UK Recruiting

What’s next for UK basketball recruiting? Ten questions going into a busy winter.

John Calipari: ‘I’m overrated as a recruiter’

Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari talks to the media on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, about recruiting. UK lost out on James Wiseman, the top recruit for the class of 2019, who announced Tuesday he will attend Memphis.
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Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari talks to the media on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, about recruiting. UK lost out on James Wiseman, the top recruit for the class of 2019, who announced Tuesday he will attend Memphis.

Ten pertinent questions related to UK basketball recruiting now that the fall signing period is over:

Should UK fans be worried about Kahlil Whitney?

Let’s get this one out of the way early. The answer is no. Whitney, the Cats’ highest-ranked commitment at No. 8 nationally in the 2019 class, did not officially sign during last week’s early period, a rare move for a UK recruit.

A source close to Whitney’s recruitment told ZagsBlog that the five-star prospect has always wanted to officially sign from the elementary school that he attended in Chicago, his hometown. Since Whitney now attends high school in New Jersey, he was unable to make this happen during the one-week signing period.

UK is not concerned about the matter, Whitney remains 100 percent committed to the Wildcats with no intention of reopening his commitment, and he will be on the team next season. The 6-foot-7 wing player will again be eligible to officially sign with the Cats starting in April.

Who’s left on UK’s 2019 radar?

In addition to the commitment from Whitney, the Cats have signed five-star point guard Tyrese Maxey and four-star wing Dontaie Allen. There are five uncommitted players who remain major priorities for Kentucky:

Keion Brooks — a 6-7 wing from Fort Wayne, Ind. — is widely expected to pick either UK or Indiana sometime in the next few weeks. He’s No. 24 in the 247Sports composite rankings.

Anthony Edwards — a 6-5 shooting guard from Atlanta — recently reclassified from 2020 and lists UK, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan State and North Carolina as his top five. FSU is the favorite, though he still plans to take official visits and could be swayed in the coming months. He’s No. 4 in the 247Sports composite rankings.

Matthew Hurt — a 6-9 forward from Rochester, Minn. — still has several schools on his list. Kentucky should be considered a major player in his recruitment, and he’s expected in Lexington this weekend for his first official visit. He’s No. 7 in the 247Sports composite rankings.

Jaden McDaniels — a 6-10 forward from Seattle — has already completed all five official visits and UK remains in the mix, along with San Diego State, Texas, UCLA and Washington. He’s No. 5 in the 247Sports composite rankings.

Isaiah Stewart — a 6-10 post player from Rochester, N.Y. — took his final official visit to Duke over the weekend. He also visited UK, though the Cats came into his recruitment late and haven’t been given much of a shot to land his commitment. He’s No. 6 in the 247Sports composite rankings.

Five-star basketball recruit Jaden McDaniels has blown up on the national scene this spring and summer, and UK is now among the many top schools paying attention.

Any new faces in 2019?

Other than the previously mentioned players, there are only five uncommitted five-star prospects in the 2019 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. Vernon Carey (No. 2) and Cole Anthony (No. 3) have already removed UK from their lists. The Cats have shown no interest in 6-9 wing Precious Achiuwa (No. 9) or 6-9 center Trayce Jackson-Davis (No. 16). And UK showed some early interest in 6-9 forward Trendon Watford (No. 27), but there has been no reported contact between the two sides in months.

There are a few other players sprinkled throughout the Top 100 rankings, though the only one who has been linked to the Cats in recent months has been Oak Hill (Va.) center Kofi Cockburn (No. 33), and there’s been no mention of UK involvement in his recruitment since the summer.

Will anyone else reclassify?

Anthony Edwards made the move from 2020 last week, and 247Sports immediately made him the No. 1 player in its 2019 rankings. Others are likely to follow with similar moves over the next few months.

John Calipari and Tony Barbee were in Texas over the weekend to see three players who have been mentioned as reclassification candidates: shooting guard Jalen Green (No. 2 in the 2020 rankings), combo guard RJ Hampton (No. 5) and center N’Faly Dante (No. 9). Green won’t turn 18 until February 2020, making him a seemingly unlikely choice for reclassification. Hampton turns 18 this February, and — though he has said he’s sticking in 2020 — could still make a move to 2019. Dante, a 6-11 native of Mali now playing in Kansas, would help solve a potential frontcourt shortage for the Cats next season, but he hasn’t said much about a possible move.

