The highest-ranked recruit at Big Blue Madness on Friday night will be Vernon Carey, a 6-foot-10 prospect from Florida who has long been locked in a battle for the No. 1 spot in the class of 2019 rankings.
This weekend’s official visit to Kentucky continues a busy month of travel for Carey, who spent last weekend at USA Basketball camp in Colorado and will spend the next three weekends on official visits to Duke, Miami and North Carolina, respectively.
Carey took an official visit to his other finalist, Michigan State, earlier this year, and he’s now considering the possibility of announcing a college decision this fall. (The early signing period runs Nov. 14-21).
The Herald-Leader asked several national recruiting analysts — Jeff Borzello of ESPN, Corey Evans of Rivals.com, Jerry Meyer of 247Sports and Andrew Slater of The Athletic — to handicap Carey’s recruitment going into his official visits. The experts see a close race for a player that is ranked No. 1 nationally by Rivals and No. 3 by ESPN and 247Sports.
Those national analysts ordered what they see as Carey’s three most likely destinations at this point, and we took those lists and compiled them to make a master list, with three points for a first-place vote, two points for a second-place vote, and one point for a third-place vote.
The only real consensus is that no one seems to think North Carolina has much of a shot in Carey’s recruitment. The other finalists all received multiple votes each.
Here are the results of our poll:
Don’t totally fret, UK fans. The Cats showed up on three of four lists and multiple experts acknowledged that they wouldn’t be surprised at all if Carey ultimately ends up in Lexington.
UK’s place in this order is more indicative of just how close this race looks going into Carey’s official visits, and several recruiting insiders have told the Herald-Leader in recent weeks that these trips will play a major role in the Florida native’s decision.
John Calipari has made Carey a recruiting priority since the beginning of the 2019 cycle and was a mainstay at his games on the Nike circuit this past summer. UK is also in major need of frontcourt players for next season, and Carey has shown a willingness to play alongside other great post prospects at the college level.
It’ll be up to Calipari, UK big man expert Kenny Payne, and the rest of the coaching staff to show Carey that Lexington will be the right place to grow his game for a season before he heads off to the NBA. It certainly won’t hurt to have UK commitment Tyrese Maxey, who has been recruiting Carey for months, in town this weekend.
The Hurricanes actually got one first-place vote, and they represent the local choice for the Fort Lauderdale standout. There’s also a family tie with Carey’s father, who was a star football player at Miami before becoming a first-round NFL Draft pick by the Miami Dolphins.
Carey has said that he probably has the best relationship with the Hurricanes coaching staff, and he’s been a regular visitor to the nearby campus for football and basketball games over the past few years.
Before Miami was mentioned in the initial findings of the federal investigation into college basketball, the Hurricanes were seen as a favorite in Carey’s recruitment. Things cooled after that, and new favorites emerged, but there’s obviously some buzz that Miami is again a major player in this recruitment.
2. Michigan State
The Spartans and Hurricanes were actually tied in the final tally, but Michigan State gets the nod for this spot based on the tiebreaker of most first-place votes.
Tom Izzo got Carey on campus for an official visit early in the process — as a high school junior — and Michigan State has remained a serious threat throughout his recruitment.
Can the Spartans become the latest program to beat out Kentucky and Duke for a top recruit that both schools really want? Izzo might have as good of a chance as anyone right now.
The Blue Devils were the only program to end up on all four ballots, and it’s worth stressing one last time how close this final tally was — the Herald-Leader has done several of these “expert panels” over the last couple of recruiting cycles, and this was the closest result.
Duke ended an uncharacteristic recruiting skid this week with the commitment for five-star prospect Wendell Moore after missing out on some of its top targets earlier in the fall.
Carey has arguably been the Blue Devils’ No. 1 priority in the 2019 class for more than a year. When Miami cooled as a favorite last fall, Duke assumed that mantle, and the program’s presence on all four top-three lists here shows Coach K is still in a good spot.
The Blue Devils will host Carey for their version of midnight madness next weekend, and then they’ll have to sit back and wait on a recruitment that truly could go any one of four directions.
Big Blue Madness
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Rupp Arena
TV: SEC Network