John Calipari: ‘I’m overrated as a recruiter’
Toward the beginning of the 2017 fall recruiting period — and while UK’s basketball coaches were still in the early stages of filling out their 2018 class — Calipari and his staff made sure to pay initial visits to some of the nation’s top high school juniors.
Over the span of a few weeks, Calipari extended a total of seven UK scholarship offers to prospects from that 2019 recruiting class. Now, about 18 months later, they’ve all ended their recruitments.
So, how did the Cats do with their earliest targets in the 2019 class? Not bad, but it could have looked a whole lot different had a certain former NBA star not become a college head coach.
The first two prospects from the class to earn UK scholarship offers were James Wiseman and DJ Jeffries, who both played on the Nike-league Team Penny squad and earned UK offers on the same day. Both players have now signed with Memphis, which hired their former Team Penny coach and mentor — Penny Hardaway — as its head coach last spring.
If not for the Hardaway hire, Wiseman (ranked No. 1 overall in the 2019 class) likely would have picked Kentucky. Jeffries was actually committed to UK before backing off that pledge and later choosing Memphis, becoming the Cats’ first decommitment in the Calipari era.
Three days after Wiseman and Jeffries got their UK offers, another set of teammates — New Jersey duo Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis — became the third and fourth prospects in the 2019 class to land on UK’s offer list. Antoine listed Kentucky throughout his recruitment, but the Cats were never viewed as a serious threat, and he ultimately committed to Villanova.
Lewis’ recruitment came down to UK and Florida, and he picked the Gators.
Three days after Lewis and Antoine received UK offers, five-star big man Vernon Carey — the No. 1 player in the Rivals.com rankings at the time — landed one. Carey took an official visit to UK last year before committing to Duke.
So, even though they were in great shape early with Wiseman and Jeffries, the Cats struck out on the first five players they offered in the 2019 class. The final two prospects to land UK scholarship offers during that 2017 fall recruiting period — Keion Brooks and Tyrese Maxey — did end up committing to Kentucky.
Maxey, who landed a UK offer on Oct. 14, 2017, picked the Cats last spring and signed with UK in the fall. Brooks, who received his UK scholarship offer on Sept. 23, 2017, announced his commitment to the Cats on Friday night.
After the Maxey offer, it was a full two months before Calipari extended a scholarship offer to another prospect in the 2019 class. That player was Matthew Hurt, who is expected to choose either Kentucky, Duke, Kansas or North Carolina sometime next month.