UK Recruiting

Kentucky could get creative with basketball recruiting additions for next season

Terrence Clarke sees himself as a ‘positionless’ play-maker

Five-star recruit Terrence Clarke is one of UK's top targets.
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Five-star recruit Terrence Clarke is one of UK's top targets.

This week, we asked readers for questions related to UK’s basketball recruiting efforts and the outlook for this season’s Wildcats team.

In this mailbag installment, Herald-Leader sports writer Ben Roberts takes a look at the recruiting-focused questions. The second part of the mailbag, which will be posted online Friday morning, will explore questions about John Calipari’s 2019-20 squad.

(Note: Questions have been edited for clarity and format).

From @mutehornsection on Twitter: This Daishen Nix situation seems interesting. He seems very interested in UK but hasn’t gotten an offer. What’s the story there? Is UK just that locked into Jalen Green? Who ends up at point guard, and where does Josh Christopher fit in?

We’ll start here, because the first part of this question has been the hot recruiting topic of the week. It was sent in after Daishen Nix — the No. 1 point guard in the 2020 class — cut his list to five schools, a group that included Kentucky despite the Wildcats declining to extend a scholarship offer at that point. The question was also sent in before Nix went ahead and committed to UCLA on Tuesday, making the rare move of announcing for a school less than 24 hours after cutting his list to five.

Some UK fans had hoped the Cats would extend the offer to Nix, who is arguably the best passer in all of high school basketball, and were further upset that he picked UCLA so quickly after his list cut.

But Kentucky’s coaches were watching closely, and they decided not to press the recruitment.

While Nix is definitely a great passer, there have been serious questions about his shot-making ability, particularly from the perimeter. And while he’s a fine defender, there were questions of whether he could be good enough on that end of the floor to make up for his perceived offensive shortcomings. Kentucky also seemed to think that Nix had gotten too deep into the process with some other schools.

So, while he clearly had interest in the Cats and they liked certain aspects of his game, it’s unlikely a scholarship offer would have been headed his way anytime soon.

UK’s decision to pass on Nix wasn’t directly related to Jalen Green — the top combo guard in the 2020 class — or fellow top-10 prospect Josh Christopher, another talented perimeter player, but those are the guards most likely to end up as part of Kentucky’s next wave of recruits.

We’ve heard great things about UK’s chances with Christopher over the past few weeks, and 247Sports’ Evan Daniels was the latest to tell the Herald-Leader that the Cats are in a great position for the California shooting guard.

Green is more of a mystery. He says he’s going to announce a college decision Dec. 25, and Kentucky and Memphis are seen as the two favorites, not necessarily in that order.

Could Green — the No. 3 overall recruit in the 2020 class — be the answer to UK’s point guard question for this cycle? I asked Daniels on Wednesday. “I’ve always evaluated him as a combo guard, because of his ability to pass and distribute,” he said. “I don’t think he’s a true point, but he can certainly play with the ball in his hands in a pinch.”

Sharife Cooper and Cade Cunningham are the two point guards with UK scholarship offers for the 2020 class, but they’re still expected to go to Auburn and Oklahoma State, respectively. Unless there’s a coaching change at either of those schools, that’s probably where they’ll end up.

Kentucky has also been linked to Canadian standout Karim Mane, but he will be eligible for the 2020 NBA Draft and could bypass college altogether. Mane also does not have a Wildcats scholarship offer.

So, if UK is getting a “true” point guard that can be an impact starter for the 2020-21 season, it doesn’t seem likely that player will come from the current 2020 recruiting class. These seem to be the three most likely options (assuming Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey are both pros after this season, of course):

Immanuel Quickley is back at UK for a third season and ready to take on the point guard role that he was expected to play last season.

The Cats land a graduate transfer. You’d think a roster full of talented off-ball guards and wings, which UK should have, would make for an enticing destination for a veteran point guard. All Calipari would need here is someone to keep things running without making mistakes, and he’d pick up some added experience in the process. An intriguing option.

A reclassification from 2021, with five-star point guard Devin Askew being the top name on that list. Askew says he’s sticking in his current class, but the 2020 chatter continues. If UK still needs a difference-maker when spring rolls around, and reclassification is still an option, Askew could rethink the decision to play another year of high school ball.

