UK Recruiting

He was Calipari’s first major 2020 target. A year later, Kentucky still covets him.

Justus: Kentucky a place where you get better and play around great players

Kentucky basketball assistant Joel Justus offers a recruiting pitch of sorts, saying that Kentucky isn't just for the one-and-done type players.
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Kentucky basketball assistant Joel Justus offers a recruiting pitch of sorts, saying that Kentucky isn't just for the one-and-done type players.

This time last year, Scottie Barnes became the first basketball recruit in the class of 2020 to land a scholarship offer from the University of Kentucky.

This past weekend — the first on the Nike EYBL spring circuit — Barnes remained at the top of John Calipari’s recruiting list, and the luster of that early interest still hasn’t worn off.

“It shows that he really sees something in me,” Barnes said. “He sees that I’m a different type of player, and he really wants me.”

Barnes’ travel team — Nightrydas Elite — did not have a game scheduled on the opening night of the evaluation period, so they tipped off Nike play Saturday morning instead. When the game began, John Calipari was sitting on one baseline while Kenny Payne sat on the other. When that game ended — a 100-55 victory for the Nightrydas — Calipari was still there.

“That shows that he really cares about me,” Barnes said. “He’s taking time out of his day to watch me the whole entire game.”

There’s ample reason for Barnes to be near the top of any major college basketball coach’s recruiting wish list for 2020. The 6-foot-8, 210-pound prospect is ranked by as the No. 4 overall player in the class, and he possesses an outgoing personality on and off the floor, playing with a non-stop motor, apparently even in the final minutes of games that his team is about to win by nearly 50 points.

Offensively, he’s comfortable with the ball in his hands, an excellent passer who also doesn’t mind doing the dirty work — like posting up or setting screens — away from the basketball.

“Defensively, he’s a complete game-changer,” national analyst Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader. “He’s a playmaking defensive guy that can guard four positions. He has an alpha-dog, super-outgoing personality on the floor. He has a college-ready body already. He kind of is what he is, and that’s what makes him great, because what he is is an elite guy.”

Barnes said Calipari came to visit him in Florida last week, and the Wildcats coach is already selling him on his ability to mold him into an NBA-ready player at Kentucky. “They produce some very good players, and they can get (you) to the league,” Barnes said.

He’s clearly enjoying his final spring and summer in the Nike league, too.

Barnes bounced around on the floor, making plays on and off the ball. He was constantly talking — to teammates, opponents, and even referees — both during live game play and breaks in the action. Teaming up with fellow UK recruiting target Isaiah Todd this year, Barnes averaged 12.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game over the first weekend of play.

He played alongside top-five recruit Vernon Carey, a Duke signee, during the high school season. That squad won a second consecutive Florida state title with Barnes averaging 14.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game. He clearly knows how to win and produce with other great players around him, which would be the expectation if he ultimately ends up at Kentucky.

UK is one of eight schools on Barnes’ current recruiting list. The others are California, Duke, Florida State, Kansas, Miami, Ohio State and Oregon.

Evans, who has been tracking Barnes’ recruitment for years, projects UK in Barnes’ top five, but he doesn’t necessarily have the Wildcats in the very top tier of the recruitment.

“I think the two schools to watch are Oregon and Miami,” he said. “I think Oregon has always been the dream school for Scottie, so they’re definitely the school to watch. And then Miami, I thought it was interesting that he said he wanted to be in the warmer weather — which, obviously, Oregon is the polar opposite — and also that it would be great to play in front of his mom.

“So I think it’s those two. And then I think you can throw Kentucky in there. Kentucky, Kansas and maybe Duke. I would say those five, for the most part.”

The good news for UK — if the Cats do indeed have work to do — is that Barnes is in the early stages of his decision-making process. Evans noted that he only recently started talking seriously about the schools on his list. And Barnes acknowledged he probably won’t be ready to commit in 2019.

“It’s probably going to be late,” Barnes said. “I’m just trying to take my time with all of it. I’m not really worried about it now.”