Keion Brooks says Calipari has big plans for him
UK’s long courtship of five-star basketball recruit Keion Brooks is complete. The Indiana native will be a Kentucky Wildcat.
Brooks — a 6-foot-7 wing from Fort Wayne, Ind. — committed to the Cats on Friday night, turning down a scholarship offer from the home-state Hoosiers to instead play for John Calipari and one of IU’s longtime rivals.
“At the end of the day, it just came down to the relationship I built with Coach Cal,” Brooks said at his announcement ceremony, which was broadcast live by CBS Sports HQ. “He’s always told me he can put me in a position to reach and achieve my dreams and my goals. When I sat down and talked to him for the last time, I felt very comfortable making my decision of going to Kentucky.”
He could turn out to be exactly what UK needs next season.
Brooks does not currently project as a one-and-done NBA draft pick in college, but he is expected to be an instant-impact freshman who should compete for a starting job right away in Lexington.
His versatility will also be key for a roster that — just like pretty much every season under Calipari — won’t be set for a couple more months, as current Cats weigh their pro options and remaining recruiting targets drag out their own college decisions.
“I think he’s one of the better three-level scorers out there in the class,” Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader. “You look for guys with his size — 6-6 and above — that can play different spots, can make shots, can defend different positions. That’s so valuable in today’s game, and that’s what Keion really brings to the floor.”
Brooks earned a UK scholarship offer 18 months ago, shortly after Calipari and assistant coach Tony Barbee made a fall recruiting visit to his Indiana high school. He remained one of the Cats’ top targets in the class of 2019 from that point on, ultimately turning down fellow finalists Indiana, Michigan State, North Carolina, Purdue and UCLA to become a Wildcat.
Calipari told Brooks early in the process that he envisioned using him in a Kevin Knox-type role, comparing him to the recent UK star who could take advantage of offensive mismatches — big or small — to score in a variety ways.
Brooks’ game has only grown since Calipari delivered that pitch. The highly touted prospect left his high school in Fort Wayne after his junior season for La Lumiere (Ind.), a prep powerhouse that plays a national schedule. Brooks has helped lead La Lumiere to a 28-0 record and No. 1 national ranking so far this season — they’ll play in the Geico national tournament in New York next month — and the senior campaign helped hone his skills and approach.
“I think he’s gotten tougher,” said Evans, who added that he had questioned Brooks’ toughness at earlier stages in his high school career. “He’s also become a better passer and playmaker. I just think he’s a 6-foot-7, multi-dimensional wing/forward type that can make shots, can rebound the ball, has become way better defensively — he’s bought in with defending different spots. So I think there’s a lot of upside there, for sure.”
Brooks joins five-star point guard Tyrese Maxey, five-star wing Kahlil Whitney and four-star wing Dontaie Allen in UK’s 2019 class, but his role on next season’s team will likely be determined by who returns off this one, and who else the Cats add to finish off the recruiting cycle.
“What he said was just that he wanted me to come in and just be a basketball player and play hard,” Brooks said Friday night. “He said I’m kind of what they’re looking for now, in the new modern era of the NBA — long, athletic, got a good feel for the game. I feel like he can help me get there.”
If UK goes into next season short on traditional perimeter players, Brooks would be able to use his scoring and defensive versatility to help out away from the basket. If the Cats are in need of frontcourt players next season, he could slide down and play some small-ball ‘4’.
“There’s way more wiggle room with the lineups,” Evans said.
Evans agreed that Brooks could “definitely” end up as a multi-year player at Kentucky, though he said his playing style and skill set could make things interesting next season.
“It seems like the guys that can make shots for Kentucky really flourish, and Keion makes shots at a good rate,” Evans said. “You look at a guy like Devin Booker and you look at a guy like Tyler Herro — they weren’t expected to be one-and-done guys, and now they are. Could Keion be that kind of guy? … He’s someone who could be there for two or three years, or it could be like the Herro thing, where it’s like, ‘Boom!’ and the NBA guys fall in love with him.”