UK Recruiting

Kentucky emerging as leader for top-five basketball recruit Jalen Green

Ever since the major recruiting services started ranking the top basketball players in the 2020 class, California shooting guard Jalen Green has been at the top of the list.

He’s spent some time in the No. 1 spot in the past, and he enters this summer — his last on the recruiting travel circuit — as a consensus top-five player in the country. ranks Green as the No. 3 overall prospect in the 2020 class, and Kentucky has been gaining buzz in his recruitment over the past few days.

“I think they’re the leader. I definitely do,” national analyst Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader this weekend. “They’ve really done a great job of prioritizing him. They’ve been adamant about him being that next ‘2’ guard athlete that Kentucky has been known for. And that’s on his mind. That’s definitely a top school of his growing up, and I don’t think anyone has worked harder in his recruitment than Kentucky.”

Green has long been one of the Wildcats’ top recruiting targets in this class. UK assistant coach Joel Justus prioritized him early in the process, and John Calipari has already made multiple trips to the West Coast to visit with Green and his family.

The Kentucky coaching staff saw him again at last week’s USA Basketball U19 training camp, which ended with Green making the 12-player team comprised of high school and college stars that will compete for a FIBA World Cup in Greece later this month.

Memphis was seen as an early favorite in his recruitment — and there have been some expert predictions in favor of Penny Hardaway’s program — but Evans and colleague Eric Bossi both wrote from Top 100 Camp that Kentucky is now in a good position.

Evans told the Herald-Leader that he “definitely” still sees Memphis as the Cats’ top competition. The Tigers landed coveted UK recruit James Wiseman — the No. 1 player in the 2019 class — and flipped DJ Jeffries from Kentucky in this last recruiting cycle. Both of those prospects played their high school ball in the Memphis area, however.

Florida State, Alabama and Oregon were three others that Evans mentioned as potential teams to watch for Green, who will play his final season of high school at Prolific Prep (Calif.), a program that plays a national schedule and has traveled to Kentucky for multiple games over the past few seasons.

If Green does indeed end up at Kentucky, it would likely end Calipari’s skid with top-five players. UK hasn’t landed one since the 2015 recruiting cycle, and Green seems destined to stick in that tier of the rankings. He averaged 30.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game and was named a first-team junior All-American by this past season.

Evans, who has evaluated Green at USA Basketball camp and on the Nike circuit this spring, says the 6-foot-5 prospect’s game continues to evolve in the areas of defense and communication, which were both of particular focus for Green over the past few months.

“He’s becoming better as a vocal leader, which he has definitely talked about in regards to not leading by example but communicating,” he said. “He’s definitely getting better (defensively). And then you throw in his size and his ability to change directions and change speeds. He has to get stronger, and that definitely is one hold-up, because you can do everything in your power to stay in front of a guy, but if you can’t hold your ground — that’s difficult. But he’s definitely shown improvements, and he’s shown greater energy, which is half the battle.”

As Green has continued to hone his skills in those areas, his jump-out-of-the-gym athleticism and knack for scoring has remained a force for opponents to deal with, and a focus for college recruiters like Calipari, Hardaway and the rest.

“There aren’t many guys in high school basketball that can display those ‘wow’ moments,” Evans said. “And that definitely makes him unique and separates him from the pack.”

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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