UK Recruiting

What’s next in the world of college basketball recruiting? A whole lot of intrigue.

Trendon Watford thinks he could learn a lot from Penny Hardaway

McDonald's All-American forward Trendon Watford talks about Penny Hardaway and his program at Memphis, which is one of the five-star recruit's top schools.
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McDonald's All-American forward Trendon Watford talks about Penny Hardaway and his program at Memphis, which is one of the five-star recruit's top schools.

This is the time of year when the always-crazy world of college basketball recruiting gets a little bit crazier. There are coaching changes, undecided high school seniors, eager high school juniors, graduate transfers, regular transfers and reclassification candidates — and that adds up to a whole lot of intrigue on the recruiting trail.

As 2019 recruiting wraps up and 2020 prospects get closer to their decisions, here are a dozen programs to watch:

The new faces

Alabama: Nate Oats has wasted no time in his first few weeks in charge of the Crimson Tide, who retained possible impact transfers Kira Lewis and John Petty and have hit the recruiting trail hard. One of Oats’ first moves: visiting McDonald’s All-American and Alabama native Trendon Watford … on the recruit’s spring break trip to Florida. “I’d never heard of that before. That’s pretty impressive,” national analyst Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader after recounting that story.

Bama will be battling Louisiana State and Memphis as Watford nears his final decision, but — even if the Tide don’t get him — Oats and company will continue to aim high. They’ve been offering scholarships and visiting with five-star talent across the country during the spring recruiting period. “Alabama is definitely trending upward,” Evans said.

Vanderbilt: Jerry Stackhouse has been an All-American college player, an NBA All-Star, an assistant coach in the league, and a lauded head coach in the G League. He’s also been a mentor to such recent high school talent as Brandon Ingram, and now he’s the head coach at Vandy.

How (and who) Stackhouse recruits will be one of the more intriguing storylines in college basketball over the next several months. He got off to a good start by hiring West Coast recruiting fixture David Grace as his top assistant last week. Stackhouse also convinced four-star commitment Dylan Disu to stick to his pledge. There are likely to be more recruiting victories in the Commodores’ immediate future.

(The SEC’s other new coaches — Buzz Williams at Texas A&M, and Eric Musselman at Arkansas — are also proven recruiters who will be worth keeping an eye on).

Year Two

Louisville: Chris Mack put together a top-10 national class on short notice in his first full year in charge of the Cardinals, and he’s laid the foundation for another strong recruiting run for the 2020 cycle. Mack’s incoming group should include a few players that will be instant-impact freshmen who play multiple seasons of college ball, always a good thing when trying to build continuity in a program and win games at the same time.

He landed a McDonald’s All-American in Samuell Williamson before even coaching a game at Louisville. There are several top-50 national prospects on Mack’s radar for 2020. How many will he get this time?

Memphis: After coaching a team filled with lesser touted players to an NIT appearance in his first season, Penny Hardaway will really get things going — and we’ll all see what kind of coach he really is — this coming season. No. 1 national recruit James Wiseman will lead the Tigers full-on into the new era, and Penny’s not done adding to that roster just yet. Memphis is considered by some to be the leader for McDonald’s All-American Precious Achiuwa and four-star scoring machine Lester Quinones, and the Tigers could very well get a commitment from reclassification candidate RJ Hampton, one of the top guards in all of high school.

The longer-term outlook is just as promising. Memphis is also an early favorite for five-star shooting guard Jalen Green, the No. 2 player in the 2020 class.


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The recent champs

Villanova: After six consecutive recruiting cycles that finished with rankings outside the top 25 nationally, Villanova landed the country’s No. 9 class last year — after a second national title in three seasons — and came into this week with the No. 4 class nationally, headlined by McDonald’s All-Americans Bryan Antoine and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.

Jay Wright has always recruited well, but now he’s sprinkling in more top-ranked, possibly one-and-done talent. It’ll be interesting to see if Wright can reel in another top-10 class.

Virginia: The narrative that Tony Bennett has been winning with overlooked prospects isn’t exactly true. The Cavs’ national championship roster included plenty of Top 100 recruits — and McDonald’s All-American Kyle Guy — but it’ll be worth watching to see if UVa takes a similar step as Villanova and goes from solid recruiting classes to nationally coveted ones. Bennett had the nation’s No. 7 class in 2016. Other than that, Virginia hasn’t had a top-25 class since 2012.

What’s next?

Arizona: Entering the week, ESPN still ranked Sean Miller’s incoming recruiting class at No. 1 in the country. There have also been plenty of headlines over the past year or so regarding the Wildcats’ ties to the federal investigation into college basketball, however, and the recruiting world has been waiting for Arizona to feel the negative results. There’s even been speculation, in serious circles, that Miller won’t be the head coach of the Wildcats when next season begins. It’ll surely be an interesting summer in Tucson.

Auburn: The Tigers had an assistant coach (Chuck Person) arrested in the initial roundup related to the federal investigation. His replacement (Ira Bowman) was suspended last month as part of a separate scandal. All that bad pub hasn’t had much of an effect on the court (a trip to the Final Four) or off the court (a top-20 class for 2019). Bruce Pearl’s program is also the favorite to land coveted UK recruit Sharife Cooper, who could reclassify to 2019, and could be sitting pretty with a few other impact players in the 2020 class.

LSU: Will Wade is back as the head coach of the Tigers. It was a stunning development to much of the college basketball world, but one that had been rumored to be happening in recruiting circles, where Wade had emerged as a juggernaut. NCAA investigators’ interest in Wade won’t be waning anytime soon, but that might not deter five-star talent. After Wade’s reinstatement, LSU has once again become a popular prediction for Trendon Watford. It’ll also be worth keeping tabs on five-star center N’Faly Dante, a UK target, 2019 reclassification candidate, and expected LSU commitment before Wade’s suspension earlier this year.

The blue bloods

Duke: The Blue Devils landed a commitment from top-30 prospect Cassius Stanley on Monday, and that just might lock up the No. 1 recruiting ranking for the 2019 cycle. Rival fans have been waiting for the expected slide following the departure of super recruiter Jeff Capel last spring — and many in the recruiting world are still expecting it, to some degree — but it might be a longer wait than anticipated. The Blue Devils appear to be in good early shape for such 2020 stars as Jalen Johnson and Brandon Boston, both top-10 talents and UK targets.

Kansas: The Jayhawks also qualify for the previous category, and the program’s repeated connection to the federal college basketball case hasn’t done anything to help recruiting. Matthew Hurt (Duke) seemed like a KU lean for years. Same goes for Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Villanova), a Jayhawks legacy who played high school ball 40 miles from Lawrence. Bill Self has zero Top 100 commitments for next season. Can KU bounce back for 2020?

Kentucky: The revolving-door nature of John Calipari’s program means recruiting is always an adventure, and the next few weeks and months will be no different. UK will be adding players to close out the 2019 cycle. And the Cats will be adding several more for the 2020 class.

Will Calipari finally end his skid with top-five national recruits? Scottie Barnes and Jalen Johnson both seem like real possibilities. Will he go with a couple more guys projected to be multi-year players — New Jersey big man Cliff Omoruyi, perhaps — to add more continuity to the program? Will any other grad transfers join Nate Sestina on the next UK roster (or the one after that) following a year of Reid Travis that Calipari enjoyed so much?

Another busy “offseason” awaits.