Isaiah Stewart looks to cut his list as UK gets more involved
The on-again, off-again pursuit of five-star center Isaiah Stewart is back on in a big way for UK Coach John Calipari, who visited the highly touted basketball recruit at his high school last week as the Cats continue to broaden their list of frontcourt targets.
Stewart — a 6-foot-9 post player at La Lumiere (Ind.) — was seen as a possibility for UK throughout his productive spring and summer on the Nike circuit, but the Cats never made a major move, and he trimmed his list to six schools late last month.
Then, last week, Calipari jumped back into the picture, visiting La Lumiere for an open gym and sitting down for a chat with Stewart just a few days into the fall recruiting period.
During the summer, Stewart was widely seen in recruiting circles as a Duke lean. The Blue Devils dominated his Crystal Ball page, and fellow finalists Indiana, Michigan State, Syracuse, Villanova and Washington — as well as the many others that offered scholarships — weren’t given as much of a shot.
In the past few days, a few national analysts have flipped their predictions from Duke to “foggy,” and UK’s entry into the race only muddies the waters even more.
Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans picked Michigan State for Stewart in a rundown of predictions on that website last week, but he says the recruitment remains too close to call.
“I don’t think there’s a clear frontrunner,” Evans told the Herald-Leader on Thursday. “People have said Villanova. People have said Michigan State and Duke. Those are probably the three to beat. But Kentucky, I do know, has caught his eye some. If they decide to make a bigger push that could change some things. As it always does with a high school prospect.”
The Herald-Leader was told this week that UK is indeed very serious with its interest in Stewart, who is ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 5 overall player in the class of 2019.
The Cats clearly need frontcourt recruits, and Stewart is one of many that they’re expected to make a serious run at this fall. UK’s coaches watched him closely during the spring and summer, but he said at Nike’s Peach Jam event in July that he hadn’t personally heard from anyone on Kentucky’s staff.
Evans pointed out that Stewart might not have liked the Cats’ reluctance to jump into his recruitment with an early scholarship offer — the others still on his list have been pursuing him for months — but, now that UK is involved, it could have a major impact.
“Isaiah’s a smart kid. I think he’s looking at this as a business decision,” Evans said. “He realizes that, ‘It’s Kentucky.’ And he wants to get to the next level. And the proof’s in the pudding at Kentucky. You go there, you work — and Isaiah’s going to work — it could be the springboard for where he wants to get to.”
Stewart joins a growing list of UK frontcourt targets.
The Cats extended scholarship offers to James Wiseman, Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt last year. Oscar Tshiebwe and Zeke Nnaji picked up their UK offers over the past several days, and Calipari visited with top-five forward Jaden McDaniels and four-star center Aidan Igiehon last week.
Stewart is ranked behind Wiseman and Carey, but he might be more prepared for college basketball than anyone in the country.
“He’s probably one of the most productive guys we’ve seen in recent years on the front line,” Evans said. “He’s 6-foot-9 with a 7-5 wingspan. Motor is through the roof. Great hands. Not even a college-ready body, he has an NBA-ready body. When guys talk about, ‘Can they make it physically at the next level?’ … Isaiah’s already there. He’s blessed with tremendous genetics but also a tremendous work ethic. He’s developing a face-up game from 15 feet and in. He’s developing a left hand. But he’s already a dominant low-post presence with a great feel for the game, as well. And he’s probably one of the best rebounders in America.”
“I honestly think Isaiah is the most college-ready player in America, at least in the frontcourt. Vernon Carey and James Wiseman — those guys’ basketball ceilings might be higher… but when push comes to shove, the numbers kind of speak for themselves.”
Stewart averaged 17.6 points and 10.6 rebounds this spring on the highly competitive Nike circuit, earning first-team honors in that league, something Wiseman and Carey didn’t do.
At La Lumiere’s combine this week, Stewart measured at 6-9.5 and 250 pounds with a 7-5 wingspan and a 35-inch vertical jump.
With UK possibly in need of an entirely new frontcourt after this season, Stewart would be a tremendous addition.
The next step is setting a visit date to Lexington.
Stewart heads to Washington this weekend for his first official visit — Huskies Coach Mike Hopkins formed a close relationship with the Rochester, N.Y., native when he was an assistant coach at Syracuse — and more recruiting trips will follow over the next several weeks.
A college decision in time for the November signing period is a possibility.
“He has wanted to speed up his time line a little bit,” Evans said. “He went from being in no rush two or three months ago to now, I think, he’s just getting tired of it all. Like it always does happen with elite prospects — they just get worn down by the whole recruiting process, and rightfully so. So I don’t think it’s that far off. I think a fall signing is likely in the cards.”