With one tweet Monday afternoon, UK’s basketball recruiting prospects for the class of 2019 took a major turn.
DJ Jeffries — a highly touted forward from the Memphis area — announced via Twitter that he is no longer committed to Kentucky and is reopening his recruitment. The 6-foot-7 prospect originally committed to the Wildcats in March, a few days after leading Olive Branch High School to a Mississippi state championship.
He told the Herald-Leader at the time that he had grown up a fan of John Calipari — the former head coach at Memphis — and had “always dreamed” of playing for him in college. Jeffries’ plans have obviously changed.
“After careful consideration prayer and countless hours of consulting with my family I decided to reopen recruitment,” he tweeted. “It was a hard decision but I am confident that taking my time to choose the right school for me to better myself educationally and athletically is the right choice.”
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The right choice might ultimately be Calipari’s former team.
At the time of his commitment, Jeffries knew that his former Nike league coach, Penny Hardaway — a one-time star for the Memphis Tigers who went on to become an NBA standout and remains a local legend — would soon be the head coach at Memphis, but he said that wouldn’t sway his college decision.
Hardaway did indeed get the job shortly after that, and he remained in contact with Jeffries for his first few weeks in charge of the Tigers’ program. Jeffries said his former coach was speaking to him more as a mentor than college recruiter — “He was just basically motivating me,” he told the Herald-Leader — noting that Hardaway had ceased contact following the first two evaluation periods in April.
Jeffries reiterated his commitment to UK at the Nike Peach Jam event earlier this month, adding that he’d been recruiting teammate and friend James Wiseman — the No. 1 player in the 2019 class — to join him in Lexington.
It now appears that both could end up at Memphis, and that would throw a wrench into Calipari’s original plans for this recruiting class.
Wiseman and Jeffries, listed at No. 37 nationally, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, were the first two players in the 2019 class to land scholarship offers from Calipari, who extended the honor to both prospects on the same day last fall.
The duo visited Lexington for Big Blue Madness a few weeks after that, and — until Hardaway landed the Memphis job — it appeared that both players would ultimately be Wildcats.
Monday’s development should be viewed as a point (maybe two) in Hardaway’s favor.
Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans noted that Jeffries is a cousin of Kansas players Dedric and K.J. Lawson — and the Jayhawks were recruiting Jeffries before he committed to UK — making Lawrence a possibly intriguing destination.
That’s not his expected landing spot, though. And it’s probably bad news in UK’s pursuit of Wiseman, the No. 1 target on Calipari’s list.
“Likely, Jeffries is Memphis bound,” Evans told the Herald-Leader. “Whenever you keep adding pieces, whether it is Jeffries, Alex Lomax, or Malcolm Dandridge (both former Wiseman teammates and Memphis commitments) … it makes it that much more difficult to say no to his own former coach and now Tigers’ head man, Penny Hardaway.
“Is Jeffries’ decision the final (sign) for Wiseman to Memphis? No, but it could be another rung on the ladder climbed for the Tigers reeling in the five-star prospect.”
Jeffries, who turns 19 years old in December, had been mentioned in the past as a possible candidate to reclassify to the 2018 class and play college basketball this season, but his father, Corey Jeffries, told the Herald-Leader on Monday that his son will remain in the 2019 class.
Neither father nor son commented further on the recruitment Monday night, though the next step is expected to be a Memphis commitment. 247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels was among those who quickly logged Crystal Ball predictions in favor of the Tigers on Jeffries’ page Monday.
The Cats will have other options.
UK already has a commitment from five-star point guard Tyrese Maxey, who has been actively recruiting on behalf of the program. Calipari will host in-state wing Dontaie Allen for an unofficial visit Wednesday, and the Cats are seen as favorites if a scholarship offer is extended on that trip. UK will also host five-star wing Kahlil Whitney for an official visit this weekend, and he is widely considered to be favoring the Wildcats at this stage in his recruitment.
Several more five-star prospects — such as Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt, Scottie Lewis and Keion Brooks, among others — remain possibilities, but the loss of Jeffries, and maybe Wiseman, still sting.
This is the first time in Calipari’s tenure as UK’s head coach that one of his recruits has backed out of a commitment. It’s also a sign that Hardaway could be a major force on the recruiting trail for the foreseeable future.
Jeffries said as much on the night he committed to Kentucky.
“Everybody pretty much looks up to him,” he told the Herald-Leader then. “Wherever he goes, there’s a big crowd. People trying to take pictures and trying to talk to him. He has to go through backdoors to avoid some of that. But he’s a very humble person. He’s down to earth. If you need him, you can call him and talk to him about anything. He’s a reasonable person, and I’m thankful to have someone like him in my life to help me with my decision. Help me get better and go to the promised land where I’m trying to get.”