UK Recruiting

Kentucky basketball recruiting thoughts: A very good outlook for the 2020 class

Jalen Green puts on a highlight reel show with dunks and three-pointers in Memorial win

The standout junior forward/guard sat out much of the fourth quarter as his teammates continued the rout of Madera South, 83-49.
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The standout junior forward/guard sat out much of the fourth quarter as his teammates continued the rout of Madera South, 83-49.

A common theme on the basketball recruiting trail over the past few weeks: several backcourt players that were mentioned as possible Kentucky targets for the class of 2020 made cuts to their school lists. Those cuts came before UK extended scholarship offers, and — as a result — the Wildcats weren’t included.

A practical response to that theme: Kentucky’s coaches like where they stand with their future backcourt.

The high-profile list-cutters of August include Nimari Burnett, Caleb Love, DJ Steward and Ziaire Williams. All four of those guards and wings are top-30 national recruits, and all four were linked to UK at various points this summer.

Burnett cut his list to Alabama, Louisville, Michigan, Oregon and Texas Tech this week. Love is down to Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Louisville, Missouri and North Carolina. Steward is still looking at eight schools, including Duke, Louisville and UNC. And Williams has a list of seven that also includes Duke and North Carolina.

Kentucky has also yet to make a move on five-star shooting guard Bryce Thompson, who has not cut his list of schools but was linked to the Cats earlier this year as he went on to lead the Under Armour travel circuit in scoring. At last check, the sharp-shooting Oklahoma native was not a serious UK target.

Why pass on an opportunity to recruit all that talent?

Because the Cats are already in a great spot at those positions moving forward.

UK, of course, has early commitments from five-star shooting guard Brandon “BJ” Boston — one of the Cats’ earliest 2020 targets — and four-star wing Cam’Ron Fletcher, a highly athletic prospect with considerable upside.

Kentucky is also high on the list of five-star shooting guard Josh Christopher, who rooted for the Cats growing up in California and includes UK on a list of finalists along with Arizona State, Michigan, Missouri and UCLA. The 6-foot-4 guard is ranked No. 9 nationally — according to the 247Sports composite list — and the Herald-Leader has been told that UK feels optimistic about the chances of eventually landing his commitment.

And there’s Jalen Green, the No. 3 player in the 2020 composite rankings. Another California standout, Green might be UK’s highest priority target moving forward, and he’s expected to announce a college decision Dec. 25. Memphis and Kentucky are seen as the favorites.

To go along with Boston, Fletcher and the possibility of Christopher and/or Green, the Cats will almost certainly return some highly touted guards and wings from this season’s team. Immanuel Quickley, Keion Brooks, Dontaie Allen and Johnny Juzang could all realistically be back in Lexington for another year.

That’s a whole lot of talent.

Running the point

The biggest question related to UK’s current recruiting efforts for 2020: who will be the Cats’ point guard for the 2020-21 season?

That remains unclear, though there are several options and plenty of time to figure it out.

Some possibilities:

Sharife Cooper or Cade Cunningham: These are the only two 2020 point guards with UK scholarship offers right now, but both seem unlikely to end up in Lexington. Pretty much everyone in the recruiting world expects Cooper to land at Auburn (possibly very soon), and Cunningham’s brother was recently hired as an assistant coach at Oklahoma State. (Though there’s a glimmer of hope related to UK’s chances with him in the next note).

Daishen Nix: The highest-profile 2020 point guard without a UK scholarship offer, Nix has been on the Cats’ radar for months and spoke openly this summer about his hope for a meeting with John Calipari, who has watched Nix play on multiple occasions. So far, no meeting or offer has come, and the Herald-Leader was told recently that it remains unclear whether or not UK would strongly pursue the five-star playmaker. CBS Sports had a good rundown of Nix’s complex recruitment, including the hands-on involvement his legal guardian has in the process.

A reclassification: Five-star point guard Devin Askew has an early UK scholarship offer and has mentioned the possibility of moving up to the 2020 class, though his most recent comments have indicated he will stick in 2021. Still, he’s one to keep an eye on. One of UK’s earliest 2021 targets, Terrence Clarke, is widely expected to reclassify to 2020. He’s listed as a shooting guard, though he’s been working on his point guard skills. Other reclassification possibilities are likely to emerge as the cycle continues.

