UK Recruiting

Kentucky might be trailing for top basketball recruit, but it’s not over yet

The bad news for Kentucky: The Cats don’t appear to be anyone’s favorite to land coveted basketball recruit Matthew Hurt, one of the top players in the 2019 class.

The good news for Kentucky: If the Cats are indeed behind in that recruitment, there’s still plenty of time to turn things around.

John Calipari traveled to Minnesota on Wednesday to see Hurt play — the 6-foot-9 forward logged 41 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a playoff game — and the UK coach was joined in the stands by Mike Krzyzewski, who’s apparently positioned himself well in this recruitment.

Last week, 247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels, who has been correct on 90 of 93 predictions in the 2019 cycle, logged a pick on Hurt’s Crystal Ball page in favor of Duke.

“I just think — where the recruitment stands right now — I like Duke’s position. I think Duke’s in the best position, as of today, in my opinion,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader on Thursday.

He did note, however, that he doesn’t expect Hurt to make a college decision anytime soon. The star recruit’s 19th birthday is April 20, and that’s the date Daniels mentioned as the most likely at this point. That would give Kentucky — and all the other schools recruiting Hurt — about six more weeks to win his commitment.

“Look, the recruitment is not over,” Daniels said. “It’s not like he’s decided, ‘I’m going to Duke,’ in my opinion. So, anything is possible. I don’t think Kentucky is out, by any means.” national analyst Corey Evans — like many recruiting insiders — has long pegged Kansas as the favorite in Hurt’s recruitment. He told the Herald-Leader this week that he’s sticking with that pick, for now.

“I still think it’s Kansas, but I also think we shouldn’t underrate Kentucky, we shouldn’t underrate UNC, and now everyone thinks Duke, and rightfully so,” Evans said. “It’s the Duke brand, and they have a major, major hole at the 3, 4 spot next year. … The recent 3, 4 types who have done so well at Duke — it’s hard to say no to that.”

Evans did find it interesting that Duke jumped into the recruitment of five-star forward Trendon Watford during the late stages of the cycle. “Was it because they want to make sure that — if they do miss on (Hurt) — they’re being proactive and can get another guy there?” Evans pondered, adding that he, too, believes Hurt’s decision is still a ways off.

Hurt and his father have made it clear throughout the process that they will carefully weigh all angles of this college decision. Putting Hurt in the best position to succeed quickly in the NBA will be a major priority, and the Hurt family knows that they have a spot at any of those blue-blood schools whenever they’re ready to commit.

“This has been one of the most recruited prospects that we’ve seen nationally, for three years now. So why would they go against the grain and commit out of nowhere or make a rash decision?” Evans said. “There’s no one that’s going to take his spot at Kansas, UNC or Duke. And, at Kentucky, even if (five-star recruit) Jaden McDaniels makes a surprise commitment — they would still want Matt Hurt. So, what’s the use?”

To that point, Hurt will have a major offensive role and plenty of playing time wherever he ends up, alongside whatever roster he chooses to play with. He projects as a 30ish-minutes-per-game player at whichever school he selects.

“His game is so translatebable and so versatile,” Evans said. “You can play him at so many different positions, in so many different sets and systems and schemes — there’s no doubt about that.”

Intriguing recruit

Before watching Matthew Hurt play Wednesday night, John Calipari flew into nearby Minneapolis to see Jalen Suggs, one of the top basketball recruits in the 2020 class. Suggs also happens to be one of the top high school quarterbacks in the 2020 class, with gridiron scholarship offers to play for Ohio State, Georgia, Nebraska and several other programs.

On the basketball court, Suggs is a 6-4 combo guard.

“He’s a very, very mature prospect,” national analyst Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader. “He’s a solid facilitator. Great feel for the game. Pretty good shot maker from three-point range, but even better off the bounce. He has that football toughness to him. I think he’s a complete team guy.”

Suggs — the cousin of NFL star Terrell Suggs — took an official visit to Gonzaga last month and has basketball offers from many of the nation’s top programs. Rivals ranks him as the No. 14 junior in the country in that sport.

Evans said the buzz in recruiting circles last summer was that Suggs might be leaning toward football in college, but that speculation has “died down some” in recent months. He said college coaches might not know which sport Suggs will ultimately choose for several more months, mentioning the possibility that he might even try to play both in college.

Official visit

RJ Hampton — perhaps the UK backcourt target most likely to reclassify from 2020 to 2019 this offseason — will take his official visit to Kansas this weekend. The Texas native has already taken an official visit to Memphis and visited UK for Big Blue Madness last fall. He’s expected to be back in Lexington for an official visit later this spring, and that will be followed by a recruiting trip to Duke.

In his mailbag column last week, Evan Daniels put the likelihood of a Hampton reclassification at “50/50.” The combo guard would be a top 10 national recruit in the 2019 class.

Penny’s latest

Memphis Coach Penny Hardaway landed a commitment from another local prospect this week with the addition of four-star guard Damion Baugh, who pushed the Tigers’ recruiting class to No. 6 nationally.

Hardaway’s first full class at Memphis now includes four highly touted players from the area, with Baugh joining No. 1-ranked recruit and former UK target James Wiseman, former UK commitment DJ Jeffries, and three-star center Malcolm Dandridge.

Playing primarily with inherited players this season, Hardaway has an 18-12 record and the Tigers are in fifth place in the American Athletic Conference. There will be expectations of an NCAA Tournament run next season.

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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