Earlier in the week, the Herald-Leader asked six national recruiting analysts to handicap which top prospects from the class of 2019 were most likely to ultimately commit to Kentucky.
The No. 2 player on the list — top UK target James Wiseman — isn’t expected to announce a college decision anytime soon, and there are also no set timetables for the rest of the top five: in order, Oscar Tshiebwe, Jaden McDaniels and Keion Brooks.
The Herald-Leader’s panel of experts for this project included Eric Bossi and Corey Evans of Rivals.com, Evan Daniels and Jerry Meyer of 247Sports, Jeff Borzello of ESPN, and Andrew Slater of The Athletic, and they were given a list of 13 recruits in the class of 2019, then asked to rank, in order, the five players most likely to choose UK.
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Here are a few more interesting tidbits from that survey:
Who’s No. 2?
Kahlil Whitney was the easy choice for the top spot, and he proved that by committing to Kentucky on Wednesday, three days after he wrapped up his official visit to Lexington.
The tougher call was who to put at No. 2 on the list. The answers varied greatly.
James Wiseman — a 7-footer from Nashville, now playing in Memphis — was the only player from the list of 13 to occupy the No. 2 spot on multiple ballots. The others ranked that high on individual ballots were Matthew Hurt, Jalen Lecque, Jaden McDaniels and Oscar Tshiebwe.
Though McDaniels and Tshiebwe don’t have yet have confirmed UK scholarship offers, the most surprising No. 2 pick to fans might be Hurt, who is being pursued vigorously by every blue-blood program in the country.
Kansas is seen by many as the favorite in Hurt’s recruitment, but there’s obviously some indication in recruiting circles that, 1) He’s not a sure thing to the Jayhawks, and 2) UK has a real chance to land him. Hurt — a 6-9 forward from Minnesota — is the No. 6 overall prospect in the 2019 composite rankings, and he and his father have often praised John Calipari and his track record of turning top recruits into top draft picks. That recruitment is worth watching.
Top five, and then what?
Four recruits received top-five votes from our panel of experts but didn’t accrue enough to jump into the final, overall top five.
Those prospects, in order of finish, were Jalen Lecque, Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Kofi Cockburn.
Multiple panelists pointed out that their lists — and, ultimately, the final top-five list — lacked anyone at the guard position. In fact, of the four options clearly defined as guards, only Lecque garnered any votes at all.
That’s not necessarily surprising. UK already has a commitment from five-star point guard Tyrese Maxey, and it’s likely that a few backcourt players from this season’s team will return. Ashton Hagans looks like the best bet from that group to be an NBA Draft pick in 2019, but that would still leave open the possibility that UK could see the return of point guards Quade Green and Immanuel Quickley, and shooting guards Jemarl Baker and Tyler Herro.
Factor in the early commitments of wings Dontaie Allen and Kahlil Whitney, and the Cats might not need to add any more guards to their 2019 class. Still, don’t expect Calipari to give up on that just yet.
About those guards …
The four options who received no votes from any of the expert panelists were point guards Cole Anthony and Nico Mannion, shooting guard Bryan Antoine, and wing player Scottie Lewis.
Antoine and Mannion weren’t surprises. The former has long been considered a major Duke lean — with Villanova as the likely top competition — and the latter just recently reclassified from 2020, has not yet received a scholarship offer from UK, and is thought to be leaning toward home-state Arizona (with Duke as possibly the top competition for those Wildcats).
Anthony — the undisputed best guard in the class — has said next to nothing about his recruitment, and those around him are keeping quiet, too. UK is expected to be in the mix, but adding him to a list of this sort at this stage would be nothing more than guesswork.
Lewis — a 6-5 wing from New Jersey — has long listed UK as a top option, but there hasn’t been much buzz surrounding the Cats in recent weeks. St. John’s, Florida and Villanova are the schools talked about most in his recruitment.
So, where does that leave UK?
Lecque, a New York City native who will finish his high school career in New Hampshire, remains a possibility. Another possibility: someone from the 2020 class makes the late jump to 2019, like Ashton Hagans did in the 2018 cycle.
Elite guard RJ Hampton has openly discussed doing just that, and UK would be a contender for his commitment if he makes the move. Duke and Memphis appear to be in good shape with Hampton — a 6-4 prospect from Texas — at this point.
Wait and see
Thirteen options were given to the experts, but a little context …
We did the same project last year, and — at this stage in that recruiting cycle — Tyler Herro was committed to Wisconsin, EJ Montgomery was committed to Auburn, Keldon Johnson did not have a scholarship offer from UK, and Ashton Hagans was a member of the 2019 class.
(For the record: Immanuel Quickley was the No. 1 pick of our panel last year, and he committed to the Cats shortly thereafter).
The point is, a lot will change over the next few months.
Before asking the national recruiting experts to weigh in on this question, I filled out my own top five. That list looked a lot like our final results, with one major difference. Here it goes:
5. Keion Brooks: Indiana might be the team to beat for the 6-7 small forward from Fort Wayne, but the Cats still have a shot and will get him on campus for an official visit. Doesn’t hurt that he’s known the universally likeable Tyrese Maxey since they were in grade school.
4. Oscar Tshiebwe: He has deep ties to the West Virginia program, but if UK offers a scholarship — and there’s a good possibility of that — it could be tough for him to turn down the Wildcats.
3. Vernon Carey: Here’s the difference. Jaden McDaniels made the overall top five, and Carey didn’t, but there doesn’t seem to be any clear favorite in Carey’s recruitment and there’s plenty of buzz out there indicating the Cats have a better shot than they’re being given credit for. He’ll also be on campus for Big Blue Madness in October. Three of our six experts included Carey on their lists, and one of those recruiting analysts also had him in the No. 3 spot.
2. James Wiseman: Still think this is a 50/50 shot between UK and Memphis, and Wiseman could very well choose Calipari’s track record with top frontcourt players — he often lists Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins as his two favorites — over his loyalty to Penny Hardaway, who coached him for a couple of weeks of summer ball and one high school season. Getting the nation’s No. 1 recruit out of Memphis won’t be easy, but Calipari still has a shot here.
1. Kahlil Whitney: Obviously, this was a no-brainer.