UK Recruiting

Intriguing frontcourt recruits have had varying levels of contact with Kentucky

Justus: Kentucky a place where you get better and play around great players

Kentucky basketball assistant Joel Justus offers a recruiting pitch of sorts, saying that Kentucky isn't just for the one-and-done type players.
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Kentucky basketball assistant Joel Justus offers a recruiting pitch of sorts, saying that Kentucky isn't just for the one-and-done type players.

There’s a consensus among college basketball coaches and recruiting analysts over the state of the 2020 class of prospects: It’s relatively lacking in post players that can make an instant impact on the highest level.

That means programs like Kentucky and Duke — annually in need of a new post player or three — might be looking a little further down the recruiting rankings than usual to fill out their signing classes in this next cycle.

Last week at NBPA Top 100 Camp, early UK targets such as Makur Maker and Dawson Garcia showed why they’re such highly touted post prospects. The camp also included a few other rising frontcourt stars that have been linked to Kentucky, and they gave varying answers as to their level of interest, as well as the Wildcats’ level of contact to this point in the process.

On the radar

From the very beginning of the Top 100 Camp game sessions, Mady Sissoko stood out as a formidable competitor in the paint.

The 6-foot-9, 230-pound center was an active rebounder who ran the floor and brought a high level of energy to both sides of the court. Offensively, he showed good hands and nice touch around the basket. Defensively, he showed good awareness as a help defender, sliding over at the right times to fill the paint and block shots.

On day two, he threw down a forceful dunk over Makur Maker, the No. 2 prospect in the 247Sports rankings for 2020 and the highest-rated recruit in attendance.

Sissoko — a native of Mali now playing for a prep school in Utah — is No. 43 in those rankings, three spots ahead of Cliff Omoruyi, who already has a UK scholarship offer.

“This is a guy that we’ve had in our top 50 for a year and a half, two years,” 247Sports’ Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “He’s got good positional size. He plays extremely hard. I think that’s why a camp setting like that fits him, but he’s obviously having a tremendous spring.

“He’s physical. He’s tough. He rebounds. He protects the rim. He loves to dunk everything inside. But I think the thing about him is just how hard he plays and the energy he consistently brings when he’s on the court. There’s a lot of value in that.”

Sissoko is averaging 13.2 points and 9.1 rebounds with 17 blocks over nine games on the Nike circuit. He told the Herald-Leader that he has heard from Kentucky’s coaches this spring, and he’s interested in the Wildcats.

“I know they have a great program and they’re a big name,” he said. “I don’t care about a big-name school. I just want to go where’s best for me and a good fit for me.”

He said a “good fit” means a program that can help him reach the pros, and he’s well aware of UK’s track record there. “That’s my dream,” he said of an NBA career.

Sissoko mentioned Colorado, Michigan State, UCLA, North Carolina State, Miami, BYU and Auburn as other prominent players in his recruitment, which will likely continue to heat up in the coming months.

Another post player to keep an eye on for 2020 is Huntington (W.Va.) Prep standout JT Thor, though he’s technically a member of the recruiting class of 2021.

Thor — a 6-8 power forward who was born in Omaha, Neb., and grew up in Alaska — is the No. 11 overall player in the 247Sports rankings for 2021 and has been mentioned this spring as a reclassification candidate. He didn’t address those rumors at Top 100 Camp, but he did confirm an ongoing mutual interest between himself and Kentucky coaches.

UK has already hosted Thor for two unofficial visits, including a trip to Big Blue Madness last year. “It was a really fun visit,” he said. “Meeting Coach Cal, it was crazy. … He said he doesn’t care about rankings. He doesn’t care about all that stuff. He just cares if you’re a dog and you’re gonna bust your a-- every day. So, yeah, that’s what I like.”

Thor added that UK assistant coach Joel Justus has been in regular contact with his older brother, who is helping to coordinate the recruitment. Kansas, Maryland and UCLA are among the schools that have extended offers and seem to be well-positioned in the early stages.

“I want a coach that pushes me to get to the next level — a coach who’s going to be tough on me,” he said.

Relatively new to the game of basketball, Thor said he didn’t really start playing the sport until the seventh grade and predicted bright things for his own future.

“I’m not even scratching the surface yet,” he said. “I haven’t even started yet, and I’m still at the top. But I don’t really worry about the rankings though. I just see it and I’m like, ‘Oh, OK.’ I’m still in the gym every day.”

Off the radar

The Herald-Leader asked a couple of other highly touted frontcourt prospects sitting a few spots away from five-star range if Kentucky was active in their recruitments, but they said they hadn’t heard anything from the Cats.

Henry Coleman — a 6-7 power forward from Richmond, Va. — was linked to UK this spring and is ranked No. 33 overall by 247Sports, but he said he hasn’t had contact with UK.

Coleman’s recruitment is getting interesting. Duke and UCLA have made major pushes recently, but he has strong ties to the two biggest in-state programs. His father is a former linebacker at Virginia Tech, and his mother is a Virginia alumna and diehard fan of that school.

He said he plans to narrow his school list to seven in a few weeks and come to a decision in time for the early signing period in November.

Mark Williams — a 7-footer from Norfolk, Va. — has been one of the most-buzzed-about big men in the 2020 class over the past few months, and Duke is among the schools that have come in with recent scholarship offers. He told the Herald-Leader he’s had zero contact with Kentucky, however.

Williams did say that he remains “completely open” in his recruitment, but it seems to be progressing rapidly. He’s already taken an official visit to Stanford and said Duke, UCLA and Ohio State are all likely to get such trips when he cuts his list of schools after next month’s Peach Jam event.

247Sports ranks Williams as the No. 35 player in the 2020 class. He’s averaging 13.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game for the same Boo Williams Nike program that once featured Keldon Johnson.

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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