Big Blue Madness is now well-established as the UK basketball program’s biggest recruiting event on the calendar, and most of the focus every year is squarely on the visiting high school seniors who are getting close to their college decisions.
On Friday night, one of the nation’s top juniors will be making his first visit to Lexington.
RJ Hampton, who has long been ranked as one of the best prospects in the class of 2020, will be at UK for Big Blue Madness, and it’ll be another opportunity for John Calipari and his coaching staff to build on a relationship that’s already in the advanced stages.
Hampton — a 6-foot-4 combo guard from Little Elm, Texas — was the first player from the 2020 class to land an in-home visit from Calipari in the opening days of the fall recruiting period, which started last month. He was among the first players in that class to earn a UK scholarship offer, and Calipari and his assistant coaches have paid close attention to him over the past two summers on the Under Armour circuit.
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He’s the No. 6 overall prospect in the 2020 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
“RJ is a gifted scorer,” 247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “He’s a guy that can go off the bounce and really create shot opportunities. I think he’s got some combo guard to him, but this is a kid that can really score the basketball. He’s good in transition, he’s good attacking the goal, and he can finish.”
Hampton led the Under Armour circuit this past summer with 24.6 points per game and was second in that league with 6.0 assists per game. MaxPreps.com named him a first-team sophomore all-American last high school season, when he averaged more than 30 points, eight rebounds and six assist per contest.
The Dallas native has also won FIBA gold medals in each of the past two summers while playing for the USA Basketball U17 and U16 teams, competing alongside celebrated UK recruiting targets such as Vernon Carey, Isaiah Stewart and James Wiseman on those squads.
Hampton is clearly among the best backcourt players in the country, regardless of class. Daniels classified him as a ‘2’ guard/combo guard that can handle point guard responsibilities in a pinch but is at his best when he’s trying to score.
Kentucky, like many top schools recruiting him, would like to pair Hampton with a top-flight point guard — the Cats have already extended offers to five-star recruits Sharife Cooper and Jeremy Roach at that position — to form a formidable backcourt.
“I think you certainly try to recruit another lead guard to go with him, because his strength is putting the ball in the basket,” Daniels said.
Hampton was a 33-percent three-point shooter on the Under Armour circuit. Not bad, but not lights out. If he can improve in that area, he’ll be tough to stop once he gets to the college level.
“He’s obviously a capable shooter right now, but I think developing his long-range shot and consistency in that area would probably be a primary focus, because he’s so good at attacking the goal and making shots from mid-range,” Daniels said. “And that’s not to say that he can’t shoot from three, but I think that’s certainly an area where he can grow.”
His list of scholarship offers reads like a who’s who of college basketball. There’s Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, UCLA and several others. Texas head coach Shaka Smart is trying to keep him close to home for college. Penny Hardaway and the new Memphis coaching staff hosted Hampton on his first official visit a few weeks back.
There were rumors all spring and summer that he would ultimately leave the 2020 class for 2019, graduate from high school early and jump straight to college after this coming season. The 17-year-old publicly announced in August that he would be staying put in 2020, then his father — who is also his head coach in Under Armour play — said around the time of his Memphis visit that Hampton might consider reclassifying so he could team up with Wiseman in college. Wiseman, the No. 1 player in the 2019 class, is expected to pick Memphis or Kentucky.
Hampton, who turns 18 in February, reiterated this past weekend that he’s sticking with the 2020 class. “At this point, I don’t even think it’s a topic of conversation,” Daniels said. “They’ve said that they’re staying 2020.”
That will give teams like Kentucky, Duke and Memphis two more high school seasons to recruit Hampton, who will clearly be one of the most hotly pursued prospects in his class.
“I think it’s just too early to handicap it,” Daniels said. “The fact that RJ is taking visits to multiple schools, that to me means that he’s taking this process seriously and trying to gain as much information about these schools as he can. Obviously, he’s been to Memphis. He’s going to see Kentucky. I think he’s just trying to go through this process.”