UK Recruiting

Johnny Juzang is now committed to Kentucky. Is Jaden McDaniels next?

Johnny Juzang is Kentucky’s newest basketball commitment, and John Calipari once again has the No. 1 recruiting class in America.

The Wildcats aren’t done just yet.

Several possibilities remain on UK’s recruiting radar to close out the 2019 cycle, and five-star forward Jaden McDaniels is now at the top of the list of prospects that could commit to Kentucky in the near future.

Though there are other options — combo guard RJ Hampton, frontcourt recruit N’Faly Dante, and graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. among them — it’s McDaniels who seems the most likely to ultimately become a Wildcat and join Juzang, Tyrese Maxey, Dontaie Allen, Keion Brooks, Kahlil Whitney and Nate Sestina in UK’s incoming group of scholarship players.

Hampton recently announced that he was reclassifying to 2019 and has Kentucky in his final four, but others — Kansas, in particular — appear to be more likely fits for the Texas native.

The Cats’ frontcourt for next season is still in question — with Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery undecided on their future plans — and Blackshear and Dante could both be needed if one or both of those current Wildcats attempts to go pro, but there are still some moving parts to those recruitments, as well.

Blackshear, like Richards and Montgomery, is trying to work his way into the NBA Draft picture, and he’s expected to exhaust all opportunities on that front before considering a final year of college. Even if Blackshear does come back to school, other programs — including Florida and Texas A&M — would give Kentucky major competition for the Virginia Tech transfer’s commitment.

Dante is currently in the 2020 class, and though he has been constantly mentioned as a reclassification candidate, he has made no announcement yet on whether he will indeed play college basketball next season. Like Blackshear, there’s no indication UK would be the favorite even if Dante does reclassify.

It might be a different story with McDaniels, who finished the season as the No. 8 overall prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings for the 2019 class. In the past few days, several national recruiting analysts — including Evan Daniels, Jerry Meyer and Andrew Slater — have logged predictions in favor of Kentucky, giving the Cats an overwhelming advantage on McDaniels’ 247Sports Crystal Ball page.

“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 Wednesday.

Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans is being more cautious with his prediction on where McDaniels will end up. Evans has had a Washington pick for the 6-foot-10 forward from Seattle since November, and — as of Friday night — he’s sticking with that prediction. He does acknowledge that things have tightened in McDaniels’ recruitment.

“This is definitely a battle between Kentucky and Washington,” Evans told the Herald-Leader. “I know a lot of people have gone toward the direction of Kentucky, but I don’t think anyone really knows still. Kentucky did gain a lot of ground — I do know that for sure. I think it’s kind of a back-and-forth battle in his camp, between Kentucky and Washington. I don’t think either side feels great. But I don’t think either side feels like they’re going to lose it.”

That lines up with the behind-the scenes chatter in recruiting circles: UK has been gaining optimism, but the Huskies aren’t out of it yet, and neither side has total confidence in the outcome.

McDaniels also lists San Diego State, Texas and UCLA, but his recruitment is almost certain to come down to Washington and Kentucky — the hometown school and the program that he has called his “dream school” growing up.

Though McDaniels is listed at 6-10 and boasts a 7-foot wingspan, he prefers to play on the perimeter, and Kentucky already has several talented guards and wings — Maxey, Juzang, Brooks, Whitney, Allen, and returning point guards Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley — on the roster for next season.

Juzang — a 6-foot-6 scorer — and McDaniels are obviously much different players, but there are still only so many minutes to go around, and Calipari will be equipped to play several of his players in multiple positions next season. That means guards could be taking minutes from forwards, and vice versa.

Evans doesn’t think playing time will be an issue with McDaniels’ recruitment.

“The entire time, Kentucky’s sell has been, ‘The best are going to play.’ And that’s always been the sell,” he said. “I think if he was worried about minutes, Kentucky never would have been a factor. Especially when compared to Washington, which has a plethora of minutes, and it’s in Jaden’s backyard, and it’s to replace a potential NBA first-round guy, Matisse Thybulle — I don’t really think Juzang has much of a factor on him.”

Evans said he was told that Calipari visited McDaniels in Seattle recently — a trip that was not previously reported — while he was on the West Coast to see Juzang, a California native. He acknowledges that a decision is getting close.

There’s no exact timetable for McDaniels’ college announcement, however, and his personal trainer, Cartiea French-Toney, shot down a report Friday that said McDaniels had set a date. The final day of the spring signing period is May 15, though recruits can still commit to a school after that date and sign scholarship papers with the program of their choice.

Calipari’s 2019 class already has five highly touted high school prospects and an instant-impact graduate transfer. The Cats could be adding yet another five-star recruit very soon.

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