Thanks to recent commitments from Dontaie Allen and Kahlil Whitney — and a spring pledge from Tyrese Maxey — the UK basketball program is off to one of its most prolific starts to a recruiting cycle in years.
In fact, this is just the second time in John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky that the Cats have secured three commitments by this point in the calendar. The only other such time came eight years ago, when Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague made early commitments and were joined by a late-August pledge from Kyle Wiltjer, the final piece in a 2011 recruiting class that would go on to win Calipari’s only national title.
UK hasn’t had any more than one commitment by this stage in the cycle with any recruiting class since.
Calipari is still looking to fill a few more spots in his 2019 class, and others will surely join Allen, Maxey and Whitney over the next few months. UK’s biggest recruiting rivals are obviously also searching for new talent. Here’s how the Cats’ early haul stacks up against their blue-blood peers:
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The Blue Devils have been the biggest thorn in Calipari’s recruiting side over the past few years, and they’re expected to again compete for the No. 1 class in the 2019 cycle.
They’ll need some commitments first.
Duke has had at least one pledge by the end of August for the next year’s class in every recruiting cycle since 2008, but Mike Krzyzewski has so far been shut out on 2019 recruits.
That’s likely to change soon.
The Blue Devils are still considered favorites for five-star point guard Josiah James, five-star shooting guard Bryan Antoine and five-star small forward Wendell Moore. That trio alone would put Duke on its way to another No. 1 class.
The frontcourt prospects are a little trickier. Vernon Carey — the No. 1 player in the Rivals.com rankings — was once seen as a Duke lean, but he now appears to be a toss-up. Armando Bacot and Isaiah Stewart have been mentioned as more recent possibilities, but Bacot committed to North Carolina last week, and 247Sports national analyst Brian Snow put in a Crystal Ball pick sending Stewart to Villanova a couple days before that.
A trio of wild cards to monitor are top-five recruits Cole Anthony (the No. 1 guard in the class), Jaden McDaniels (a 6-10 forward with ridiculously high upside), and RJ Hampton (currently considered 2020’s top point guard, though he might reclassify). Their recruitments are seemingly wide open, and Duke has been mentioned as a possible landing spot for all three.
The Jayhawks have an early commitment from four-star point guard Markese Jacobs — the No. 89 overall prospect in the 2019 class — and they’re favored to add a few more talented players.
Top 20 recruit Jeremiah Robinson-Earl — a 6-foot-9 power forward and KU legacy — named a final five of Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Villanova last week, and the Jayhawks are considered the favorite.
Matthew Hurt — another 6-9 power forward and the No. 6 player in the 2019 composite rankings — played alongside Robinson-Earl on Bill Self’s USA Basketball U18 team this summer, and Kansas is seen as a lukewarm favorite in his recruitment.
Zeke Nnaji — a 6-10 power forward and the No. 29 player in the class — has picked up several pro-Kansas predictions on his Crystal Ball page since receiving a scholarship offer from the Jayhawks this month.
Kansas is also the Crystal Ball leader for small forwards Samuel Williamson and Chandler Lawson (the younger brother of current KU players Dedric and KJ Lawson). Both of those recruits are ranked in the top 75 nationally.
And, just like Duke, the Jayhawks have been mentioned in connection with Cole Anthony, RJ Hampton and Jaden McDaniels. With several scholarships expected to be available, Self is likely to come up with a terrific 2019 class.
The Tar Heels have gone four consecutive recruiting cycles without a class ranked in the top 10 nationally, and that’s almost certain to change in 2019.
At the top of that list is versatile wing Josh Green, the No. 11 overall player in the 2019 composite rankings, and now considered to be a heavy UNC lean. Point guard Tre Mann has five-star potential, and the Heels are now favored in his recruitment after extending a scholarship offer last month. Bacot is already recruiting both players, and commitments from the duo would give UNC three McDonald’s All-American-caliber prospects.
Another star player on Bacot’s radar is Cole Anthony, who visited UNC this month. In a nearly impossible recruitment to decipher, the Tar Heels were getting about as much buzz as anyone toward the end of the summer.
It’s also too early to count UNC out for highly touted big men Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Will Baker.
For the past few years, the possibility of NCAA sanctions stemming from UNC’s academic scandal has had an adverse impact on recruiting. With that case now closed — and no sanctions coming — the Tar Heels are likely to return to blue-blood status on the recruiting trail.
