UK Recruiting

Matthew Hurt said no to Kentucky. Where does that leave the Cats for next season?

Jaden McDaniels looking forward to challenge of McDonald’s Game

UK basketball recruiting target Jaden McDaniels will play in the McDonald's All-American Game in Atlanta on Wednesday night. He's also considering UCLA, Texas, San Diego State and Washington.
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UK basketball recruiting target Jaden McDaniels will play in the McDonald's All-American Game in Atlanta on Wednesday night. He's also considering UCLA, Texas, San Diego State and Washington.

Five-star basketball recruit Matthew Hurt committed to Duke on Friday afternoon.

That was expected.

The bigger question over the past few days — once it became crystal clear that Hurt, a longtime UK target, would be picking the Blue Devils — is where the Cats will go from here.

Kentucky clearly wants to add at least one more player to next season’s roster, which — even if Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery both return — still has four open scholarship spots.

The Cats’ roster will definitely include guards Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and Tyrese Maxey, wings Dontaie Allen, Keion Brooks and Kahlil Whitney, and post player Nate Sestina.

Montgomery announced Friday that he’s entering his name in the NBA Draft but is looking for information that supports his goal of being a first-round pick, something that seems unlikely this year. Richards has not yet announced his plans for next season, though he isn’t ranked among the top-100 prospects for this year’s draft.

Even if they both return, the frontcourt could be an area of need for UK.

The only uncommitted high school senior left with a UK scholarship offer is Jaden McDaniels, a 6-foot-10 forward from Seattle who prefers to play on the perimeter. Washington has emerged as the popular prediction for McDaniels, the No. 5 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings. national analyst Corey Evans is among those picking the Huskies for McDaniels, but he acknowledges that it’s simply an educated guess.

“I don’t really think anyone knows, along with Jaden, that it’s going to be Washington,” Evans told the Herald-Leader. “I think myself and everyone else are just picking Washington because it’s the easiest prediction, knowing the kid. There’s still no rush to make a college decision, so that’s where it is now. Nothing new, which is the norm anymore with Jaden. I wish we could come up with something new, but that’s about it.”

Evans also said it’s too early for UK fans to write off the possibility of landing McDaniels.

“I think it’s premature, for sure,” he said. “They’re getting impatient, which I understand. I think everyone in the process — outside of Jaden and the family — is getting impatient. They want an answer, but I also understand Jaden’s side. There’s no rush. They’re going to see who’s going to stay, who’s going to leave, and it gives them a better look of what’s the best spot for them. But I don’t think it’s right for anyone — any fans, any coaching staff — to write off Jaden.”

247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels hasn’t made a public prediction yet — “I got nothing new on Jaden McDaniels,” he told the Herald-Leader on Thursday — and he, too, thinks analysts are largely guessing with that recruitment.

However, Daniels doesn’t think McDaniels will end up in Lexington.

“Him going to Kentucky would be a pretty big surprise to me at this point,” he said. “But it’s clear that he’s not in a rush to make his choice, and he’s still examining all of his options.”

Daniels added that another finalist, UCLA, has a new head coach, Mick Cronin, and he expects McDaniels to stay out west for college. San Diego State and Texas are his other two finalists.

Several possible reclassification candidates — players that could move from the 2020 class to 2019 — remain for Kentucky, though there’s still quite a bit of uncertainty in those recruitments. Guards Jalen Green and RJ Hampton have UK offers, but the Cats don’t appear to be favorites for either player if they jump to 2019. John Calipari visited five-star wing/guard Johnny Juzang on Friday and extended a scholarship offer during that meeting. Juzang — a 6-6 prospect from California — could ultimately make the move to 2019.

Kentucky is in the best shape with five-star power forward Isaiah Todd, though he has made clear in recent weeks he intends to stay in 2020. Another five-star 2020 post player, Mali native N’Faly Dante, is more likely to move to 2019, but his recruitment remains a bit of a mystery.

And UK has reached out to former McDonald’s All-American forward Jordan Brown, a bench player at Nevada this past season who plans to transfer. Brown would likely have to sit out next season if he does move to a new school.

Adding another graduate transfer to go along with Sestina is also an option.

Virginia Tech big man Kerry Blackshear Jr. — the No. 1-ranked grad transfer in the country, according to ESPN — is the hot name in UK circles at the moment, but any talk of the 6-10 forward moving to Lexington might be premature.

“This Kerry Blackshear-Kentucky stuff seems to be media-driven more than anything,” Daniels said. “... I just assume people are matching the two because Kentucky needs a big man and he’s the best available.”

Daniels did say that Blackshear, who is looking to leave Blacksburg following the departure of Coach Buzz Williams to Texas A&M, seems to be very open to the process. Evans agreed, adding that the NBA Draft remains a possibility for the 22-year-old, and that makes a college decision unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Reid Travis was in a similar spot last year and didn’t commit to Kentucky until June 20.

If Blackshear does stay in school, Evans doesn’t have UK among his favorites.

“I would say the two schools to beat early on are Texas A&M and Florida,” he said. “I think Florida has a great sell with being close to home (Orlando). And they have a major need at the (position) and they have the guard play returning and also enrolling with Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann.

“And then you have A&M with Buzz, who’s coached him for four years, recruited him when not a lot of schools were recruiting Kerry out of high school. He’s developed him and cultivated his talent into what he is now. Buzz and the family — and Kerry, especially — have a great relationship. So I think those are the two to beat.”