UK Recruiting

Scheduling conflict could have major effect on recruiting plans for Big Blue Madness

Many of John Calipari’s top recruiting targets could have a tough decision to make in the coming weeks.

For the first time, this year’s Big Blue Madness will be held on the same date as the annual USA Basketball October minicamp, placing two of the biggest recruiting draws of the fall on the same weekend and creating a conundrum for high school players who might have otherwise attended both events.

The USA Basketball camp — now in its 11th year — is set for Oct. 11-13 in Colorado Springs, and it has evolved into one of the most important showcases for high school prospects on the recruiting calendar.

The event draws dozens of the nation’s highest-ranked players from multiple high school classes, and it’s been an influential evaluation opportunity for future USA Basketball events like the Nike Hoop Summit and inclusion on USA travel teams that play at FIBA events around the world.

Big Blue Madness, of course, signifies the annual tip-off to Kentucky basketball season, and — under Calipari’s watch — has evolved into the program’s biggest recruiting weekend, often drawing a dozen or so Wildcats targets from different age groups. Upperclassmen guests often stay in Lexington for the entire weekend, using the trip for their official visit to UK.

This year’s Madness event will be held Oct. 11, the first night of the USA Basketball camp. Tickets for Madness are set to be distributed Sept. 27.

The conflict has already likely affected the Wildcats’ guest list for Madness.

Five-star shooting guard Jalen Green — the No. 3 overall player in the 2020 class — announced this past weekend that he will take his official visit to Kentucky on Oct. 18, the week after Madness. Green — a California native — also announced visits to Southern Cal, Auburn, Oregon and Memphis. He left the Oct. 11 weekend free from recruiting obligations so he could attend the USA Basketball minicamp in Colorado Springs.

Over the summer, Green was mentioned as a possible visitor for Big Blue Madness weekend, and three other highly touted prospects from the 2020 and 2021 classes have already announced plans to be at Kentucky’s signature recruiting event.

Cade Cunningham (No. 2 in the 2020 rankings), Josh Christopher (No. 9 in 2020) and Paolo Banchero (No. 4 in the 2021 class) were all confirmed for Big Blue Madness visits. All three of those players are likely to be on the list of invitees to USA Basketball camp — that list is expected to be released later this month — and those recruits and other highly ranked prospects eyeing Big Blue Madness will then have to decide where they’ll go that weekend.

Banchero, Christopher and Cunningham all participated in last year’s October minicamp in Colorado Springs, and Brandon Boston — the Wildcats’ highest-ranked commitment for the 2020 class — was also at the USA Basketball camp.

Last year’s camp also featured several players who also attended Big Blue Madness the following weekend, including Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney, Terrence Clarke, Vernon Carey and RJ Hampton. All four of UK’s eventual out-of-state signees for the 2019 class — Keion Brooks, Johnny Juzang, Maxey and Whitney — received invitations to last year’s USA camp.

In the past, this hasn’t been a problem for Kentucky.

Big Blue Madness has been the week after the October minicamp — which is typically held earlier in the month — in each of the last three years, and Madness was two weeks after the USA camp in each of the three years before that.

This year’s USA camp also won’t conflict with any marquee recruiting events for the other blue-blood schools. North Carolina’s Late Night With Roy is Sept. 27, Kansas’ Late Night in the Phog is Oct. 4, and Duke’s Countdown to Craziness is Oct. 18.

Memphis, which could be UK’s top recruiting rival for the remainder of the 2020 cycle, will have its midnight madness event Oct. 3. Green will take his official visit to Memphis during that weekend.

If UK’s highest-priority targets for the 2020 class do decide to skip Big Blue Madness so they can compete at the October minicamp, there will obviously be other opportunities to see Lexington between now and the early signing period in November.

Green’s official visit weekend will coincide with the Blue-White Game, for instance. But it’s unlikely that the energy level (or attendance) of Madness night will be matched at Rupp Arena until Louisville comes to town on Dec. 28.

Calipari’s annual weekend tailored to top recruits and their families could look a lot different this time around.

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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