UK Recruiting

With Terrence Clarke committed, will UK move on from Jalen Green and Josh Christopher?

The news of Terrence Clarke’s commitment to Kentucky on Saturday should be cause for celebration among UK basketball fans, who will get to watch one of the top high school prospects in the country play for the Wildcats in the 2020-21 season.

As a result of Clarke’s pledge, however, Kentucky could be taken out of the running for two other highly touted backcourt players.

Josh Christopher and Jalen Green emerged this year as two of John Calipari’s top recruiting targets for the 2020 class, and, at different times, the Cats looked like possible favorites for one or both of those players.

Clarke’s accelerated recruitment has changed that.

The 6-foot-6 shooting guard joined a Kentucky class that already features two promising perimeter players — five-star shooting guard Brandon Boston and four-star wing Cam’Ron Fletcher — for a program that should return a few talented guards and wings from the current team.

Immanuel Quickley, Johnny Juzang, Keion Brooks and Dontaie Allen could all be back for the 2020-21 season — none of those players are widely projected as NBA picks next year — and that should be more than enough off-the-ball firepower for Calipari’s roster a season from now.

247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels wrote in his most recent weekly mailbag: “If Terrence Clarke lands at Kentucky … I think it would effectively end the Wildcats’ recruitments of Josh Christopher and Jalen Green.”

Daniels noted in an interview with the Herald-Leader that Calipari’s early travels in the fall recruiting period could indicate the direction he’s moving to close out his 2020 class.

“Monday was the opening day of the recruiting period, and the first place John Calipari went was to see Cade Cunningham. The second place he went was to see Terrence Clarke,” Daniels said. “I think those are their top two perimeter targets. They got a commitment from Terrence Clarke, and now I think their full attention turns to Cade Cunningham.”

Cunningham is a 6-foot-7 point guard and the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2020 class. His brother was recently hired as an assistant coach at Oklahoma State, but Cunningham has been telling college coaches that he’s still wide open in his recruitment. Kentucky is among his five finalists, and Calipari’s trip to see him Monday indicates the UK coach still thinks he has a legitimate shot at his commitment.

A few days ago, Daniels’ changed his Crystal Ball prediction on Cunningham from Oklahoma State to “undecided.”

Calipari was in California — the home state of both Christopher and Green — on Thursday, but there was no sign that he met with either player during his trip there, instead visiting five-star point guard Devin Askew, who is currently in the 2021 class but could move to 2020. Calipari also visited with Boston and his family Thursday evening.

The thinking in recruiting circles isn’t necessarily that Christopher and Green will no longer be interested in Kentucky now that the Cats have Clarke, but rather that UK will focus its recruiting attention elsewhere. Clarke’s addition gives Calipari yet another highly touted shooting guard and alpha-dog scorer for next season. He’ll have plenty of other options at the guard and wing spots.

What the UK coach is still lacking is certainty at point guard and in the frontcourt. Clarke and Boston can both play the “1” position in a pinch, but neither will be relied upon as the primary point guard. Quickley could be back for a third season, but he’ll need to prove he can play that position at the level Calipari expects, and — even if he does that — UK will still be looking for a second point guard for its 2020-21 roster. Cunningham, still a long shot, and Askew, a more likely commitment, seem to be the leading candidates.

The frontcourt situation is even more precarious. The Cats landed a commitment from Lance Ware on Thursday, but they could lose all three post players — EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards and Nate Sestina — off this season’s team.

UK does have several talented frontcourt targets on its 2020 list, and Calipari and his assistant coaches will likely spend the rest of the cycle focusing on those prospects — and one more point guard — to fill out the class. national analyst Corey Evans also wasn’t high on UK’s chances with Christopher or Green following Clarke’s commitment.

“I would be very, very surprised if Jalen Green goes to Kentucky,” Evans told the Herald-Leader. “Not that those guys couldn’t play together, but then you throw in BJ Boston, as well. I already thought that Memphis was in a good spot with Jalen Green beforehand. And Oregon could make a run. USC could make a run. But I think this makes it very, very difficult to grab a guy like Jalen Green, or even Josh Christopher.”

Green was on Oregon’s campus this weekend for an official visit. National recruiting expert Andrew Slater logged a Crystal Ball prediction in favor of the Ducks on Monday morning, and the Herald-Leader confirmed that Kentucky is indeed no longer pursuing his commitment. There’s also a chance that Green will skip college basketball altogether and play next season overseas before entering the 2021 NBA Draft.

Evans sees Christopher’s approach as similar to Clarke, Boston and some players UK might be bringing back after this season.

“His first intuition is to score the basketball,” he said. “Not that he can’t be a playmaker, but he’s more of a scorer. And there’s a lot of bodies there. Not that he wouldn’t buy into that dynamic, it’s just that you have other schools that are recruiting him that are also very, very good landing spots. Arizona State, he could go and get his. UCLA is a name-brand program. And even Michigan or Missouri, where the backcourt is not as crowded and he could have the ball in his hands more often. It’s going to be difficult to beat that.”

Evans credited Clarke with figuring out where he wanted to play and making a quick decision.

“It was smart on Terrence’s part to do that,” he said. “He kind of put it into his own hands and said, ‘Before anyone else commits to Kentucky, I’m going to take that spot.’”

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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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