The most celebrated graduate transfer in college basketball — Virginia Tech big man Kerry Blackshear Jr. — left UK’s campus this week without committing to the Wildcats.
That was surely a disappointment to the many Kentucky fans who were refreshing their phone and computer screens in anticipation of positive news, but it certainly wasn’t unexpected. Rarely does a Wildcats recruit actually commit to the team while on his visit.
Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans, who has been closely monitoring Blackshear’s recruitment since the 6-foot-10 center decided to entertain transfer options this spring, still likes John Calipari’s chance to ultimately land the coveted player.
“I think Kentucky is in a great spot with him,” Evans told the Herald-Leader on Friday afternoon. “Right now, it’s Kentucky or Tennessee for him. I think a commitment is going to come within the next four or five days. That’s the vibe I’ve gotten.”
Blackshear — an Orlando native with one season of college basketball remaining — started his Southeastern Conference visit tour with trips to Florida and Arkansas this month. This past weekend, he was on Tennessee’s campus, and there was ample buzz in the Volunteers’ favor going into that visit.
He left Knoxville still uncommitted, and he was in Lexington a couple of days later to tour the campus and meet with Calipari before the UK coach headed off to see three of his players selected in the first round of Thursday night’s NBA Draft.
That’s the stage Blackshear would like to be on this time next year.
He tested the NBA Draft waters this spring, ultimately removing his name from consideration with the intention of playing one more season of college basketball. Blackshear was not ranked by ESPN as one of the top 100 prospects in this year’s draft before his decision to pull out.
UK obviously has enjoyed a long stretch of successful NBA Draft nights on Calipari’s watch.
Tennessee, the possible co-favorite for Blackshear’s services, saw its top player, Grant Williams, go with the No. 22 overall pick in Thursday night’s draft. Though Blackshear and Williams have different strengths and play different styles, the Volunteers have apparently been selling the Virginia Tech transfer on being the same kind of featured player in their offense that Williams has been over the past couple of seasons.
Evans said, as of Friday afternoon, he couldn’t name a true frontrunner between the Cats and Vols.
“I honestly don’t know,” he said. “And that’s because the kid doesn’t know yet, I don’t think. I don’t think he knows what exactly he wants. Tennessee can offer him the idea of playing more of a ‘4-5’ role and kind of expanding his game and having more of a chance to be ‘the guy.’
“Compared to Kentucky, which offers, of course, the blue-blood platform and all that. They’re in the same conference, but they’re two separate opportunities. So, I think it’s whichever one that he really feels comfortable with and which one can put him in the best spot possible for the NBA.”
Evans stressed that he thinks this recruitment will come down to those two schools. He noted that Memphis and Michigan are still trying to get him on campus but said he doesn’t think either trip is likely to happen. Texas A&M, where Blackshear’s former coach, Buzz Williams, is now in charge, has also been mentioned as a possible visit destination.
Evans was also dubious over the likelihood of a visit to College Station.
“I don’t see A&M as a legitimate suitor anymore,” he said.
So, if it’s Kentucky vs. Tennessee, the choice could come down to Blackshear’s role next season.
The Volunteers are giving him the chance to be the go-to guy.
Blackshear, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game for the Hokies this past season, would certainly play a major role in the Cats’ frontcourt, too, but he’d also be sharing the floor with several talented guards and wings — as well as fellow transfer Nate Sestina, high-upside power forward EJ Montgomery, and junior big man Nick Richards — who will all be looking to show NBA scouts what they can do.
He’s played that role before, and done well with it. He also got a taste of a more featured role in the nearly two months that Virginia Tech star Justin Robinson was sidelined this past season.
Of Blackshear’s six games with more than 20 points last season, five came while Robinson was out.
“Let’s face it: he’s never been ‘the guy’ his entire career, until last season, when Justin Robinson got hurt,” Evans said. “So he knows what it feels like to be a complementary piece. Did he like being the central figure of an offense? Or is he OK buying back into that team dynamic — and he’s definitely a team-first kind of guy.
“But it comes down to, ‘What does he want,’ ultimately?”