Back in late February, five-star recruit Jonathan Kuminga made his way to Lexington to see the second-to-last Kentucky basketball home game of the season.
He left town with a UK scholarship offer — becoming the first player in the 2021 class to land one — and the 16-year-old excitedly called his parents back in Congo to deliver the news.
“Dad, I just got an offer from Kentucky,” Kuminga said.
“Oh, really?” his dad responded.
When recounting the long-distance call earlier this spring, Kuminga grinned. “They don’t really know about it,” he said, adding that his parents weren’t attuned enough to the American college basketball world to understand the gravity of the offer their son had received.
Kuminga had a different reaction.
“It felt really amazing, because Kentucky used to be one of my dream schools,” he said.
Kuminga has carried over a strong sophomore season into a stellar showing on the spring Nike circuit, and he enters the summer as arguably the very best prospect in the 2021 class.
Rivals.com recently elevated him to the No. 1 spot in its rankings. 247Sports has him at No. 2, but national analyst Evan Daniels has been high on Kuminga’s talent for a while, and he told the Herald-Leader that the do-it-all, 6-foot-9 recruit would be in the discussion for 247’s top spot when those rankings are updated in the next couple of weeks.
“He’s a kid who is quite versatile in the sense that you can play him as a straight perimeter guy — because he has the skill set that allows him to do that — but he’s also very effective as a face-up ‘4,’ because it’s really tough for opposing power forwards to guard him,” Daniels said. “He can guard both spots. He’s a tremendous athlete. His skill set has continued to develop. His ball handling has improved. His shot mechanics have improved. He’s just progressing across the board, and there’s a lot of upside there.”
Kuminga averaged 20.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game during Nike play this spring, competing on a circuit with many highly touted players who are a year or more older. In one recent game against a team featuring Cade Cunningham and Greg Brown — two top-10 recruits in the 2020 class — Kuminga dropped 43 points and made seven of 11 threes.
His coach on the Nike circuit is Andy Borman, who leads the New York Rens squad that featured Hamidou Diallo a few summers ago and has been the travel league home to several five-star recruits.
Borman says Kuminga doesn’t have any glaring holes in his game as he continues to progress as a high-level prospect. For all his talent, athleticism and natural gifts, Kuminga’s best attribute right now might be his willingness to play hard, especially on the defensive end.
“High motor,” Borman told the Herald-Leader. “He plays both sides of the ball — literally plays both sides of the ball. Wants to guard the other team’s best player at all times regardless of position. He’s the kid heading into a game that says, ‘I got him.’ And he’s a kid that — even if I dictate a change on the matchup — he’s saying, ‘Coach, I can take him if you need me to.’ Which is great, because so many kids want to just talk about offense.
“And don’t get me wrong, he’s offensively talented. Any time he sees single coverage he’s up there, 25, 30, 35 (points). … But a lot of times he’s going to see double teams and triple teams. And with that, he’s a willing passer. He’s got great vision. There’s not a hole in his game. There’s not a part of his game where you say, ‘Why is that missing?’ But he’s also still just 16 years old. So, what does he need to do? He needs to keep getting better. And I know that he’s really motivated to do that. But, for being 16, he’s pretty good, man.”
Borman said Kuminga still brings a high energy level despite the typical spring/summer schedule of four or five games in a weekend, with only a couple of hours between high-level games on some occasions. The coach added that Kuminga can still improve in that area, but it’s a good sign this early on in his development that he’s capable of sustaining the effort.
“What would he be doing if we had the ability to watch tape? If we had the ability to practice every day? If we had the ability to rest our legs?” Borman said. “And, don’t get me wrong, I know that applies to every single player in the country. But every single player in the country is not playing both sides of the ball the way this kid does.
“And you’re asking him to do that over and over again, and he does it.”
Positionally, it’s tough to peg Kuminga, who has played the ‘1’ through the ‘5’ at various times for the Rens and has the flexibility to be used in a few different spots at the college level.
Kuminga, who attends high school at Our Savior New American (N.Y.), raved about his Kentucky visit and is willing to buy in to John Calipari’s “nothing is promised” approach.
“When I spoke to Coach, he said, ‘When you come here, you don’t give up on anything. You have to keep working hard, because you’re not the only one who’s going to come here,’” Kuminga said.
He already has a long list of scholarship offers, and his brother, Joel Ntambwe, recently transferred to national runner-up Texas Tech, though Daniels said he didn’t think that would have much of an impact on Kuminga. “I think it’s two completely separate recruitments,” he told the Herald-Leader.
By the time the summer travel season is finished, Kuminga could very well be the consensus No. 1 recruit in the 2021 class. His trajectory suggests he’s headed in that direction, and his coach says he’ll continue to work just as hard if he gets there.
“He wants to be the best,” Borman said. “And don’t get me wrong, he worked hard in the first place. But he’s really kicked it into high gear. He wants to eat right. He wants to lift right. He wants to take care of his body. He wants to get in the gym. He’s motivated to be the best player — not just in his class.
“He’s got big, lofty goals for himself. And if you’ve got big, lofty goals, there should not be a shortage of work to be done.”