Tyrese Maxey talks about UK’s class and being a leader
The rankings for the basketball recruiting class of 2019 have been finalized, but Kentucky’s efforts to add to its roster for next season are far from finished.
The Wildcats have already signed four top-100 recruits — according to the last batch of 247Sports rankings for 2019 — and three of those players are considered to be among the top 15 prospects nationally. At least three more highly touted high school players — RJ Hampton, Jaden McDaniels and Johnny Juzang — remain on John Calipari’s wish list.
With those recruitments still undecided, Tyrese Maxey is the top-ranked Kentucky signee for next season at No. 10 overall. Maxey — a 6-foot-3 combo guard from Texas — has been committed to the Cats for nearly a year and was a standout on the postseason all-star circuit.
“I thought he showed up at the McDonald’s All-American week in great shape, really playing the best basketball I’ve ever seen from him,” 247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader, adding that Maxey is a terrific scorer and versatile perimeter player who should be a big help to Kentucky on both ends of the court next season.
Maxey will join a UK backcourt that already includes returning point guards Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley, who were both five-star recruits a year ago. Maxey — usually listed as a point guard — has already said he’d be happy to play off the ball next season, if that’s what Calipari decides is best for the team.
“I think he fits in great,” Daniels said. “His best attribute is his ability to score, so when you put him next to some ball-handling, play-making point guards, I think he can really excel.”
One spot behind Maxey in the 247Sports rankings sits Kahlil Whitney, who committed to UK last August and made that pledge official with a signing ceremony last week. The super athletic, 6-7 wing from Chicago should compete for a starting job next season.
“It’s all about his physical gifts,” Daniels said. “He’s got tremendous size and length, a ridiculous frame, and tremendous athletic ability. He has a chance to be a really versatile defender and can guard multiple spots. I think the next step is being consistent with his effort and continuing to add to his skill set. He has a chance as a shot maker, but there’s still some improving to do.”
Whitney fell three spots in the 247Sports rankings — from No. 8 to No. 11 — but Daniels characterized that as more of a “reshuffling” of the list than a drop, noting that some of the players that were slightly elevated above him — like Washington’s Isaiah Stewart and Florida’s Scottie Lewis — also had excellent senior seasons to go along with stellar showings on the all-star circuit.
Staying put in the No. 14 spot was Keion Brooks, who was the leading scorer for La Lumiere (Ind.) — the top high school team in America throughout this past season — and committed to Kentucky a couple of months ago. 247Sports ranks the 6-7 wing far higher than Rivals.com (No. 28) and ESPN (No. 35).
“He just has a unique ability to put the ball in the basket,” Daniels said. “And he’s got good size for the position, good length for the position. He can score the ball at the rim. He can score it from mid-range and has an improving long-range shot. He brings a scoring punch.”
Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball, Dontaie Allen, also brings that scoring punch, and he finished the 2019 cycle with the No. 91 ranking nationally despite missing most of his senior season due to a major knee injury. When Allen — another 6-7 wing — returns to the court, he should give Kentucky even more offensive versatility.
“The theme here is the ability to score, and that’s why he got the Kentucky offer initially,” Daniels said. “He’s got good size. He can create off the bounce and score from all three levels. And I think Kentucky needs to get guys like him — guys that are in-state recruits that are multi-year players that can progressively get better and help them.”
Eight players from 247Sports’ final top 50 remain uncommitted, and Hampton, McDaniels and Juzang are the three prospects from that list still being recruited by Kentucky.
Hampton — a 6-5 guard from Texas — recently announced his move from the 2020 class and was inserted into the No. 5 overall spot for 2019.
Daniels praised his versatility, playmaking ability off the dribble, scoring talent, and potential as a defender — “I just really like him as a playmaking guard,” he said — but he also logged a Crystal Ball prediction this week in favor of Kansas, choosing the Jayhawks as the most likely landing spot over Hampton’s other three finalists: UK, Memphis and Texas Tech.
