Ranking the 10 best University of Kentucky basketball players during the John Calipari era
Sitting next to an NBA front-office type at last weekend’s Nike Skills Academy showcase for high school and college basketball players, Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Corey Evans started talking up Greg Brown, a top-10 recruit in the 2020 class.
Evans said that Brown was one of the best athletes he’d seen in recent years. He captured the NBA guy’s attention by comparing the springy 6-foot-8 forward’s explosiveness to Derrick Jones, the high-flying member of the 2016 class who is now with the Miami Heat.
Right on cue, Brown delivered.
“On the next play, he pretty much jumped from the elbow for a dunk,” Evans recalled. “And when a high-ranking NBA personnel guy’s eyes get wide, that just tells you about the athleticism and the unique factor of Greg Brown.”
That athleticism is part of what has made Brown one of the most coveted recruits in the 2020 class. Kentucky’s coaches saw plenty of the Texas native as he played alongside Cade Cunningham — another top-10 UK recruiting target — on the Nike circuit this spring and summer. The Wildcats quietly extended a scholarship offer following last month’s Peach Jam — neither the player nor his family said anything publicly about it at the time — and then UK ended up as one of Brown’s five finalists when he announced that list earlier this month.
That explosiveness surely captured John Calipari’s attention, and Brown has been showing flashes of progress in other areas over the past few months, most recently at the Nike Skills Academy.
“It was impressive to see Greg do more than just rim-run and finish (alley-oops) and block shots and rebound, which is great and all, but it was nice to see him start the fast break off the glass, make the right play, make the right pass, and also make jump shots,” Evans told the Herald-Leader. “He was making jump shots out of the mid range. He was hitting off the pull. It’s still not all there yet, but he’s definitely working on it. Confidence goes a long way, and that’s reflected by the constant repetitions he’s putting in.”
Evans expects Brown’s best basketball to come at the NBA level, where there’s more spacing and open floor for his athleticism to make an impact. As for what could be just one season of college ball, Brown’s outlook will largely depend on what kind of system he ends up in and what personnel he has around him.
Evans envisioned the possibility of him playing a Jarred Vanderbilt-type role at the next level. UK fans didn’t get to see much of Vanderbilt, but he excelled as a rebounder and caused problems for opponents elsewhere on the floor with his athleticism, quickness and length. In Vanderbilt’s limited time with Kentucky, he averaged 7.9 rebounds despite playing just 17.0 minutes per game.
“He’s going to be someone that defends the ‘3’, ‘4’, and ‘5’. And he’s going to be someone that causes havoc whenever the game speeds up,” Evans said of Brown. “Now, when it slows down, that’s the question mark. … Because he’s so good — he’s the best of the best — whenever the game speeds up. But how good can he be when the game slows down?
“And that’s why it might behoove him to find an up-and-down system, and a place that’s going to develop his ball skills further and his jump shot further. To where maybe he’s making shots from three at a 32-percent clip. That doesn’t sound great, but you have an uber-athlete like that making shots — that changes the ballgame up.”
Brown, who is ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 7 player in the 2020 class, averaged 18.7 points and 8.5 rebounds playing alongside Cunningham — the No. 2 recruit in those rankings — on the Nike circuit. As a high school junior, Brown averaged 30.1 points, 13.5 rebounds and 5.4 blocks per game and was named a MaxPreps All-American despite missing a few weeks of the season with a dislocated finger.
Kentucky’s late entry into his recruitment was enough to land the Wildcats in his final five, but Calipari and company still have plenty of work to do to earn his commitment. Also on Brown’s list are Auburn, Memphis, North Carolina and Texas, the hometown school.
“You can never question an elite prospect whenever John Calipari is in the race,” Evans said. “I think they definitely picked up some ground. I’d be surprised if Greg Brown commits and signs early, which only gives another four or five or six months for UK to pick up more ground there. So that’s definitely a plus. They’re definitely fighting an uphill battle.”
Texas is seen by many as the team to beat. Evans logged a Future Cast prediction in favor of the Longhorns earlier this year, and Brown has deep ties to the school. In addition to Texas being the hometown program, his father was an all-conference football player for the Longhorns and his uncle played basketball there under coach Tom Penders.
Evans said North Carolina is also near the top of Brown’s list and mentioned Memphis as another program with a great shot to land him. “It’s kind of a wide-open race, honestly,” he added. “Much of it is going to come down to the visits and also how this college basketball season goes.”
Brown will likely be watching how Penny Hardaway’s all-star group of incoming freshmen do at Memphis, and Shaka Smart’s long-term job status at Texas has been the subject of much debate. The Longhorns’ showing on the court this season might be the biggest factor in Brown’s recruitment.
“I think a lot is going to go into the elephant in the room, and that’s Shaka’s longevity at Texas,” Evans said. “There’s a lot of talk out there, whether it’s deserved or not. If Shaka can have the kind of year that he expects … I think the chances of landing Greg Brown only improve that much more. I don’t think they’re the clear-cut favorite, but the ball is definitely in their court.”