The fall recruiting period is still less than a week old, and the early signing period for high school basketball prospects is still two months away, but John Calipari isn’t wasting any time.
On Saturday afternoon, the Kentucky coach landed the biggest addition yet for what is shaping up to be his next No. 1-ranked recruiting class.
Five-star shooting guard Terrence Clarke — a 6-foot-6 prospect from Boston and one of the nation’s top high school players, regardless of class — announced his commitment to Kentucky on Saturday.
“Coach Cal kept it real with me,” Clarke said at his announcement ceremony. “He always told me since day one, when he was talking to me, ‘If you come to Kentucky, you’re gonna have to work.’ And that’s one of the things I need. I need a coach that’s going to push me, make me a better player and person. And, me going to Kentucky, I can just elevate my game to the next level. And get to the next level.”
Clarke picked the Wildcats over fellow finalists Boston College, Duke, Memphis, Texas Tech and UCLA.
“He’s one of the elite players in the country,” 247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “He brings a scoring punch. He’s a kid with good size for the position. He’s a good athlete. He really knows how to put the ball in the basket, and he can do it from all three levels. He’s made some strides as a shot-maker from distance. And I think he really wants to be good and puts the time in.”
Clarke, who turned 18 years old this month, also revealed Saturday that he will move to the 2020 class, and 247Sports now ranks him as the nation’s No. 4 player in that group.
“Yeah, he’s that good. This is a significant commitment,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “He’s every bit a top-five player, and any time you’re able to reel in that type of talent, it’s a big deal. He’s a tremendous prospect, and I think he’s one of the best scorers in the country. He’s an immediate impact-type guy that will average double-digit points per game and really help them across the board in his first year at Kentucky.”
If Clarke’s ranking holds, he will be Calipari’s first top-five recruit since Skal Labissiere, who committed to the Cats in November 2014 and came to UK as the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2015 class. In Calipari’s first six recruiting classes at Kentucky, he had nine other players that finished top five in the national rankings.
Clarke also bolsters a Kentucky recruiting class that was already ranked No. 1 nationally. The Cats got summer commitments from five-star shooting guard Brandon Boston and four-star wing Cam’Ron Fletcher, and they landed another pledge Thursday from four-star power forward Lance Ware, one of the fastest-rising prospects in the 2020 class.
With several five-star possibilities still on the board and UK likely to add two or three more players to its 2020 group, the Cats’ are arguably the favorites to end the cycle with the nation’s No. 1-ranked class.
Kentucky had long been considered one of the favorites for Clarke, who has been on the Wildcats’ radar for years. UK assistant coach Tony Barbee started recruiting him in the ninth grade. He was a visitor for last year’s Big Blue Madness. And Calipari zeroed in on him in recent weeks.
Clarke’s timetable sped up once the summer recruiting period ended. He said on Aug. 30 that he would announce his college decision Saturday, despite taking recruiting visits to only two of the schools on his list: Kentucky and hometown Boston College.
On Monday, the first day of the fall recruiting period, Clarke hosted Calipari for a visit. Two days later, Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway — once viewed as possibly UK’s top competition for Clarke’s commitment — canceled his own recruiting visit with the dynamic prospect.
By that point, it was clear to everyone that Clarke would be a Wildcat.
Playing this spring on the Nike circuit, Clarke averaged 17.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game and went 22-for-65 (33.8 percent) from long range.
Clarke spoke earlier this year about how he was working on his point guard skills, but he’s at his best off the ball, and that’s the role Kentucky fans are likely to see him play next year.
“I don’t think he’s a point guard. I do think he’ll play — just as any other perimeter player would — with the ball in his hands some,” Daniels said. “And when he’s motivated to, he can certainly pass. But he’s more of an off guard, and I honestly think you’d be taking away some of his strengths if you put the ball in his hands and told him to play with it primarily. Is he skilled enough to do so? Yeah, probably. But this is an elite-level scorer, and I think that’s the role that you would want him in.”
Clarke also has a strong outlook as a perimeter defender.
“He can guard multiple positions,” Daniels said. “He’s got the potential to be a very good defender. He has to stay locked in at all times, but his size, length, lateral movement, athleticism, agility all factor in to him having the chance to be a really good defender one day.”
Ultimately, the Wildcats’ newest commitment is yet another talented, versatile player in a backcourt that should be filled with them next year. Clarke should thrive alongside Boston — “those are two of the best scorers in the country,” Daniels said — and he could get even more help on the perimeter with the possible returns of current freshmen such as Johnny Juzang, Keion Brooks and Dontaie Allen.
The combinations for Calipari will be plentiful, said Rivals.com analyst Corey Evans.
“He is a legitimate top-five talent. The guy is going to get to the bucket,” he said. “They could put him next to BJ Boston — and if Juzang returns — man, you give me a good point guard with that team, that’s outstanding. But it all starts with Terrence Clarke, and I think he will be the leading scorer for Kentucky — that go-to scorer — next year, just because of how talented he is.”