UK Recruiting

Kentucky set to host top basketball recruit as next season’s roster remains unsettled

Calipari says 2019 will be a breakout year for returning players

Kentucky men's basketball head coach John Calipari responds to the return of Ashton Hagans, Nick Richards, and EJ Montgomery to the team.
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Kentucky men's basketball head coach John Calipari responds to the return of Ashton Hagans, Nick Richards, and EJ Montgomery to the team.

With all 10 of his scholarship players for next season already on campus but a roster still seemingly in flux, John Calipari is welcoming one of the nation’s top recruits to UK’s campus this week.

It’s still possible the five-star visitor could be ready to play college basketball this winter.

N’Faly Dante — a 7-footer from Mali — was expected in Lexington on Thursday for an official visit, and he has long been viewed as a player that could reclassify to 2019.

Dante is currently the No. 11 overall player in the 2020 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, and he would likely be slotted around that spot if he does make the jump to 2019.

Tipton Edits first reported Dante’s plans to visit Kentucky, and that recruiting outlet tweeted Wednesday that Dante said he will not be reclassifying and plans to stay in the 2020 class. Still, recruiting insiders have been expecting Dante to make the jump to 2019 for weeks now, and players in similar situations in past recruiting cycles have said they planned to stay in their current class only to reverse course late in the summer and reclassify anyway.

Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader this spring that Dante’s on-court game had progressed to the point that his circle was looking closely at a jump to 2019, as long as the academic side of reclassification was doable.

“What he’s doing now from an offensive perspective, it’s all there. And he’s already a dominant defender, as we know,” Evans said. “If he can get the grades, it’s going to be done, I think. And Kentucky is going to be in there.”

247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels tweeted Wednesday that Kentucky “would be in great shape” if Dante does reclassify.

Dante, who has not shed much light on his own recruitment across several Nike sessions and other camps this spring, did tell the Des Moines Register this week that Kentucky was among five schools still recruiting him the hardest, along with Oregon, Tennessee, Michigan State and Iowa State.

Oregon and Louisiana State, which is still thought to be a contender, had been mentioned in recruiting circles this year as the teams to beat for Dante, if he reclassified, but this week’s visit to Lexington could signal a shift in his recruitment.

The Sunrise Christian (Kan.) high school star has been among the most impressive players on the Nike circuit this spring, averaging 14.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks despite playing just 21.5 minutes per game. His 76.0 percent mark on field goals is the best (by far) of anyone in the league with at least 75 shot attempts, and he was named the most valuable player of last month’s Indianapolis session.

Only one session of this year’s Nike regular-season schedule was open to college coaches, and UK assistant Kenny Payne was on the first row for Dante’s very first game of that weekend. Calipari has also watched him plenty over the past couple of years. Dante was the second player from the 2020 class to land a UK scholarship offer, picking up that honor more than a year ago.

Calipari said over the weekend that he was “really pleased” with his frontcourt trio of Nick Richards, EJ Montgomery and Nate Sestina, intimating that he didn’t think Kentucky needed to add anyone else to that group. “If we add, fine. If we don’t, I’m good,” he said.

The UK coach is clearly open to the idea of a fourth player in that rotation. One possibility outside of Dante expired Wednesday night when No. 1-ranked graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. decided to play for Florida next season.

Blackshear’s arrival likely would have pushed Richards back to a reserve role next season, but adding Dante — an accomplished rim-protector and rebounder with improving offensive skills — could keep Richards in line to start while giving the Cats an instant-impact, high-upside option to spell him at the ‘5’ and allow Montgomery and Sestina to share time at the ‘4.’

There is no timetable for Dante’s college or reclassification decision, though it would likely come soon if he is indeed still open to a move to 2019.

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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