Ranking the 10 best University of Kentucky basketball players during the John Calipari era
The most recent recipient of a scholarship offer to play basketball for the University of Kentucky might not need long to think about his college destination.
In the immediate aftermath of UK’s offer to four-star power forward Lance Ware this past weekend, the predictions from recruiting analysts started pouring in, and the Wildcats were the unanimous choice.
Rivals.com national analyst Eric Bossi was among those to log a pro-Kentucky prediction for the 6-foot-9 prospect from Camden (N.J.) High School, the alma mater of Dajuan Wagner, who was John Calipari’s first mega recruit at Memphis and will have a son playing alongside Ware at the school this coming season.
Nearly 20 years after Wagner committed to Calipari, the coach’s chances look good to land another Camden star.
“Obviously, they have to get (Ware) on campus, which I expect would happen in the relatively near future. But John Calipari is pretty well-liked in Camden and pretty connected with some guys — he’s done well there before,” Bossi told the Herald-Leader. “Maybe we’re all rushing too quickly to a judgment here, but it just seems to be one of those recruitments that’s lining up really well for Kentucky.”
The scholarship offer is still fresh, but the Wildcats aren’t newcomers to Ware’s recruitment.
Calipari met with him in Camden last fall and then hosted Ware as part of the visiting contingent for Big Blue Madness a few weeks later. UK assistant coach Tony Barbee has been the Cats’ point man, and Ware’s play this spring and summer earned him the coveted UK offer.
Recruiting insiders had been saying for months that a Wildcats’ offer would vault Kentucky to the top of Ware’s list, and — now that he has one — UK has indeed emerged as the heavy favorite.
If Ware does ultimately end up in Lexington, the Cats would be getting a high-ceiling frontcourt player that has been showing tremendous strides in his game. Earlier this year, Bossi mentioned Ware as one of his top “summertime risers,” and the analyst again mentioned him in a Wednesday morning post as a class of 2020 recruit that was sure to rise in the next rankings update.
Rivals.com currently has Ware as the No. 52 player in the class, though Bossi told the Herald-Leader that he considers him to be “at least a top-35ish type guy” in that group. His addition would be especially beneficial as Calipari looks to add some more continuity to his program and the NBA weighs ending the one-and-done era.
The most recent speculation pegs the 2022 class as the first that could jump straight from high school to the NBA.
“He’s probably going to be at least a two- or three-year player, and it would be really nice to have him around for that first class where you can’t get some of the guys you typically get, because they’re going to go straight to the NBA,” Bossi said.
Though his long-term prospects look bright, Ware should also be able to make an instant impact in college.
His numbers on the Nike circuit — where he played alongside fellow UK target and No. 1-ranked 2021 recruit Jonathan Kuminga — got better as the travel schedule progressed. At the Nike Peach Jam event this month, Ware averaged 14.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. And that was with Kuminga averaging 27.4 points and 19.4 field goal attempts.
“What’s impressed me is that he’s on a team with Jon Kuminga — where everything is kind of built around Kuminga and Kuminga getting shots — but he has found ways to improve at the same time,” Bossi said. “He’s always been intriguing because of his quickness and his length and his overall athleticism, but at times he’s tended to kind of float out to the perimeter a little bit too much and play from the outside in.
“But, this spring and summer, he’s played more from the inside out, where he’s able to utilize his quickness and get a couple of easy buckets. Then he starts facing you up, and he can take other bigs off the dribble. And he’s a pretty reliable 12- to-15-foot jump shooter. You factor in once he starts getting college coaching and he’s got a college weight room and training program, and he’s one of those kids who checks the boxes of somebody you could see taking off in college.”
Ware, who also has offers from Michigan, Louisville, Georgetown and several others, should have a great basketball foundation by the time he gets to the next level.
Former NBA player and assistant coach Rick Brunson will be his high school coach this season. He has also been mentored by former U of L star Pervis Ellison.
“So this is a guy that has some good basketball people already in his corner,” Bossi said. “It just seems to be one of those perfect storms for a guy who’s ready to really take the next step with his game.”