Other names in the 2020 class will likely pop up in reclassification talk over the next few months.

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Can Cats find another Reid Travis?

If they miss on Isaiah Stewart, this might be the best option for another impact post player. (Keion Brooks, Matthew Hurt and Jaden McDaniels all like to play on the perimeter, with Hurt being the best inside option of the trio). If UK does go after another high-profile graduate transfer like Travis, it’ll be awhile before that info gets out. Such possibilities aren’t usually known until the spring. And, remember, Travis didn’t commit to UK until June.

Maybe UK won’t need another frontcourt player?

This is wishful thinking on behalf of UK fans who still can’t believe — or refuse to accept — the trend of players leaving early for the pros. Reid Travis will be out of eligibility. PJ Washington will almost certainly be jumping to the NBA Draft. EJ Montgomery might have the highest pro upside of anyone on this team. Nick Richards, on the surface, seems the most likely to return, but he’s in his second year at Kentucky and turns 21 years old this week.

Nineteen players have gone through the program since someone remained a Wildcat for more than two seasons. UK might be lucky to get one current frontcourt player back for next year. Don’t expect more than that. And it’s probably safer to expect less.

University of Kentucky sophomore Nick Richards says he feels "more confident" in his play this year after the team played in the Bahamas this summer.

What’s new with the college basketball recruiting scandal?

Stories continue to trickle out linking players and programs to the ongoing corruption case, and that will continue into the foreseeable future with more trials related to the scandal on the horizon. It hasn’t appeared to hurt recruiting for anyone involved. Some of the programs most linked to the corruption investigation have highly ranked classes for 2019, and — until the NCAA gets actively involved — that’s likely to continue. The initial stages of those NCAA investigations have begun, but this will likely take years to sort out. Stay tuned.

Will Penny-mania continue?

Alex Lomax? Check. Malcolm Dandridge? Check. DJ Jeffries? Check. James Wiseman? Check. Penny Hardaway has locked up commitments from his highest-profile former players at the high school level and the Nike circuit. Now comes the hard part.

Can Hardaway and his NBA-experienced staff land commitments from guys including Matthew Hurt and Trendon Watford, two five-star players with links to Memphis assistant Mike Miller? And, most importantly for long-term success, can they get prospects from outside of their realm of previous influence? There’s no questioning this coaching staff’s early success. Whether that success continues at the highest levels — and on the court itself — will be interesting.

Another Mr. Basketball at UK?

For the first time in six years, UK basketball fans will have the opportunity to watch a future Wildcat play his senior season of high school inside the state. Pendleton County star Dontaie Allen is an early favorite for Mr. Basketball honors and has a full slate of games scheduled all over Kentucky this season. Allen starts things off Monday night at Williamstown. He’ll play in Lexington (at Sayre) on Jan. 4. And Pendleton County is scheduled in showcase events from Ashland to Marshall County. Allen is likely to see plenty of blue in the stands on game nights, no matter where he’s playing.

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Has John Calipari lost his touch?

The question many UK fans have been asking in the wake of James Wiseman’s decision to pick Memphis is one that’s been bouncing around recruiting circles long before that. The short answer is, of course, no. UK is the only program in the country with two top-10 commitments for 2019 (Maxey and Whitney). The Cats have still had a top-two national recruiting class in every year that Calipari has been in Lexington. They would have landed a commitment from Wiseman — the No. 1 player in the class — if not for Penny Hardaway’s hire, a matter beyond their control. UK is still a major force on the recruiting trail.

The more nuanced answer — on a topic that will continue to be discussed and explored over the next few months — is that there is a clearly a disconnect between Calipari’s approach and the very best recruits in the country. UK hasn’t landed a top-five commitment in four recruiting cycles and hasn’t secured a No. 1-ranked commitment since 2012, and a staff shakeup isn’t going to do anything to change that.

Calipari’s reluctance to extend scholarship offers early in the process has been one point of consternation among some recruits and their inner circles. The “this isn’t for everyone” pitch from the UK head coach seems to be wearing thin as other blue bloods have targeted an increasing number of potential one-and-done players in recent years.

Kentucky will continue to land five-star targets as long as Calipari is here, but a couple of “tweaks” — as he might say — to his own approach appear necessary if the Cats are to return to the rarefied air of past recruiting success.

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