UK Recruiting

Calipari will get one more look at several recruiting possibilities this weekend

Top point guard Sharife Cooper breaks down UK and Auburn

Sharife Cooper, the No. 1 basketball recruit in the USA Today rankings for the 2020 class, talks about his interest in Kentucky and Auburn.
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Sharife Cooper, the No. 1 basketball recruit in the USA Today rankings for the 2020 class, talks about his interest in Kentucky and Auburn.

As part of the changes to this year’s recruiting calendar, USA Basketball is hosting a July training camp for dozens of top-ranked prospects across all high school classes, and college coaches will be permitted to attend the showcase in Colorado Springs on Saturday and Sunday.

This will be the final evaluation event of the summer — the “quiet period” begins Aug. 1 — and programs are allowed to send no more than two coaches to this weekend’s USA Basketball camp. The Herald-Leader has learned that John Calipari and assistant coach Tony Barbee are expected to represent Kentucky, and they’ll have plenty of targets to keep an eye on.

The list of invitees includes a couple of longtime UK targets — Sharife Cooper and Isaiah Todd — as well as several other players in the 2020 class still hoping for a scholarship offer from the Wildcats.

Calipari has issued nearly a dozen offers to recruits from that class, but he’s still evaluating in this cycle, and the USA camp could lead to additional offers in the coming days. Here’s who Calipari and Barbee are likely to pay special attention to this weekend:

Sharife Cooper: The 6-foot point guard from Atlanta has long been on UK’s recruiting radar — he landed a Wildcats offer last year — but he’s been a priority target for Auburn for even longer. Recruiting insiders fully expect Cooper to end up with the Tigers, but don’t look for Calipari to give up on him just yet. There’s a lack of available instant-impact point guards in the 2020 class, and Auburn officials acknowledged last week that the program expects to receive a notice of allegations from the NCAA due to past recruiting issues, and such a development could hurt them on the trail.

Dawson Garcia: The 6-10 forward from Minnesota still doesn’t have a UK scholarship offer, and he was sidelined for the final evaluation period with his travel team earlier this month, meaning Calipari didn’t get to see him then. UK’s coaches did watch Garcia at last month’s NBPA Top 100 Camp, and assistant coach Joel Justus visited with him during the high school season. North Carolina, Kansas and Memphis are among the schools that have offered over the past few weeks. Kentucky would likely be in a good spot in Garcia’s recruitment, if the Cats join that list in the near future.

Four-star power forward Dawson Garcia won a gold medal in 3-on-3 basketball with Team USA earlier this spring, and he's caught UK's attention on the recruiting trail.

Isaiah Jackson: One of the names that has been more strongly linked to Kentucky over the past couple of weeks, Jackson — a 6-10 power forward from Detroit — will get another audience with Calipari at this week’s camp. 247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels described him to the Herald-Leader as a “prototypical run-and-jump power forward” who excels at rebounding and rim protection. Michigan State is the leader on his Crystal Ball page, but most of those predictions came well over a year ago, and he’s seemingly in no hurry to make a decision.

Daishen Nix: The Alaska native has emerged as arguably the top point guard prospect in the class and hosted Justus for a visit earlier this year, but he still hasn’t received a UK scholarship offer. Now living in Las Vegas, the 6-5 recruit plays on a lower-profile travel team — independent of the shoe company leagues — and that has made it more difficult for Calipari to see him this spring and summer. Nix has made it clear that he wants to meet with the UK head coach, and this could be a big weekend for his recruitment as it relates to Kentucky. Schools making him a priority include Alabama, Kansas, Maryland, UCLA and Washington.

DJ Steward: A late addition to this USA Basketball camp, Steward is another player that has been more strongly linked to Kentucky in the days since Nike’s recent Peach Jam event. The 6-4 combo guard from Chicago is one of the best backcourt scorers in high school basketball, and he shot 40.6 percent from three-point range during Nike play. Kentucky is still evaluating him for a possible offer, but it might be too late. The buzz in recruiting circles is that his recent scholarship offer from Duke will be tough to beat.

Bryce Thompson: A 6-5 combo guard from Oklahoma and the leading scorer on the Under Armour circuit this spring, Thompson was mentioned as a possible UK target earlier in the year, but there’s been nothing new on that front in months. The Herald-Leader was told this week that he’s not high on Kentucky’s list right now, but Calipari didn’t see as much of the Under Armour league this spring and summer. Perhaps the UK coach just needs another, longer look at the sharp-shooting guard? If Thompson is to emerge as a serious UK target, it’ll probably become apparent soon.

Isaiah Todd: Few recruits in the 2020 class landed a UK scholarship offer earlier than Todd, and the 6-10 power forward continues to list the Wildcats among the top teams that have been making him a priority. Todd, who played high school ball in North Carolina last season and Virginia the season before that, competed with a Florida-based Nike team this spring and has acknowledged he might switch schools again for his senior year. He told 247Sports a couple of weeks ago that UK, Maryland and Oklahoma State were the three schools recruiting him the hardest.

This week’s USA Basketball camp will also feature several players in the 2021 class that have already been linked to Kentucky, including Seattle standout Paolo Banchero, one of the Cats’ biggest early priorities in the class. Devin Askew, Kennedy Chandler, AJ Griffin and Jaden Hardy are other possible UK targets on the 2021 guest list, which also includes Marshall County standout Zion Harmon, who recently received a scholarship offer from Kansas.

The 2022 and 2023 classes will also be represented. A familiar name — Dajuan Wagner Jr. — is one of the 2023 prospects in attendance, and he’s already received positive reviews from the opening days of the training camp.

Wagner is the grandson of U of L great Milt Wagner — a former staff member under both Calipari and Barbee — and the son of Dajuan Wagner, who was Calipari’s first big-time recruit as head coach at Memphis.

The UK coach will likely take an early look at the younger Wagner this weekend.

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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