UK Recruiting

These will be Kentucky’s biggest recruiting rivals for 2020. (Duke isn’t on the list).

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.

With the fall recruiting period just a couple of weeks away and the 2020 cycle heating up for the nation’s top basketball prospects, Kentucky finds itself set to square off against some unfamiliar competition.

The Cats’ biggest rivals on the recruiting trail this fall and winter likely won’t be the traditional blue bloods like Duke, North Carolina and Kansas. The major threats to another possible No. 1-ranked class for John Calipari — as of now, at least — will come from other schools.

Duke, specifically, has been a thorn in UK’s side in recent years. For the 2020 cycle, the biggest battles in that ongoing recruiting rivalry seem to have already been fought.

The first point guard to land a Kentucky scholarship offer in that class, Jeremy Roach, committed to the Blue Devils back in May, and UK had decided to move on weeks before after seeing the writing on the wall in that recruitment.

A couple of months later, Duke struck again with a commitment from top-10 recruit Jalen Johnson, one of UK’s earliest targets in the 2020 class, a two-time visitor to Big Blue Madness, and a player that professed Kentucky to be his “dream school” growing up.

About three weeks after that, five-star shooting guard Brandon Boston announced his commitment to the Wildcats, picking UK over three other finalists that included Duke, which was seen early on as a possible favorite in his recruitment.

To fill out the rest of their classes, the two college basketball powerhouses seem to be looking in different directions. None of the nine rising seniors with UK scholarship offers are high on Duke’s recruiting wish list, and vice versa for the Blue Devils’ top targets.

That recruiting cold war could heat back up again with the expected reclassification of top-five prospect Terrence Clarke, or if UK and Duke both decided to fully pursue a player like five-star power forward Dawson Garcia.

Until then, the Wildcats will have other foes on the recruiting trail.

Oregon

The Ducks struck the final blow of the 2019 recruiting cycle by nabbing five-star center N’Faly Dante, who chose Oregon over Kentucky, which had targeted the Mali native in a last-ditch effort to land one more big man for the upcoming season.

Recruiting experts expect Dana Altman’s recent run of good fortune to continue.

Scottie Barnes was the first player in the 2020 class to land a scholarship offer from Kentucky — and he’s still listing the Cats among his possibilities — but Oregon has been increasingly seen as his most likely landing spot.

Makur Maker — a top-five player in the 2020 class — now seems more likely to go pro after his final season of high school ball than play in college next year, but if he does choose the latter route, the Ducks are the buzz school in his recruitment.

Nike’s flagship program has had quite the success rate in recent years. In the past three cycles alone, the Ducks have landed five five-star players and 12 Top 100 national prospects, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

They have a promising 2020 outlook, as well.

UCLA

Sticking in the Pac-12, the Bruins made a major splash by landing Daishen Nix, the nation’s No. 1-ranked point guard, to start off their 2020 class last week. That wasn’t a big deal for Kentucky, which was on Nix’s final list but never extended a scholarship offer.

It would be a big deal if UCLA could get a commitment from top-10 recruit Josh Christopher, who lists the Bruins in his final five along with UK, Arizona State, Michigan and Missouri.

Kentucky is seen as the favorite for the 6-4 shooting guard, but the Herald-Leader was told recently that — despite family ties to Arizona State and Missouri — it’s actually UCLA that will likely be the Wildcats’ top competition. Christopher is a native of the Los Angeles area and close friends with Bruins player Shareef O’Neal, son of Shaquille O’Neal.

UCLA is also in the mix for JT Thor, a top-40 recruit who has visited UK multiple times.

Mick Cronin might not play the most exciting style of basketball, but he could be sitting on a pretty big initial recruiting class out west.

Michigan

First-year coach and former Fab Fiver Juwan Howard has generated plenty of excitement before the Wolverines have played a game under his watch, and national recruiting observers have also taken notice.

Howard’s cred as a former college star, NBA veteran, and respected assistant coach in the league should go far on the recruiting trail, and it appears Michigan won’t be shying away from pursuing the nation’s very best talent.

Fast-rising four-star power forward Lance Ware has a final five that consists of Kentucky, Michigan, Miami, Ohio State and Providence. UK is seen as the favorite for the New Jersey standout with Calipari ties, but the Wolverines will be the top competition, and this recruitment could be closer than previously thought.

Michigan is also seen as a dark-horse candidate for the aforementioned Josh Christopher, ranked by 247Sports as the No. 6 player in the 2020 class.

Even if Howard doesn’t land either one of those players, he’ll almost certainly get some five-star commitments in the relatively near future, and he’s likely to be a thorn in UK’s recruiting side at various points in the years to come.

Memphis

The Calipari vs. Penny battles didn’t end with James Wiseman and DJ Jeffries. That was just the beginning.

No program in the country has more current recruiting crossover with the Cats than Memphis, which brought in the nation’s No. 1 ranked class in 2019 on the hype of Penny Hardaway, Mike Miller and company. The Tigers are aiming for another top-ranked class in 2020.

It starts with Jalen Green, the No. 3 player in the 247Sports rankings and likely the No. 1 prospect on the respective recruiting boards of both Kentucky and Memphis.

Green — a 6-5 combo guard from California — is expected to announce his college decision Dec. 25, and UK and Memphis are seen as the two favorites for his commitment.

The Cats and Tigers also find themselves in the final five for both Greg Brown and Isaiah Todd, two versatile power forwards who are ranked among the nation’s top 10 overall prospects.

Brown — an Austin, Texas, native — has been most strongly linked to the hometown Longhorns and North Carolina, but Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader this month that Memphis was a team to watch in his recruitment. UK would also love to have him.

Todd — playing his final high school season for John Wall’s alma mater in North Carolina — was long seen as a UK lean, but his recruitment has grown a bit fuzzier in recent months. And the recruiting world has learned that whenever Hardaway and Memphis are on a list of finalists, the Tigers can’t be counted out.

If Terrence Clarke — currently the No. 3 overall player in the 2021 class — does indeed reclassify to 2020, the Herald-Leader was told last week that UK and Memphis would be the two schools at the top of his list. A 6-6 combo guard, Clarke would be an instant-impact college player.

Hardaway’s first season with a roster filled with five-star recruits will certainly be worth watching, on and off the court.

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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