UK Recruiting

‘I mean, it’s Kentucky.’ The MVP of Top 100 Camp has early interest in the Wildcats.

It’s not uncommon for highly touted basketball recruits on the West Coast to end up staying relatively close to home for college.

The last few years are filled with such players who — despite scholarship offers from high-profile programs around the country — opted to stay out west, often committing to a school in the Pac-12.

Seattle native Paolo Banchero, who’s looking like the best West Coast prospect in the 2021 class, started shaking his head before a reporter wondering whether distance would be an issue had even finished asking the question.

“I’m willing to go wherever,” the 16-year-old said. “I’m not saying I won’t stay on the West Coast. But if I was trying to go to an East Coast school, or down South, distance wouldn’t affect me.”

There probably isn’t a school anywhere in America that would turn down his commitment. Late Tuesday night, he joined Jonathan Kuminga and Terrence Clarke as just the third class of 2021 recruit to earn a scholarship offer from Kentucky.

Banchero — a 6-foot-9, 235-pound power forward — is currently No. 6 overall in the 247Sports rankings for 2021, but that list will get a refresh in the next couple of weeks, and it won’t be a surprise if he gets a little bump.

Fresh off a standout performance at the prestigious Pangos Camp this month, Banchero rolled into last week’s NBPA Top 100 Camp in Virginia with the task of once again facing older competition. He left that event with most valuable player honors and more praise from recruiting analysts.

“Historically, at NBPA Camp, upperclassmen have been the ones that have excelled, and it’s usually tougher for underclassmen to have great success,” 247Sports’ Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “But he went into that camp and was as productive as anyone there, as an underclassman. I think that says a lot about him and his competitiveness and where his game sits.”

The accolades are already plentiful for a player who doesn’t turn 17 years old until November.

This past high school season, he earned first-team sophomore All-America honors from after averaging 18.2 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game and leading his team to its first state title in 12 years.

This spring on the Nike circuit — again facing older players — Banchero averaged 21.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game, blocking 31 shots and shooting 80.9 percent from the free throw line. He was the league’s leading rebounder in the regular season, finishing fourth in blocked shots and ninth in points.

“He’s a tough, physical power forward that impacts the game with his rebounding, with his competitiveness, with his physicality, and his ability to score,” Daniels said. “He can score facing the rim. He can score with his back to it. He’s got good hands, nice touch. He’s developing post moves. He can make catch-and-shoot jump shots.

“Truth is, he’s one of the more consistent players in the country. He always plays with energy. He always competes. He always rebounds. And that’s something that translates to every level. You just know what you’re getting from him when he gets on the court.”

Banchero still has two seasons of high school ball to go, but college coaches are already jockeying for prime position in his recruitment. At Top 100 Camp, he mentioned Arizona, Gonzaga, Kansas, Memphis, Oregon State and hometown Washington (the early Crystal Ball leader) as schools that have been on him the hardest.

Duke and North Carolina are among the blue bloods that are already reaching out.

Kentucky is right there, too. Even before Tuesday night’s offer, Banchero said his camp had been hearing from the Wildcats — college coaches weren’t allowed to start contacting 2021 recruits directly until this week — and he grinned when asked if he’d be interested in more contact from UK.

“I mean, it’s Kentucky. You know, they’ve been putting dudes in the league, getting to the tournament, getting to the Final Four, championship, all that, for 10 years now,” Banchero said.

He stressed that he’s completely open to all schools, and recruiting insiders have told the Herald-Leader that Banchero truly is the type of prospect who might go across the country for college.

If he continues on his current trajectory, Banchero’s translatable game and agreeable attitude should be a good fit for any team in the nation.

“I think one of my qualities is I can kind of fit under any type of playing style, any type of coaching,” he said. “My AAU coach is kind of laid back. My high school coach is kind of an in-your-face type of coach. And I like both. I fit well with both styles. And I think I’m good playing in any system.”

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Ben Roberts covers UK basketball, football and other sports for the Lexington Herald-Leader and has specialized in UK basketball recruiting for the past several years. He also maintains the Next Cats recruiting blog, which features the latest news on the Wildcats’ recruiting efforts.
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