UK Recruiting

Calipari wants dynamic duo to team up at UK. Will they play college ball together?

Top point guard Sharife Cooper breaks down UK and Auburn

Sharife Cooper, the No. 1 basketball recruit in the USA Today rankings for the 2020 class, talks about his interest in Kentucky and Auburn.
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Sharife Cooper, the No. 1 basketball recruit in the USA Today rankings for the 2020 class, talks about his interest in Kentucky and Auburn.

With John Calipari and Kenny Payne sitting courtside, five-star point guard Sharife Cooper sized up a defender, blew past him, and finished with a driving layup at the buzzer.

It was the end of the first quarter of his first game on the first weekend of the Nike circuit, and a couple of spectators had already seen enough. The two men walked away from the court. One turned to the other and said, “He’s the best guard in the country, bro.” His buddy just nodded.

Cooper has indeed staked his claim to that title, and his five-star teammate with the AOT Running Rebels — wing player Brandon Boston — is pretty good himself.

Together, they form one of the most dynamic duos in grassroots basketball, and Calipari would like them both to come play at Kentucky.

UK’s head coach hosted the class of 2020 prospects for separate recruiting visits this past season — Cooper came to town early in the fall, while Boston was in Rupp Arena for a game during conference play — and both left Lexington with scholarship offers.

Both have remained at the top of Calipari’s wish list, and both have enjoyed being recruited by Kentucky.

“We talk a lot. Text a lot. They’re good people,” said Cooper, a 5-foot-11 point guard. “I like their staff. I like what they’re doing. I like Kentucky. … I always grew up watching them, looking from the outside in. So being able to see what really goes on, it was a great experience.”

Boston — a long, skinny 6-6 perimeter playmaker — smiled and started nodding his head when asked about his visit to Lexington.

“It was lit,” he said. “It was packed, crowded. Good environment and good people there.”

Cooper became the first non-senior to earn national player of the year honors this past season, leading his Georgia high school team to an undefeated record and a state title. He led the Nike league with 31.2 points per game and was second with 7.0 assists per game last weekend. Earlier this week, USA Today made him the No. 1 overall player in its initial rankings for the 2020 class.

Boston, who is also from the Atlanta area, averaged 16.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game on the opening weekend of Nike play and is ranked No. 6 nationally by ESPN.

Though they play on different high school teams, the two friends work out together during the school year, and they obviously have built a connection on the court.

“He’s a great player,” Cooper said of Boston. “That’s my brother.”

“That’s my guy,” Boston said of Cooper.

Of course, their friendship has led to speculation that they might play college ball together.

The coaches recruiting them — Calipari included — would love to hit that backcourt jackpot, but a familiar Kentucky foe might be in the best spot to land at least one half of the five-star duo.

Auburn is getting all the buzz in Cooper’s recruitment, and there’s been more recent talk that the five-star point guard, who turns 18 years old next month, might try to reclassify and play college basketball next season. Auburn’s starting point guard from this past season, Jared Harper, is expected to keep his name in this year’s NBA Draft.

Asked if he would be the one to slide into that role, Cooper wasn’t dropping any hints.

“I haven’t really thought about reclassifying,” he said. “And I’m really wide open in my recruitment right now. There’s no one up, no one down. I’m wide open. … They’re just saying that because Jared left, I guess.”

Cooper, who has been on Bruce Pearl’s radar for years, did have great things to say about the Auburn program, and he acknowledged the Tigers’ run to the Final Four — beating UK along the way — helps on the recruiting trail.

“I feel like it made it more welcoming. More like, ‘Yeah, I want to play with them,’ instead of, ‘Yeah, I’m going there.’ I felt like that really helps,” Cooper said. “… I love the way they play. I love the way he treats his point guards, how they are able to facilitate and really control the game. That’s kind of what he wants me to do when, if … if I go there. I really like them.”

Boston, meanwhile, said the five schools coming after him the hardest have been Kentucky, Duke, Auburn, Florida and Alabama. He also said he doesn’t plan on making a college decision until next year.

If Cooper does indeed stay in the 2020 class, he and Boston might be making some college visits together. They both acknowledged that they’ve talked about playing together at the next level, and they’ve heard the package-deal chatter. “We always hear that,” Boston said. “We just go with the flow, honestly.”

Cooper knows that — when it’s time for the college decisions — some tough choices will have to be made.

“We talk about that a lot. Just going on visits together. I feel like we fit each other well. … I want to play with him. He wants to play with me. But, at the end of the day, it’s where we both can fit at. So, if we both fit at one spot, then I think that will help that situation. But, he’s got to do what’s best for him.”