Once seen as one of the more mysterious recruits in the 2019 cycle, five-star prospect Jaden McDaniels now appears to be closer to a college decision than most analysts anticipated.
The 6-foot-10, 185-pound forward from Seattle somewhat unexpectedly cut his list to five schools in late September, and he’s spent the past few weekends on official visits to San Diego State, Washington and Texas.
Up next is Kentucky, which will host McDaniels for an official visit this weekend and is his only finalist east of the Mississippi River. (UCLA is the fifth school on his list).
UK Coach John Calipari has made the cross-country trip to meet with McDaniels in Seattle twice this fall — tweeting aerial photos of Mount Rainier on both occasions as a nod to his location — and he’s made McDaniels a clear priority in the 2019 class.
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Rivals.com and 247Sports both rank McDaniels as the No. 4 overall prospect in the 2019 class following his breakout summer on the Nike circuit, where he averaged 19.2 points and 9.3 rebounds during the regular season and earned first-team all league honors.
“He just keeps getting better,” 247Sports’ Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “I think that’s the thing that sticks out about him the most. He has the physical tools. The size, the length, the athleticism, the fluidity. And he’s continued to get better and add skill to his game.
“The thing about Jaden is that, every time you watch him, he makes one or two ‘Wow’ plays. Like, ‘Man, did he just do that?’”
McDaniels was measured with a 6-11.5 wingspan at two different national camps over the summer, and he has the skill and feel to play on the perimeter.
“He’s everything you look for in a multi-positional ballplayer in today’s game,” Rivals.com’s Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader. “He has comparable dimensions and a skill set of a Jon Isaac-type with his mid-range scoring package and isolation abilities. But it’s really about his progression. The kid keeps getting better and better. And with where today’s game is, where he can slide between different spots, he’s the ideal forward now.”
(Isaac was the sixth overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft and has already emerged as a starter for the Orlando Magic.)
McDaniels has the length to play inside, but he’s at his best away from the basket. UK commitment Tyrese Maxey compared him to NBA star Kevin Durant after playing against him in July, a game where McDaniels played more of a point forward role for his Nike team.
He’s likely to play on the perimeter in college, as well.
“I think it will definitely depend on the personnel around him,” Daniel said. “What you like about Jaden is his versatility. This is a dude who is skilled enough to get out on the perimeter and play out there. The way the game’s going, versatile forwards who can play a stretch-forward role like he can are extremely valuable. I would say that’s probably where he’s going to be utilized the most. But obviously it’s going to be determined by the team and fit and stuff like that.”
Which team will ultimately land McDaniels is still unclear. He and his family have been relatively tight-lipped about his recruitment. “I don’t know that there’s a favorite. I couldn’t call one, honestly,” said Daniels, who has yet to log a Crystal Ball prediction.
McDaniels’ older brother, Jalen, is a redshirt sophomore at San Diego State, though he’s also projected as an NBA Draft pick in 2019 and wouldn’t be around next season if he makes that jump. Evans is predicting Washington — the hometown school — on McDaniels’ Rivals.com Future Cast page.
“Right now, I would have to favor the first three schools he visited: Washington, San Diego State and Texas. I actually think Washington might have a slight lead. Coach (Mike) Hopkins and those guys have definitely made him a priority the past 12-16 months on the job.
“I would say Kentucky and UCLA are facing — not an uphill battle — but they definitely have to overcome some things with San Diego State, Texas and Washington.”
Both Daniels and Evans pointed out that McDaniels could take his final official visit to UCLA next weekend, and that would complete his visit schedule a few days before the early signing period ends Nov. 21. A quick decision and commitment could occur by then, though it’s not necessarily expected. “Do I think he signs early? I don’t,” Evans said. “I also don’t think he’s far from committing. I think he’ll sign in April, but I think he’ll commit before then.”
And though Evans sees UK as playing catchup in McDaniels’ recruitment, the fact that he’ll be on campus this weekend is a major point for the Cats, and it could prove to be a turning point for one of the nation’s top recruits.
“Of course, a visit to Kentucky — like we’ve seen in the past — that changes prospects’ minds,” Evans said. “That could definitely be the case with Jaden, as well. Because, compared to who Kentucky is recruiting against — it’s not like they’re recruiting against Duke and UNC and Kansas. They’re pretty much the lone blue blood. They’re something of a different mold here.”