A graduate transfer: If UK really gets in a point guard bind next spring, Lexington would likely be an extremely attractive destination for a veteran playmaker looking to boost his stock in one final season of college ball. All of the aforementioned guard and wing talent expected to be at UK for the 2020-21 season would allow such a player to showcase his abilities. And a steady hand at the point might be all that would be needed to keep that offense running smoothly.

Immanuel Quickley: This option might be the most obvious. Quickley was a McDonald’s All-American point guard in high school but largely played off the ball in his first year at UK. He’s likely to be in that role again this season, with Ashton Hagans returning and the playmaking Tyrese Maxey coming on. Quickley possesses point guard skills, however, and feedback this summer indicates he’s growing in that regard. He’s not expected to be an NBA Draft pick after this season, and if he is indeed back at UK and capable of running the point, he could thrive as a three-year veteran on Calipari’s squad.

Immanuel Quickley responds to Ashton Hagans comment that Kentucky's 2019-2020 backcourt could be 'one of the best ever seen.'

Not over yet?

The chatter all spring was that Cannen Cunningham, the older brother of elite point guard Cade Cunningham, was on the verge of getting a job as an assistant coach at a major college program. That chatter included the notion that wherever Cannen ended up, his brother would follow.

As expected, Oklahoma State hired the elder Cunningham this summer. Cade — the No. 2 player in the Rivals.com rankings — recently cut his list to five schools: Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, Washington, and, of course, Oklahoma State.

Many saw that list cut as a mere formality, still expecting Cunningham to end up in Stillwater.

Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans also has a public prediction in favor of the Cowboys, but — after following Cunningham closely all summer — he has said he’s not convinced this recruitment is finished.

When the news of Oklahoma State’s hire went public, Cade Cunningham told Rivals that he was happy for his brother but that wouldn’t be the determining factor in his college decision.

“And I truly believe that,” Evans told the Herald-Leader this week. “There’s definitely some pressure there on Cade himself: ‘Hey, my brother is there. I need to go there for him.’ There’s also pressure that, ‘If I go there, there’s pressure on me to kind of have that Trae Young effect.’ Not that he can’t do that, because he’s definitely gifted enough. But I do believe that he’s relatively wide open. I think that all of those other four schools have a chance.”

Evans said that Cunningham has expressed a desire to play alongside “elite guys,” and that if Oklahoma State were to land someone like five-star shooting guard Bryce Thompson, a major Cowboys target, that would help their cause. The analyst also expects Cunningham to sign early and help build his chosen school’s 2020 recruiting class.

“He’s going to visit all five programs. It’s going to happen this fall,” Evans said. “And this kid’s not going to waste his own time or the coaches’ time. He’s a mature enough kid to just get it done if it’s not wide open. I’m not willing to say he’s not going to go to Oklahoma State. But this is more wide open than it’s perceived.”

The original 2020 target

Another update from Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans this week: a new prediction in favor of Oregon for five-star wing Scottie Barnes, who was the first player from the 2020 class to land a UK scholarship offer.

Evans has long touted the Ducks as one of Barnes’ possible favorites, and he told the Herald-Leader he thinks they’re in the best spot with the Florida native as the summer ends.

“Oregon has always been the dream school of Scottie,” Evans said this week. “Guys often grow out of their dream schools, right? They get inundated with the recruiting process and they figure out which school is for them and which ones are not. And Scottie is a very educated kid — he’s very street smart; he gets it — but I also think he’s intrigued by the Oregon brand enough and kind of likes to be a little different. And Oregon has that appeal with the Nike brand.”

Nike’s flagship program, Oregon has done well on the recruiting trail in recent years, landing a total of five five-star players and eight four-star players over the past three recruiting cycles alone. If Barnes picked Oregon, that would be four consecutive classes with at least one five-star commitment for the Ducks, who went to the Final Four two years ago,

“I’m not slighting Kansas or Kentucky or Miami or Florida State at all,” Evans said of the Barnes recruitment. “I just think Oregon is in a really, really good spot with him.”

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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