“I think Kansas is in pretty good shape with him,” Daniels said.
Kentucky has been picking up steam with McDaniels, however. Not long ago, the 6-10 forward from Seattle was widely expected to stay home and pick Washington, but there has been increased buzz for the Wildcats in recent days, and Daniels logged a Crystal Ball prediction in favor of UK on Wednesday morning.
“We are coming down the stretch in the Jaden McDaniels recruitment. Washington and Kentucky have been getting the most significant buzz, and my gut feel is Kentucky is in good shape,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader after making his pick.
McDaniels spent much of the past year as a top-five national prospect, but he slipped eight spots to No. 13 overall in the final 247Sports rankings. Still, he would be a high-upside pickup for the Wildcats.
“From a natural talent standpoint, he’s up there with the top in this class,” Daniels said. “Do I think that we could look back in a couple of years and say, ‘Man, why did you only have him 13th?’ Yeah, that’s possible, because I think he’s got the plus size, plus length, the athletic ability, the fluidity, and some of the skills that you look for. But he didn’t close out his high school career the way he was playing over the summer.”
Kentucky has emerged as the clear favorite for Juzang, a 6-6 shooting guard from California who took an official visit to Lexington last week and is expected to make a final decision soon. 247Sports ranks Juzang as the No. 30 overall player in the 2019 class after he recently reclassified from 2020 to get a head start on his college career.
“What Johnny Juzang can bring to a college program is the ability to make shots,” Daniels said. “He’s skilled. He’s got good range on his jump shot. He can really shoot, and I think that’s extremely valuable.”
Daniels is still picking UK for Juzang, who will announce his college decision Friday.
“I think they’re in pretty good shape,” he said. “I don’t know that I would change their position with anyone.”
Kentucky currently has the No. 3 class in the 247Sports rankings, behind only Arizona and Duke. According to the 247Sports “Class Calculator” tool, UK would pass both of those schools and move to No. 1 nationally with the addition of either Juzang or McDaniels — and the rankings do not take into account the addition of instant-impact graduate transfer Nate Sestina.
Juzang would be another talented, college-ready scorer. Again, that’s the theme for the bulk of this incoming group and something that has been largely missing from some of the Kentucky recruiting classes in the recent past. The ability to make shots shouldn’t be an issue next season.
“I’m valuing shot-making and shooting more than I ever have,” Daniels said. “If you look at the NBA game and the college game, a higher premium needs to be placed on shooting and ability to score. And I think Kentucky has done a good job of adding that in this class.”
Final 247Sports rankings for the class of 2019
- 1. Anthony Edwards, Georgia
- 2. James Wiseman, Memphis
- 3. Cole Anthony, North Carolina
- 4. Isaiah Stewart, Washington
- 5. RJ Hampton, uncommitted
- 6. Vernon Carey, Duke
- 7. Scottie Lewis, Florida
- 8. Nico Mannion, Arizona
- 9. Precious Achiuwa, uncommitted
- 10. Tyrese Maxey, Kentucky
- 11. Kahlil Whitney, Kentucky
- 12. Tre Mann, Florida
- 13. Jaden McDaniels, uncommitted
- 14. Keion Brooks, Kentucky
- 15. Samuell Williamson, Louisville
- 16. Matthew Hurt, Duke
- 17. Josh Green, Arizona
- 18. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova
- 19. Trendon Watford, uncommitted
- 20. Bryan Antoine, Villanova
- 21. Akok Akok, UConn
- 22. Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia
- 23. Isaiah Mobley, Southern Cal
- 24. CJ Walker, Oregon
- 25. LaMelo Ball, uncommitted
- 26. Onyeka Okongwu, Southern Cal
- 27. Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana
- 28. Josiah James, Tennessee
- 29. Patrick Williams, Florida State
- 30. Johnny Juzang, uncommitted