UK Recruiting

Five big recruiting questions as Kentucky basketball enters offseason of uncertainty

Top basketball recruit Matthew Hurt talks about UK, Duke, Kansas and UNC

Five-star basketball recruit Matthew Hurt talks about Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and North Carolina. He will announce a college decision April 19.
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Five-star basketball recruit Matthew Hurt talks about Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and North Carolina. He will announce a college decision April 19.

Another Kentucky basketball season is finished, and another offseason of uncertainty is here.

The Wildcats will likely lose a few underclassmen along with the departure of graduate transfer Reid Travis. Three UK players — PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro — are projected as first-round NBA Draft picks.

While the wait begins for those stay-or-go decisions, John Calipari and his coaching staff will try to add to their current four-player recruiting class of Dontaie Allen, Keion Brooks, Tyrese Maxey and Kahlil Whitney.

Here’s what to watch for in the coming weeks:

Who else will commit?

It’s not a matter of if Kentucky will add any more players to this incoming group, it’s a matter of how many new recruits will join the UK program this off-season. The Cats are expected to lose four or five (or maybe more) from their current list of nine scholarship players, which is already four below the maximum allowed.

Calipari is unlikely to go into next season with all 13 scholarships spoken for, but the UK coach hasn’t gone into a season with fewer than 10 scholarship players since the 2012-13 campaign, when they lost Nerlens Noel to injury and ended up missing the NCAA Tournament.

The Cats have just two remaining targets in the 2019 recruiting class — perimeter forwards Matthew Hurt and Jaden McDaniels — but they’ll entertain graduate transfer options, and it’s possible a player or two from the 2020 class could jump to 2019 and end up in Lexington this summer.

Last year, Reid Travis didn’t commit until June 20, and Ashton Hagans didn’t announce his reclassification until June 15. UK’s roster situation is likely to remain unsettled for a while longer.

Any more McDonald’s All-Americans?

Maxey and Whitney were both at last week’s McDonald’s All-American Game, and they were joined by five uncommitted all-star players.

Three of those players — point guard Cole Anthony and forwards Trendon Watford and Precious Achiuwa — either haven’t heard from Kentucky in months or never got any interest from the Cats. So they’re out.

The other two — Hurt and McDaniels — still have UK placed prominently on their lists.

From the talk on the sidelines at the McDonald’s Game events last week, Hurt might be the most likely of that duo to end up in Lexington. The 6-foot-9 forward — and top-notch outside shooter — from Minnesota is expected to pick either UK, Duke, Kansas or North Carolina on April 19. Duke has received the most buzz in his recruitment over the past couple of weeks, but some smart recruiting insiders are saying not to count out UK, which looks to be the Blue Devils’ top competition at this point.

McDaniels — described by Maxey and many of his other peers as “a quiet guy” — is now widely expected to stay home in Seattle and play for the Washington Huskies, though there’s always the chance he could throw a curve ball and pick Kentucky, which he has described as his “dream school” growing up. There’s no date set for his decision.

Nate Sestina, left, a graduate transfer who is expected to be in Lexington for a UK visit this week, averaged 15.8 points and 8.5 rebounds this season for Bucknell. Marco Garcia AP

Another graduate transfer?

Calipari raved last week about Reid Travis and what he meant to the UK program after leaving Stanford last summer. After Sunday’s loss, Travis’ teammates showered him with praise in the postgame locker room, talking about how much of an impact the 23-year-old veteran leader had on their lives on and off the court.

“He helped this team out a lot,” Hagans said. “He helped everybody grow. He talked to us on and off the court — made sure we were making the right decisions and things like that. He’s a veteran. A grad transfer. And you can’t ask for anything more. We needed him a lot this season. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have been in this situation. I just thank him, and I’ll never forget him. I love him.”

It’s sounding more and more likely that Calipari will go the graduate transfer route again this offseason.

“We took a grad student this year from a Power Five (conference),” Calipari said in Kansas City last week. “Kind of worked for us and him. It worked. Would we take another? Yeah, if it was the right one and we thought he could help himself and us. If I thought we were just getting a bench player, I wouldn’t do it. If I’m getting somebody who is going to be a practice player, wouldn’t do it to the kid.”

This week, the Cats are expected to host Bucknell graduate transfer Nate Sestina for a recruiting visit. Sestina — a 6-9, 245-pound post player — would help offset the loss of Travis and Washington in the paint. There will likely be other grad transfer names that pop up in relation to the Cats over the next few weeks.

2020 to 2019?

Reclassification is all the rage in recruiting right now. Kentucky landed Hagans in that manner last summer, and Maxey flirted with the idea before deciding to stay in the 2019 class and play one more season of high school.

There are several reclassification candidates in the 2020 class. Forward Isaiah Todd, post player N’Faly Dante and combo guard RJ Hampton all have UK scholarship offers and have been talked about as possible movers to 2019. They’ll all start play on the Nike circuit next month and likely wait until later in the summer to see what roster situations look like before making a final reclassification decision.

As with the graduate transfers, other 2020 names could pop up on the 2019 radar, and if Kentucky has a need at a certain position, the Cats will target any such available talents.

Todd — a 6-10 power forward — might be the prospect to pay the most attention to this spring. UK is now widely viewed as the leader in his recruitment, and if ample playing time in the frontcourt is available after the upcoming roster shuffling, he could go ahead and make that jump.

Will the Feds strike again?

There’s no end in sight to the corruption scandal that has rocked college basketball over the past 18 months, and this offseason is likely to claim more casualties.

Louisiana State Coach Will Wade is currently suspended and missed his team’s postseason run as a result of the investigation. Wade and Arizona head coach Sean Miller, who currently has the nation’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class, are expected to be subpoenaed to testify in the next trial related to the scandal. They’re unlikely to be the only two coaches on the subpoena list.

With recent claims made against Nike’s recruiting practices, the scandal could blow up even more in the coming weeks.

Kentucky has already benefited from the initial fallout of the investigation, landing a commitment from EJ Montgomery after he backed out of his pledge to Auburn due to the Tigers’ links to the scandal. There has been no wrongdoing tied to UK, and if other schools are ensnared and other coaches fired, more prospects could end up back on the uncommitted list.

UK also got a commitment from Jemarl Baker two summers ago after Cuonzo Martin — the coach who recruited Baker to California — left for Missouri, leading to Baker’s decommitment from the Bears. The current coaching carousel is still spinning, and — as coaches leave their programs and decommitments occur — the Cats could find another late addition.