The brief summer break in the college basketball recruiting calendar ends Sunday, when coaches will start flying all over the country to meet with top prospects and their families.
John Calipari already has several visits lined up with UK’s top targets, and the Wildcats’ head coach always makes good use of the fall recruiting period, possibly his busiest time on the trail all year.
Calipari goes into this year’s fall window in an advantageous spot. The Cats have already secured three commitments — from Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney and Dontaie Allen — but UK is still searching for a few more players to join its 2019 class.
Technically, the fall recruiting period lasts until Nov. 11 — three days before the start of the early signing period — but it’s the first couple of weeks that are always the most hectic. And it’ll be during that time that Kentucky’s 2019 recruiting outlook begins to become more clear.
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Here are four things to watch over the next several days:
Who’s a priority?
This is usually the time of year when we find out who Calipari is really, really serious about.
A hierarchy among 2019 targets started emerging long ago, and it should come as no surprise that Calipari is expected to visit with Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt, Scottie Lewis and James Wiseman — arguably UK’s top four targets — during the first four days of the fall period. He’s set to meet with Whitney on Sunday and will likely see his other two commitments sometime in the next week or so, as well.
The rest of his early fall schedule should be telling.
Brooks is the only player on that list with a confirmed UK scholarship offer, though much of the recruiting chatter in recent weeks has settled on Indiana as the favorite, Michigan State as possibly the next-most-likely choice, and UK as pretty much an afterthought. The Cats already have commitments from two wings (Allen and Whitney), so does Calipari want another similarly positioned player for this class? And is Brooks, who has already scheduled visits to IU, Michigan State, North Carolina and UCLA, still serious about Kentucky? We should find out soon.
Igiehon — a 6-foot-10 center — is expected to get a visit from UK assistant coach Tony Barbee early in the week, and it’s possible that Calipari will be along for the trip. The Ireland native clearly wants to be a UK priority, but it’s still not clear how seriously the Cats are recruiting him.
The biggest thing to watch here: does Igiehon set a hard UK visit date after meeting with Barbee and/or Calipari? And does he follow through on it? Top-10 recruit Simi Shittu was in a similar spot this time last year. Calipari visited early in the fall recruiting period, but the process never moved beyond that, Shittu clearly wasn’t a UK priority, and he eventually picked Vanderbilt.
It’s worth noting that Igiehon has already set official visits to his other three finalists: Louisville, Oregon and St. John’s.
Tshiebwe — a 6-8 center at Kennedy Catholic (Pa.) — is clearly emerging as a UK priority, and he’s already scheduled a visit to Lexington for later this month. Look for that recruitment to keep heating up.
Perhaps the two most mysterious prospects in the class are Anthony, who might be the best player in high school basketball, and McDaniels, who has the upside of a No. 1-ranked recruit.
Anthony, now at Oak Hill Academy (Va.) included UK on his initial list of 12 schools last week. McDaniels, a Seattle native, hasn’t released a list of schools yet. Both have said next to nothing about their recruitments, and it will be interesting to see if Calipari pays either a visit.
Any new 2019 targets?
The answer to this question is already, “Yes.”
Calipari is expected to visit with fast-rising forward Zeke Nnaji on Sunday, the same day he meets with Matthew Hurt, a top-10 player in the class. Nnaji and Hurt are both Minnesotans — they live less than two hours apart — and played together on the Adidas circuit this past summer.
Nnaji — a 6-10 prospect ranked No. 31 nationally by 247Sports — has scholarship offers from Arizona, Kansas, UCLA and a host of other top schools, but his recruitment looks to be fairly open heading into the fall. If Nnaji schedules a UK visit after meeting with Calipari, things could get interesting.
With only 15 of the top-50 prospects in the 2019 class committed, there are several other options if Kentucky wants to jump in on someone new. And the Cats might just throw a curve ball.
It was around this time last year that Calipari and UK assistant Kenny Payne met with Cincinnati prospect Jaxson Hayes, who at the time wasn’t even ranked among the top-200 seniors nationally. Kentucky even extended a scholarship offer, but Hayes ultimately committed to Texas. Could another surprise be up Cal’s sleeve for 2019?
When the fall recruiting period started last year, not one player in the class of 2019 had a confirmed scholarship offer from Kentucky. Not James Wiseman. Not Vernon Carey. No one.
Wiseman and eventual (now former) UK commitment DJ Jeffries both picked up UK offers on Sept. 14, five days into last year’s fall recruiting period. By the end of the next week, Bryan Antoine, Keion Brooks, Vernon Carey and Scottie Lewis all had UK offers, too.
The 2020 class has started out a little differently.
Barnes and Carey are high school teammates, so it won’t be a surprise if Calipari visits him early in the week. It also won’t be surprising if a UK coach checks in on Dante sometime soon.
Other 2020 prospects will surely be on Kentucky’s visit list this month, and a few will likely come away from those meetings with scholarship offers.
California’s Jalen Green, Texas’ RJ Hampton, Georgia’s Anthony Edwards, Wisconsin’s Jalen Johnson, Virginia’s Jeremy Roach and Florida transplant Cade Cunningham are among several of the many other players in the 2020 class that are already on UK’s radar.
The junior prospects Calipari visits over the next couple of weeks will likely be among his biggest targets as the 2020 cycle progresses.
The No. 1 recruit in the country starts his official visit to UK on Friday, heads home to Memphis on Sunday, and things won’t slow down from there.
247Sports’ Evan Daniels reported this week that James Wiseman will host Memphis Coach Penny Hardaway on Monday, Kansas Coach Bill Self on Tuesday, and Calipari on Wednesday.
These will be important meetings as the 7-footer moves forward with his recruitment.
Wiseman has already scheduled official visits to Kansas, Florida State and Vanderbilt for later this fall, so FSU’s Leonard Hamilton and Vandy’s Bryce Drew are likely to hold in-home visits soon.
Will he host coaches from any of his other finalists (Arizona, UNC and Texas)? Will he schedule that fifth and final official visit?
Wiseman’s recruitment is expected to stretch into the spring, but it could become more clear in the coming weeks just how serious he is about schools beyond UK and Memphis, the perceived frontrunners. If any others have a legitimate chance, this will be the time to make an impression.
“If a school gets a kid on campus for an official visit, then you have a shot,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader last week. “Look, everybody has thought that it’s this two-horse race. And, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting them to take other official visits.
“They’re going to go through the process. They want to be recruited, and I think that’s what we’re going to see here.”