appears in line for a great 2019 haul.

The Cards already have a commitment from Top 100 recruit Josh Nickelberry. They exit the July period as possible favorites for five-star big man Aidan Igiehon. They might be UK’s top competition for five-star wing Kahlil Whitney. And they seem well-positioned for Top 50 recruit Jahmius Ramsey, out-of-state Top 100 recruit Jaelyn Withers, and local Top 100 recruit David Johnson, among others.

If Mack can put together something like that in Year 1 on the job, it would be quite the achievement.

Will there be any more bombshells from the corruption scandal? The mention of Arizona, Kansas, Louisville and USC here as programs expected to achieve great recruiting success in the 2019 cycle is notable. All were tied in various ways to the federal investigation into college basketball — a probe that was made public less than a year ago — yet all seem to be doing OK on the recruiting trail.

Still, the feds’ movements will be worth watching. Kansas has been in the news this month for the ongoing probe into its basketball program, and this is almost certain to remain a storyline for other programs in the coming months. What, if any, effect it will have on recruiting remains to be seen.

What will James Wiseman do? Saving the biggest question on the minds of many UK basketball fans for last, the answer is nowhere close to clear as the summer wraps up.

Wiseman — the 7-footer ranked No. 1 in the 2019 class — is expected to pick either Kentucky or Memphis, but nobody knows when. If you ask those who are usually most in the recruiting know to name a favorite, you get replies like “coin flip,” “toss-up,” and “50-50.” This was before Monday’s news regarding DJ Jeffries, however, and that could’ve been a point in Memphis’ favor for Wiseman.

The star prospect is likely to visit UK in the next few weeks, but fans of both programs might be left waiting a while for a final decision. Wiseman holds all the cards, and when he plays them is totally up to him.

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

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