The opening weekend of the Nike basketball circuit made clear who John Calipari is prioritizing for his recruiting class of 2020.
With more than a dozen major Kentucky targets in the league this spring and summer, Calipari was bouncing all over the gym to get a good look at — and make sure he was seen by — the five-star recruits at the top of his list.
Sometimes, he would come in during the middle of games. Other times, right at the tip-off. For Jalen Green’s first game of the event, Calipari had a front-row seat before warmups even began.
Green — a 6-foot-5 shooting guard from California — is the No. 2 overall player in the recruiting rankings for the 2020 class. The No. 1 overall player in that group — fellow California native Evan Mobley — is the son of a Southern Cal assistant coach and the younger brother of a five-star Trojans recruit, and he’s fully expected to commit to USC himself.
That makes Green the de facto No. 1 available prospect for next year’s class, and Calipari isn’t messing around.
“Coach Cal just came in and did a little visit with me at Prolific (Prep) not too long ago. So I think he’s pretty involved now — a lot,” Green said. “He came to my first game and (Joel) Justus was at the second game. So, yeah, I think he’s pretty involved now.”
Green was one of the first players in the 2020 class to land a UK scholarship offer, and he averaged 30.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game — earning MaxPreps.com first-team junior All-American honors — this past season before announcing a transfer to Prolific Prep (Calif.), an emerging high school powerhouse that plays a national schedule (and has recently played multiple games per season in Kentucky).
He said he made the move to concentrate fully on basketball and academics in an environment with fewer distractions. There had been talk for months that Green might reclassify to 2019 and try to play college basketball next season. He said he’s now “100 percent” staying in 2020.
“I feel like there’s no reason to go up right now,” he said. “I still got a lot to improve on. I still got my senior year. I went to Prolific just so I can get better, so I think that’s the reason I’m going to stay.”
Another possible reason: Green just turned 17 years old in February, and — due to the NBA age-limit rules — he would not be eligible for next year’s draft even if he did reclassify to 2019. That would mean two seasons of college ball, and he said he hasn’t moved too far toward a decision on that front.
“I don’t really talk about that,” he said. “I’ve got one more year to still decide where I want to go, and right now it’s open. I don’t know where I’m going. … I really haven’t thought about college right now. I got a lot of offers right now, but I haven’t thought about cutting it down or nothing.”
Green, indeed, didn’t seem too interested in talking about his college decision. He said all college coaches have basically the same pitch, and an important part of the process would be trying to figure out which coaches are being honest with him and his family.
“I look for coaches that are going to keep it real with me,” Green said, noting that Kentucky’s coaches “keep it 100” during their recruiting discussions. “That’s what I like about them.”
A different favorite has emerged, however.
National recruiting experts Corey Evans, Jerry Meyer and Andrew Slater — among other recruiting analysts — have predictions in favor of Memphis for Green, who did take a visit there last fall.
“People just talk,” Green said. “That was probably my first visit, so that’s probably why they’re thinking I’m focused on going there so much.” He declined to talk specifically about his interest level in the Tigers.
For now, he’s doing most of his talking on the floor.
Green has great size for the guard spot. He can get to the rim at will and his outside shot continues to improve. He put on a dunk show for Calipari and the other college coaches in the stands during warmups for his first game — “Athletically, he’s as explosive as you get for a guard,” 247Sports analyst Evan Daniels recently told the Herald-Leader — and his standing in the rankings has made him a favorite target for opponents.
“Whenever I step on the court, it’s always like a dogfight,” Green said. “Everyone’s attacking me. Everyone’s got their eyes on me, every time. I think it’s good though. It opens up a lot for my other teammates.”
Green says he’s a constant subject of trash talk — opposing players calling him “weak” and “trash” and “a whole bunch of other stuff.” He said he hears it every game. “All the time. ALL the time. Every day.”
He doesn’t back down from the chatter. It’s good preparation for the next level.
“Like, OK, if you think I’m weak, I’m going to turn up on you. … I ain’t worried about it. I just focus on me. I’m hoopin’.”