As usual, there’s probably no college coach in America who has made a bigger splash through the first couple of weeks of the fall recruiting period than John Calipari.
He’s crisscrossed the country since the visit window started Sept. 9, cementing relationships with longtime targets, issuing new scholarship offers, and even jumping in late on a couple of recruitments, moving the Cats’ status from off the radar to possible favorites.
One such recruit is Isaiah Stewart, a 6-foot-9, 248-pound post player with a 7-4 wingspan and one of the most college-ready games in the country. Stewart, who is from Rochester, N.Y., but plays his high school ball for La Lumiere (Ind.), emerged as a top five national prospect over the summer and — following some on-again, off-again interest from UK — cut the Cats from his list of schools toward the end of last month.
Calipari apparently didn’t receive that news.
The UK coach showed up at Stewart’s high school last week, met with the star frontcourt player, and now Calipari will be welcoming Stewart and his family to Lexington for an official visit this weekend. The Cats go into this one with plenty of momentum.
“I think Isaiah Stewart’s recruitment is fascinating, because he’s a guy that we all had penciled in to Duke, and now it’s a real recruitment,” 247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “And Kentucky has a real shot at him. Michigan State is right there and has a real shot at him. And the first school he visited was Washington. So, this is a recruitment.”
Daniels changed his Crystal Ball pick from Duke to “foggy” last week, meaning there’s not enough information to make a confident prediction.
Daniels’ colleague, 247Sports analyst Brian Snow, has switched his Crystal Ball pick to Kentucky, however, and Snow is listed as the website’s “lead expert” on Stewart’s recruitment.
Stewart is the No. 5 overall prospect in the class of 2019, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. His list included Duke, Indiana, Michigan State, Syracuse, Villanova and Washington before UK re-entered the recruitment last week. At this point, the Spartans might be Calipari’s top competition.
“I know Kentucky. I know what their program is about,” he told the Herald-Leader in the spring. “I know they got a lot of great history with players going off to the league. If they were to come, I would definitely be interested to see what they had in store for me.”
Stewart has not scheduled any other official visits besides last week’s trip to Washington, and he’s expected to make a college decision in time for the November signing period.
Also scheduled to be in town this weekend is Oscar Tshiebwe, who set this date as his official visit weeks ago and has since emerged as one of UK’s top remaining frontcourt targets.
Tshiebwe — a 6-9, 250-pound center from Congo — plays for Kennedy Catholic (Pa.) and has already taken official visits to Baylor and Illinois.
It’s his other two finalists, UK and West Virginia, that appear to be battling it out for his commitment. The Mountaineers have been recruiting Tshiebwe — ranked No. 22 in the 2019 composite rankings — for years, while Calipari just got seriously involved after watching him play toward the end of the summer.
Tshiebwe is scheduled to take his final official visit to West Virginia next weekend, and he’s expected to make a college decision in the lead-up to the early signing period, which runs Nov. 14-21.
This weekend will be UK’s best chance to make a big impression on the frontcourt standout. Going into the visit, a majority of analysts on Tshiebwe’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page are sticking with the Mountaineers, though Rivals.com analysts Eric Bossi and Corey Evans recently told the Herald-Leader that they think UK is a slight favorite.
Daniels, who currently has WVU picked for Tshiebwe, acknowledged that he would always give the Cats a legitimate shot when they get a recruit on campus for an official visit — especially when that player has narrowed his list as much as Tshiebwe has — but Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers will still be tough to beat in this one.
“I think that West Virginia has been the favorite for a very long time, and I don’t have a reason to believe that they’re not still the favorite,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “He’s taking visits and going through the process, but West Virginia — he’s been their priority recruit for a long time.”