From @dpars7 on Twitter: In the event that Kentucky loses all three bigs from this season’s team, which we probably will, what bigs do you think we pick up for next season?

First off, expect UK to lose all three bigs from this season’s team. Nate Sestina will obviously be out of eligibility. EJ Montgomery should work his way into NBA Draft territory. And it’s incredibly rare for a five-star prospect to stick around for four seasons at UK. If he does so, Nick Richards would be just the second such player in Calipari’s decade-plus in Lexington. (Alex Poythress, who was injured as a junior, was the other).

So, expect UK to land a few new frontcourt guys for the 2020-21 season.

New Jersey power forward Lance Ware is the most likely to be in that group. He has narrowed his recruitment to five schools, but UK is the favorite. Michigan appears to be the top competition. 247Sports ranks Ware as the No. 33 player in the class.

Don’t be surprised if the Cats land one of either Greg Brown or Isaiah Todd, who are both versatile power forwards and ranked in the top 15 nationally by 247Sports.

Borderline five-star power forwards Dawson Garcia and Isaiah Jackson remain intriguing options. They don’t have UK offers yet, but that could change. Jackson, in particular, is probably not close to a commitment. Bardstown (Ky.) High School power forward JJ Traynor has also emerged as a possibility, though it’s still early in that recruitment.

Based on conversations this week, I’m not expecting Kentucky to land four-star post players Cliff Omoruyi (who has a UK offer) or Mady Sissoko (who does not), though both will remain on the radar for the foreseeable future.

None of the post players Kentucky is currently in the best shape with can be considered anything close to a true “5.” That makes it seem likely that the Wildcats will explore the graduate-transfer route again after this season. They already got Reid Travis and Sestina in back-to-back years, and UK could again be an attractive destination for a veteran frontcourt player looking for a change of scenery.

From @DavidWo69869849 on Twitter: I know Kenny Payne and John Calipari went to see Makur Maker in April. Are they still in talks with him?

We chronicled the latest member of the Maker family earlier this summer. At the time, both Makur — a 7-footer and top-five player in the 2020 class — and his guardian, Ed Smith, sounded genuine in their desire for the cousin of NBA player Thon Maker to play college ball.

In the weeks since, there’s been a growing feeling in recruiting circles that Makur will ultimately end up playing a season of professional ball before heading to the 2021 NBA Draft, with the NBL in Australia — where Makur grew up — being a possible candidate for his services.

As of now, Makur-to-the-pros seems to be the best bet. If he does end up in college first, Oregon is the school that has been getting all the buzz this summer.

Smith told us back in June that they were planning multiple trips to Lexington, including one during the summer, but those visits have yet to happen or even be scheduled. Until he shows up on UK’s campus, there’s no reason to get your hopes up that he’ll be a Wildcat.

From @PerrineStewart on Twitter: What’s the latest on Terrence Clarke?

Clarke — a 6-foot-6ish guard/wing from the Boston area — is ranked as the No. 3 player in the 2021 class, but I’m expecting an announcement soon that he’ll be reclassifying to 2020. Clarke turns 18 years old next month and there’s no reason for him to play high school ball for another two years.

He’s currently at New England powerhouse Brewster Academy (N.H.), but that could also change for what should be his final season of high school ball.

As far as his college recruitment, I was told this week that Kentucky is in a good spot. In fact, the Wildcats and their newest nemesis, Memphis, might be the two schools at the top of his list. Duke could also make a push, especially if/when Clarke announces a move to 2020. (Auburn and LSU were also mentioned as possibilities).

He’s generally listed as a shooting guard, but Clarke told us in the spring that he’s been working on his point guard skills. Penny Hardaway has zeroed in on that, pitching Clarke the idea that he can be the next Penny, who achieved stardom as a bigger point guard in his college and NBA career. Clarke is obviously receptive to that pitch, but the pull of blue-blood Kentucky is strong, as well.

With Memphis and Kentucky also battling it out for Jalen Green, it will be interesting to see which direction these two recruitments go. Landing just one of those players might be enough for the Wildcats, and either would be a major difference-maker next season.

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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