Pretty much all of his top recruiting targets were out in Las Vegas over the weekend, but University of Kentucky Coach John Calipari spent his Friday night courtside at the Kentucky Exposition Center, watching one of the best prospects the state has seen in the past few years.
Pendleton County basketball star Dontaie Allen impressed yet again at this past weekend’s Louisville Jamfest, his final event of the summer evaluation period before the recruiting calendar turns another page.
The next chapter for Allen will be another visit to UK, a trip that’s scheduled for Wednesday and could end up as a turning point in the 17-year-old’s college recruitment.
The Jamfest was just the second time that Calipari had seen Allen play, and — though the two have been speaking on the phone over the past few weeks — they still haven’t had any face-to-face time as part of this recruitment. That’ll change this week.
“I really like the program — everything they’ve got going on over there,” Allen told the Herald-Leader. “They said they were going to get me in for a practice so I can see how they orchestrate practices, help my game, and just watch and learn. I think it’s going to be nice. Intense — that’s what I’m really looking for in college. So to get a sneak peek at what college practices look like, it’s going to be a good opportunity.”
Allen and his family visited Lexington last month, but Calipari was out of town during that trip, and UK assistant coach Joel Justus handled host duties. Allen’s father, Tony Thomas, said he still hasn’t spoken with Calipari — he’s letting his son handle all of that — but he’s looking forward to the opportunity Wednesday.
“Just to actually meet Coach Cal personally and to get a feel for the program will be nice,” Thomas told the Herald-Leader. “We met with Coach Justus up there and had a great tour and a great experience. He explained what Cal’s expectations are. We’re just looking to go up there and hear it from Cal himself.”
It’s not lost on father or son that many UK basketball fans are hoping Allen lands a scholarship offer during this visit. The Wildcats haven’t signed an in-state recruit in more than five years — Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis were the most recent scholarship players from Kentucky — and local fans who take special pride in local basketball haven’t been shy in their wishes for Allen to end that drought.
Several other top programs have extended scholarship offers in recent weeks — Louisville, Florida, Xavier and West Virginia among them — and recruiting analysts have moved Allen into the Top 100 national rankings for the 2019 class.
Those developments — and the local hopes to sign an in-state player — might seemingly put a little pressure on Calipari to go ahead and pull the trigger with an offer this week. That would be a great honor for Allen and his family, but they’re not necessarily expecting it.
And there’s certainly nothing close to an ultimatum at this stage in the recruitment.
“Oh, no no. Especially not for Cal,” Thomas said. “C’mon, man. We’re not giving Cal any ultimatums, man. He’s a genius for what he does in the recruiting process. He knows exactly what he’s doing. No, there’s definitely no ultimatum out there at all.”
So if a UK offer doesn’t come Wednesday, the Cats will remain firmly in the mix. And Calipari and his coaching staff will surely be keeping tabs on Allen in the coming months, no matter what happens this week.
Allen, who averaged 31.8 points and 11.4 rebounds per game as a junior this past season, has been terrific for M.A.T.T.S. Mustangs this spring and summer. He was the leading scorer at the star-studded Under Armour Challenge in Georgia earlier this month, and that was the first time he played in front of Calipari.
He said he didn’t notice the UK coach in the stands during the game. His father told him afterward. A little while after that, Calipari gave Allen a call.
“I missed it and it went to voicemail,” Allen said with a grin. “I put the voicemail on: ‘Hey this is Coach Cal.’ I was like, ‘Ohhhh, all right. I probably shouldn’t have missed that one.’”
The two eventually got in touch, and they’ve been in regular contact ever since.
Calipari has told Allen — a 6-foot-6 wing — that he likes his “positionless” style of play.
Allen seems to like everything about the UK program.
“I’ve been a fan my whole life,” he said. “Growing up a Kentucky kid, you’ve gotta be a UK fan. I’m just really grateful. It means a lot and I’m grateful for the opportunity. The fact that they’re even hitting me up means a lot.”
Allen is aware of all the talk out there in recent days about a possible UK scholarship offer coming his way. Calipari set up this week’s visit, and that’s certainly a good sign.
“All they’ve said was, ‘We’re going to get you to campus and talk about some things.’ So I don’t know what that means, but I’m excited,” Allen said.
And if that dream offer does come this week — or sometime down the road — how would it be received by the lifelong Kentucky basketball fan?
“It would mean the world.”