Justus: Goal is to identify players who see Kentucky as ultimate destination
With James Wiseman’s announcement Tuesday that he will play his college basketball at Memphis next season, UK has now gone seven recruiting cycles without landing the consensus No. 1 overall player in the country.
John Calipari, who quickly cemented his status as the nation’s top recruiter early in his tenure at UK with commitments from such high school stars as John Wall, Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel, has hit a recent skid with the top prospects in the country.
Noel, the No. 1 player in the 2012 class, was the last top-ranked prospect to sign with the Cats, who haven’t had a consensus top-five commitment since Skal Labissiere picked UK back in the fall of 2014. Davis was the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2011 class (and Labissiere and Wall were both ranked No. 1 by Rivals.com in their respective classes, but they weren’t the consensus picks for the top spot as high school seniors).
Here’s what has happened with the nation’s No. 1 recruits — according to the 247Sports composite rankings — since Noel picked the Cats:
2019: James Wiseman
The 7-footer from Nashville was the first player from the 2019 class to land a UK scholarship offer, and he looked like a near-lock to ultimately pick the Wildcats until Memphis hired his high school and Nike league coach — former NBA star Penny Hardaway — to lead the Tigers’ program. Of all the players on this list, Wiseman was the one who seemed like the surest thing for Kentucky early in his recruitment.
UK’s top-ranked recruit: So far, it’s Kahlil Whitney, the No. 7 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings. The Cats are still actively recruiting four uncommitted players ranked ahead of him: Vernon Carey (No. 2), Jaden McDaniels (No. 4), Isaiah Stewart (No. 5) and Matthew Hurt (No. 6), with Carey and Stewart looking unlikely to pick the Cats at this time.
2018: RJ Barrett
A native of Canada who played his high school ball at Montverde Academy (Fla.), Barrett was the unanimous choice for No. 1 recruit in the 2018 class. He chose Duke over fellow finalists Kentucky and Oregon, and the Blue Devils were long seen as the favorite in his recruitment. Barrett torched Calipari’s USA Basketball team for 38 points in the FIBA World Cup last summer before torching Calipari’s Cats for 33 points in the Blue Devils’ 118-84 victory over Kentucky earlier this month, the worst loss in the UK coach’s college career.
UK’s top-ranked recruit: EJ Montgomery picked Kentucky late in the process — Duke was one of his other finalists — and the No. 9 overall prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings is averaging 7.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game through four games so far this season.
2017: Marvin Bagley
Long a member of the 2018 recruiting class, Bagley made a late summer reclassification to 2017 and picked the Duke Blue Devils just before the start of fall classes last year. Kentucky was on his list throughout the process, but he never visited Lexington during a meandering recruitment that included stops at multiple high schools. Bagley averaged 21.0 points and 11.1 rebounds per game and was ACC Player of the Year in his only season at Duke before going No. 2 overall in this year’s NBA Draft.
UK’s top-ranked recruit: Hamidou Diallo (No. 10 overall) was actually a January addition to the UK basketball program in 2016-17 but didn’t make his college debut until the next season. He was selected with the No. 45 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft and has already carved out a contributing role with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
2016: Josh Jackson
A Michigan native who finished his high school career in California, Jackson was ranked No. 1 overall by 247Sports, Rivals.com and Scout.com. Kentucky made some initial contact in his recruitment, but the Cats were never considered real players for Jackson, who ended up at Kansas and was taken with the No. 4 pick in last year’s draft. Jackson was involved in an off-the-court incident at Kansas and has also come up in reports related to the federal investigation into college basketball.
UK’s top-ranked recruit: De’Aaron Fox — the No. 6 recruit in the class — was part of an early signing class that included Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones. As freshmen, that group helped take UK to the Elite Eight in 2017.
2015: Ben Simmons
An Australian native, Simmons finished his high school years in Florida and — even before he came to the United States as a 16-year-old — was expected to ultimately land at Louisiana State, where his godfather, David Patrick, was an assistant coach. Simmons averaged 19.2 points and 11.8 rebounds and missed the NCAA Tournament in his only season with the Tigers before being selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft. He was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 2018 after missing the previous season due to injury.
UK’s top-ranked recruit: Skal Labissiere finished just behind Simmons at No. 2 in the 247Sports composite rankings, but he struggled in his only season at Kentucky before being taken with the No. 28 pick in the 2016 draft.
2014: Jahlil Okafor
Okafor teamed up with close friend Tyus Jones and fellow top-10 recruit Justise Winslow to help Duke win a national title in their only season with the Blue Devils before all three were selected in the first round of the 2015 draft. (Okafor was taken No. 3 overall). Kentucky was one of the 6-11 center’s finalists, though the Wildcats already had a commitment from another star post player in the 2014 class ...
UK’s top-ranked recruit: Karl-Anthony Towns — the No. 5 player in the 247Sports composite rankings — committed to UK early in his recruiting process and was a key player on the Wildcats’ team that went 38-1. He was the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft and the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2016.
2013: Andrew Wiggins
Could UK’s current skid with No. 1 recruits be called the Wiggins Curse? The Cats were coming off two straight No. 1-ranked commitments (Davis and Noel) and looked like possible favorites to land Wiggins during a high-profile recruitment that lasted well into the spring. Wiggins ultimately chose Kansas over fellow finalists Kentucky, Florida State and North Carolina before becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft. And, more than five years later, UK is still searching for its next No. 1 commitment.
UK’s top-ranked recruit: Julius Randle was the No. 2 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings that year, leading a class that included fellow McDonald’s All-Americans Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson, James Young and Marcus Lee, as well as Kentucky high school stars Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis. The Cats were national runners-up during that group’s freshman season and returned to the Final Four the following year.