UK Recruiting

Recruitment of top basketball prospect takes a turn, and it could help Kentucky

Coach Cal and the Cats react to Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament draw

University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari and basketball players Reid Travis and Keldon Johnson respond to the NCAA Tournament announcement.
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University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari and basketball players Reid Travis and Keldon Johnson respond to the NCAA Tournament announcement.

The NCAA Tournament starts this week, but college basketball recruiting never takes a day off, and the next few weeks will still be filled with postseason all-star events like the McDonald’s All-American Game, as well as the final recruiting stages for several top players in the 2019 class.

As those players get closer to their college decisions, several stars in the 2020 class will be weighing their reclassification options. Here’s the latest movement in that area:

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UK’s chances for N’Faly Dante?: The near-7-footer from Mali — now playing for Sunrise Christian (Kan.) — is one of the best big men in the class of 2020, but there have long been rumblings in recruiting circles that he will move to the 2019 class and play college basketball right away next season.

UK Coach John Calipari watched him play earlier this season, and Dante was actually the second player in the 2020 class to land a scholarship offer from the Wildcats, who are thought to be one of the top teams on his list.

Louisiana State, however, has been seen as a possible favorite in his recruitment, and 247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels is among the recruiting experts who have already logged predictions in favor of the Tigers.

Recent news could, obviously, hurt LSU’s chances.

Tigers head coach Will Wade has been suspended by the university following after reports of possible recruiting impropriety and Wade’s refusal to cooperate with LSU officials about the matter.

Other than Kentucky and LSU, the two schools most involved with Dante’s recruitment were thought to be Kansas and Oregon, two programs that have been mentioned in court cases tied to the federal investigation into college basketball. national analyst Corey Evans said those ongoing developments would obviously benefit UK in Dante’s recruitment.

“It seems like the two schools most involved were LSU and Oregon,” he told the Herald-Leader. “And with LSU now kind of in limbo, it’s like the recruitment of all those guys is kind of put on the back burner. So it definitely gives an easier path for a school like Kentucky, that’s for sure.”

LSU was also seen as a possible frontrunner for five-star recruit Trendon Watford, but Duke is now in the mix for the Alabama native, who plays a similar position as Matthew Hurt, arguably UK’s top remaining target in the 2019 class. If Watford were to commit to the Blue Devils before Hurt makes a decision, things could get interesting.

“That’s going to change it for a lot of things,” Evans said of LSU’s plight. “Even for Trendon Watford, it could affect (Kentucky) in a way, where Duke makes a move with Trendon Watford, and that might open up a little bit more of a pathway for Matthew Hurt.”

Hurt has taken official visits to UK, Duke, Kansas and North Carolina, and he’s not expected to make a college decision for another month or so. Evans did note that Hurt was a higher priority on Duke’s board than Watford, who does not yet have a Blue Devils scholarship offer.

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Dante’s chances of moving to 2019?: So, the Cats might be in better shape for Dante than they were a few weeks ago, but will he even play college basketball next season? That’s looking less likely, according to Evans.

“It sounds like he might remain in 2020 now,” he told the Herald-Leader. “I thought it was more like 60/40 or 70/30 that he would reclassify until the past few days. Now it sounds like it might be the exact opposite, maybe 30/70. But, as we know, these schools get desperate and they always find ways to make it sound good and to make it happen. So, as the summer goes on — and with the (lack) of legitimate big men out there — I could see these schools really keeping things up for him.”

In other words, if a blue-blood program like Kentucky gets into the summer, looks at its roster and sees too few post options, Dante might be more motivated to make the early jump to college. For the time being, he’ll be playing on the Nike circuit this spring, and Calipari — along with plenty of other high-level college coaches — will be following his progress.

Reclassification candidates

The wait for more clarity on the reclassification options from the 2020 class will continue well into the spring.

The current 2020 recruits on UK’s radar who have most often been mentioned as possibilities to move to the 2019 class are guards Jalen Green and RJ Hampton, forward Isaiah Todd, and Dante.

Green plans to stay put in high school and will play for Prolific Prep (Calif.) next season. Dante’s situation has already been explained here. 247Sports analyst Evan Daniels wrote earlier this month that he thinks there’s a 90 percent chance Todd stays in high school for another year.

That leaves Hampton, and Daniels and Evans have both said the chances of him reclassifying are closer to 50-50. However, Hampton and his father have said they’re looking for an opportunity where the combo guard can show off his on-ball skills, and UK will already have five-star point guard recruit Tyrese Maxey on next season’s roster, along with the expected return of Immanuel Quickley and possible return of Ashton Hagans.

That doesn’t leave much available time at the point guard position.

Duke could have an opening if Tre Jones makes the jump to the NBA, and Memphis Coach Penny Hardaway would love to hand over the offense to Hampton, who is good friends with top Tigers recruit James Wiseman.

Hampton — like Todd, Dante and Green — will play on the Nike circuit this spring. Those games start in April, and their recruitments will be among the most-watched over the next few months.