UK Recruiting

How UK could add more guards to its 2019 recruiting class (and a Keion Brooks update)

Jalen Green puts on a highlight reel show with dunks and three-pointers in Memorial win

The standout junior forward/guard sat out much of the fourth quarter as his teammates continued the rout of Madera South, 83-49.
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The standout junior forward/guard sat out much of the fourth quarter as his teammates continued the rout of Madera South, 83-49.

With five-star shooting guard Anthony Edwards’ commitment to Georgia last week, there are zero uncommitted guards in the 2019 recruiting class that have scholarship offers from Kentucky.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the Cats won’t add anyone else at the position.

UK could still be in need of guard help if Ashton Hagans and Tyler Herro continue their rise up NBA Draft charts, and the 2020 class has a couple of interesting possibilities.

Jalen Green and RJ Hampton are the top two rated guards in that group, and both have been the subject of reclassification rumors for the past several months. Other than Hagans, Herro and projected NBA lottery pick Keldon Johnson, the Cats’ current roster includes only two other scholarship guards — Immanuel Quickley and Jemarl Baker — and UK has just one true guard in its 2019 recruiting class, Tyrese Maxey. (UK’s class also features a couple of talented wings: Dontaie Allen and Kahlil Whitney).

Green and Hampton were two of the earliest 2020 recruits to land Kentucky scholarship offers, but it’s still unclear which recruiting class those two prospects will ultimately end up in.

Hampton — a 6-foot-5 combo guard from Texas — turned 18 years old earlier this month and seems the most likely to ultimately reclassify. That was the expectation this time last year, but he said before the season that he planned to stick in the 2020 class. His father has since acknowledged that Hampton — while still in the class of 2020 — has been taking the necessary academic coursework to move to the 2019 class, if that’s what he decides to do.

Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans recently put the chances of that at only 30 percent, but he told the Herald-Leader those odds are trending in the direction of 2019 — as the possibility of instant-impact potential at a blue-blood program becomes more likely.

“If the two sides match and the appropriate opportunity is there, I think there’s a fair chance it could happen,” Evans said.

Hampton’s final five consists of UK, Duke, Kansas, Memphis and Texas Christian.

The Blue Devils — if they lose starting point guard Tre Jones to the NBA Draft — could be tough to beat.

“I think it’s more about who stays and who goes,” Evans said. “I know it’s pretty important that RJ has the ball in his hands, and I don’t know if Kentucky can do that. They might be able to massage that a little bit and make it work. But compared to, say, a program like Duke — they’re losing Tre Jones and Duke is saying, ‘You’re the guy from day one.’ It’s a little more difficult to decline that chance if the number one attribute that you want is to have the ball.”

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Green — a 6-5 shooting guard from California — is the No. 2 overall player in Rivals.com’s 2020 rankings. Though he just turned 17 earlier this month, Green has also acknowledged that he’s thought about moving to the 2020 class.

“I think there’s a fair chance,” Evans said. “They really aren’t focusing much on that right now. They’re finishing up high school ball. I really do believe that they really haven’t put too much into the recruiting process yet.”

Green doesn’t have a set list of final schools, though Memphis and Kentucky are two that have generated buzz in recent months. Several analysts — Evans included — have on-the-record predictions in favor of Penny Hardaway’s Tigers.

“Memphis definitely has his eye,” Evans said. “And I know that Kentucky offer meant a lot to him. It definitely left a giant impression with him. But I think that (decision) would be a little further down the road.”

In fact, Evans said he doesn’t expect either player to make a decision on reclassification until well into the summer. Both are planning to play on the Nike circuit starting in April.

Evans also doesn’t foresee any of UK’s other backcourt targets for 2020 taking the reclassification route. Of course, the Cats could still get some perimeter help from their remaining 2019 targets.

Though none are listed as guards, Keion Brooks, Matthew Hurt and Jaden McDaniels are all long forwards who prefer to play in the backcourt. Brooks visited UK over the weekend, and there has been considerable talk in recruiting circles that Kentucky might have overtaken home-state Indiana as the team to beat in his recruitment.

A few recruiting analysts have logged pro-UK predictions. Evans isn’t one of them … yet.

“I’m sticking with Indiana there. I’m probably one of the few right now,” he told the Herald-Leader on Tuesday night. “I do think Kentucky has his attention. I think it’s going to be about Keion buying into playing with guys like Dontaie Allen and Kahlil Whitney and sharing the wing/forward spot. And also buying into the one-and-done thing that Cal always pitches.”

The addition of Brooks to UK’s roster could allow for more wiggle room with yet another player that blurs the line between guard and forward.

“I think by adding a guy like Keion, it definitely enables more of a small ball approach for Cal next year,” Evans said. “They’re going to lose PJ (Washington), they’re going to lose Reid (Travis), so the frontcourt is already slim to begin with. Maybe they reclassify somebody or they add somebody like Jaden or Matt Hurt. Maybe they get a grad transfer.

“But, at the end of the day … you add a guy like Keion, I think it makes it easier to have multiple ball-handlers on the perimeter. Multiple shot-makers. And tons of wing depth and versatility.”

Ben Roberts covers UK basketball, football and other sports for the Lexington Herald-Leader and has specialized in UK basketball recruiting for the past several years. He also maintains the Next Cats recruiting blog, which features the latest news on the Wildcats’ recruiting efforts.
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