It has been another busy week for the Kentucky basketball program, which landed a commitment from Johnny Juzang on Friday night and has now taken over the No. 1 spot in the national rankings for the class of 2019.
While they put the finishing touches on that 2019 class, John Calipari and his UK coaching staff have been hitting the recruiting trail to line up the next wave of Wildcats. Here’s a look at a few emerging storylines for Kentucky’s future:
Daishen Nix: One of the biggest headlines in the recruiting world last week was the commitment of highly touted point guard Jeremy Roach to Duke, marking the first five-star prospect to come off the board for the 2020 class.
While it’s true that Roach was the first player at his all-important position in that 2020 class to land a UK scholarship offer — and he still listed Kentucky among his final four — the Cats had actually started prioritizing other point guards in recent weeks.
One of those players is Sharife Cooper, a 5-foot-11 prospect from the Atlanta area who was named the national player of the year as a junior this past season. All the buzz over the past few weeks with Cooper, however, has been in favor of Auburn, and there’s legitimate talk in recruiting circles that he might even jump to the 2019 class and play college ball next season.
Another name to keep an eye on: Daishen Nix.
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound prospect — originally from Alaska — moved to the Las Vegas area early in his high school career and has emerged as one of the best backcourt players in the 2020 class. Rivals.com ranks him as the No. 16 overall recruit in that group.
“He’s probably the best passing, playmaking guard in all of America,” national analyst Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader.
UK assistant coach Joel Justus was in town for a recruiting visit earlier this month, and the Wildcats’ coaching staff has clearly taken a liking to Nix, who has the size and skill set that Calipari looks for in his floor leaders.
Evans noted that his colleague, Rivals.com national analyst Eric Bossi, has compared Nix to former Illinois and NBA star Deron Williams, and Evans thinks the 17-year-old might be an even more athletic version.
“He’s big, he’s skilled, he’s light of foot. He can shoot it pretty well. There’s no real deficiency in his game, whatsoever,” he said. “At the heart of the matter is, he’s an elite passer and an elite playmaker. You put guys around him, he’s going to kill you.”
Sounds like a perfect fit for Kentucky.
Kahlil Whitney’s ranking: Going into the season, Whitney was unanimously considered to be a top-10 national prospect in the 2019 class. When the final rankings came out a few days ago, the UK signee had slipped — to No. 11 in the 247Sports rankings, No. 12 on ESPN’s board, and No. 14 on Rivals.com’s list.
Whitney — a 6-7 wing from Chicago — did take a little time to get adjusted in the competitive practices of McDonald’s All-American week (and scored just two points in that game) but he closed out the all-star circuit by winning MVP honors at the Allen Iverson Classic.
247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels referred to Whitney’s decline from No. 8 to No. 11 as more of a “reshuffling” than a drop. Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans also downplayed his slide — from eighth to 14th — in that website’s rankings.
“It’s still 14, and the amount of separation between 6 and 14 is miniscule,” he said, noting how difficult it was to slot the prospects in that range this year.
One of the biggest questions about Whitney — a can’t-miss athlete and promising defender at the next level — is his ability to make shots, and that’s probably what kept him from a higher recruiting ranking.
“I think it’s just a matter of shot-making. Can he consistently make shots?” Evans said. “And I know there’s still some time to go before he can be a consistent three-point shooter, or even a mid-range shooter. I do know Kahlil is a very, very hard worker, but shot-making is so valuable in today’s game. We always see that in the NBA playoffs — if you can’t make a jump shot, you can’t survive. I don’t think Kahlil’s shot is broken by any means, but it all comes down to that.”
Rivals.com analyst Eric Bossi noted in last week’s rankings overview that Whitney’s upside is among the highest in the class. “Whitney is an unfinished product but if he ever truly figures it out, he could end looking like a guy that should have been ranked in the top five.”
A UK scholarship offer could be on the horizon for another highly touted athlete on the basketball court: class of 2020 star Cam’Ron Fletcher, who told the Herald-Leader and other reporters recently that Kentucky has been one of the schools on him the hardest in recent months.
Fletcher — a 6-6 wing from St. Louis — is the No. 28 overall player in the Rivals.com rankings for 2020, and UK assistant coach Kenny Payne was on the front row for his first game of the Nike season a couple of weeks ago.
Payne has been in contact with Fletcher, who said Kentucky likes his ability to rebound, block shots and bring energy to the court.
Fletcher listed Duke, Michigan State, Michigan, UCLA, Louisville, Ohio State, Alabama and Texas Christian as others that have been recruiting him. He has already visited Michigan State and said trips to UK and Michigan would likely be in his summer plans.
As far as a UK scholarship offer, those usually come during in-person meetings with Calipari, and Payne has been trying to set that up.
“He told me to come on campus for an official visit,” Fletcher said, adding that he thinks he might land the offer when that trip occurs. “I got a high level of interest in them.”