Once five-star basketball recruit Kahlil Whitney landed a scholarship offer from Kentucky late last month, it was only a matter of time before he announced his commitment to the Cats.
That time came Wednesday afternoon, when Whitney — a 6-foot-6 wing from Chicago who attends high school in New Jersey — said he was joining UK’s recruiting class of 2019 just three days after wrapping up an official visit to Lexington.
“With much thought, emotion and my whole heart, I am ready to make the best decision for my future,” Whitney said in a video posted to Twitter. “My family and I have truly found the best option for me to continue my development — not only as a student and a basketball player — but also as a man. With that said, I am thrilled to announce that I am committed to the University of Kentucky.”
Whitney, who told NBC Sports two years ago that UK was his dream college, landed the coveted scholarship offer from the Cats after the first evaluation period in July.
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John Calipari got his first extended look at Whitney during that evaluation period, and the UK coach was immediately smitten with his game.
Roselle Catholic head coach Dave Boff said Calipari called him up immediately to inquire about Whitney and his recruitment.
“He called me the day after he saw him and was in love with him from day one,” Boff told the Herald-Leader. “Not just the things that you see on the stat sheet — he just loved his competitiveness, the passion that he plays the game with. Those are things that are hard to teach. You can’t take a guy who’s non-competitive and turn him into an ultra-competitor.
“What Kahlil has on the competitive side — that Cal loves so much — is something that really can’t be taught.”
Boff, who has coached Whitney the past two seasons and will have him on the team again for his senior year, also coached former UK player Isaiah Briscoe and is often around high-level Division I talent.
He’s expecting big things from his latest star.
“I don’t want to put any expectations on him, because I don’t want to put anything too low on him,” Boff said. “I just honestly think he could go down there and be an absolute star.”
Whitney is the No. 14 overall player in the 2019 class, according to the 247Sports rankings, and he’s steadily climbed that list with his improved play and focus over the past few months.
He averaged 21.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game on the Nike circuit this past spring, establishing himself as one of the premier scorers in the class. He also improved greatly from long range, making 38 percent of his three-point attempts in Nike league play.
On top of that offensive prowess, Whitney has the length, athleticism and toughness to be a terrific perimeter defender in college.
“Kahlil Whitney has elite physical gifts,” 247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader recently. “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.
“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.”
Calipari’s courtship didn’t last long, and that made an impression.
Young basketball recruits often have a “dream school” or a short list of preferred destinations early in their high school careers — and Boff confirmed that UK was one of the few Whitney talked about when they first met two years ago — but those dreams often change once the recruiting process begins.
That didn’t happen with Whitney.
Calipari, immediately after seeing him play last month, invited the 17-year-old prospect to take an official visit to Lexington — the first official visit the Cats have hosted for a class of 2019 recruit — and it was clear from the beginning that Calipari wanted him to be a part of his program.
“He wanted to make sure he was a top priority for them,” Boff said. “And Cal made him such a priority that I think it was easy for Kahlil to decide to go to Kentucky.”
Whitney, the son of former Seton Hall standout Kelly Whitney, ultimately chose UK over fellow finalists Georgetown, Illinois and Oregon. Louisville Coach Chris Mack had also made him a major priority since taking over the Cardinals’ program.
Kentucky now has three early commitments for the 2019 class — Whitney joins five-star point guard Tyrese Maxey and four-star wing Dontaie Allen — and that trio will be allowed to officially sign with the school Nov. 14.
If Whitney continues on his current trajectory, he could be a consensus top-10 national recruit by the time he arrives in Lexington.
“His progression over the past two years has been nothing short of fantastic,” Boff said. “He’s a tremendously hard worker, dedicated to working on his skill development and lifting and conditioning and all the things you need to be great.
“I think he’s on a unique level with his combination of athleticism and power. You’ve got a lot of guys who are fluid athletes — which he certainly is — but then he adds the power dynamic, which I don’t think many guys at the high school level have. You put that together with the fact that he’s one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever been around, you’ve got a guy who’s been climbing up the charts and probably will continue to climb up the charts. And I think he’ll do an unbelievable job at Kentucky.”