‘Blue-blood’ commitments for the class of 2019
Others of note
Louisville: Chris Mack’s first year in charge of the Cardinals looks like it will be a relative success. U of L already has a commitment from Top 100 guard Josh Nickelberry, and the Cards are considered possible favorites for five-star big man Aidan Igiehon, top 50 combo guard Jahmius Ramsey, top 100 power forward Jaelyn Withers, and Trinity combo guard David Johnson, another top 100 national player. Landing five Top 100 recruits under the circumstances Mack inherited would be a terrific turn of events for that program.
Indiana: Archie Miller landed local legend Romeo Langford at the end of his first year on the job. The Hoosiers don’t have any commitments for 2019 yet, but Miller should have them back in the top-10 conversation by the end of the cycle. Indiana is now considered the heavy favorite for five-star center Trayce Jackson-Davis, and the Hoosiers might also lead for his Nike league teammate, Keion Brooks, another likely McDonald’s All-American selection. Shooting guard Brandon Newman — a possible Top 100 recruit — is also a potential Indiana lean. All three are Indiana natives, and keeping the state’s best players close to home is one of Miller’s biggest recruiting goals.
UCLA: The all-time leader in national championships is also often a juggernaut on the recruiting trail. The Bruins already have commitments from top 100 recruits Jaime Jaquez and Grant Sherfield, as well as a pledge from three-star guard Jake Kyman. UCLA is also considered the leader for five-star big man Will Baker.
Villanova: The defending national champs haven’t signed as many five-star recruits as the rest of the schools mentioned so far, but the Wildcats seem to be casting a wider net with such prospects. Nova is seen as a darkhouse candidate for five-star teammates Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis, and Jay Wright’s program has picked up recent Crystal Ball picks for five-star big man Isaiah Stewart and five-star point guard Nico Mannion. Even if they miss on those players, the Wildcats already have commitments from Top 100 recruits Justin Moore and Eric Dixon.
Florida: UK’s perennial conference rival has zero commitments for 2019, and the Gators aren’t a clear favorite for any high-profile prospects in the class. The biggest target on their list is Scottie Lewis, a top-10 recruit who has already visited Gainesville multiple times. Florida is still holding on to the lead on Lewis’ Crystal Ball page, though St. John’s, Villanova and others (including UK) remain in the picture. The Gators had three Top 100 signees in their 2018 class.
Arizona: It doesn’t look like its role in the ongoing federal investigation into college basketball will hurt the Wildcats too badly. Zona has zero 2019 commitments so far but is considered the favorite for five-star point guard Nico Mannion and high-upside center Christian Koloko. The Wildcats also have a great shot at Jaden McDaniels, who could end up as the No. 1 player in this class, and Sean Miller is in the mix for a few other Top 100 recruits.
Michigan State: The Spartans have zero 2019 commitments, but things could get interesting here. Tom Izzo’s program is considered a possible leader for four-star shooting guard Rocket Watts (a Detroit native and potential McDonald’s All-American), fast-rising power forward Drew Timme (already a top 50 recruit), and four-star small forward Terry Armstrong. The Spartans also have a legitimate shot at five-star recruits Vernon Carey and Keion Brooks, as well as Josiah James, who is thought to be leaning Duke’s way but is the son of a former Michigan State player.
Memphis: The James Wiseman recruitment is likely still a 50/50 situation with Kentucky, but Penny Hardaway already has a commitment from four-star center Malcolm Dandridge and appears to be in a good spot with five-star forward Trendon Watford and four-star forward DJ Jeffries, a former UK commitment. RJ Hampton could also be a possibility for Memphis, if he reclassifies from 2020.
Southern Cal: The Trojans actually have the No. 1 class in the country at the moment with early commitments from five-star frontcourt prospects Onyeka Okongwu and Isaiah Mobley, as well as Top 100 recruits Max Agbonkpolo and Drake London. USC is also considered the favorite for near-five-star recruit Cassius Stanley.
Note: Twenty of the top 25 players in the 247Sports composite rankings remain uncommitted, and Tyrese Maxey is the only player in the top 18 that has already announced a college commitment.
Top 10 recruiting classes for 2019 (247Sports composite)