Four commitments over less than two months have given John Calipari the nation’s No. 1 class with plenty of time left in the 2020 recruiting cycle.
The quartet of early pledges makes for one of Calipari’s quickest starts in building a class, and the Kentucky coach isn’t anywhere close to being finished with this group.
Last week’s commitments — four-star power forward Lance Ware on Thursday and five-star shooting guard Terrence Clarke on Saturday — joined five-star shooting guard Brandon Boston and four-star wing Cam’Ron Fletcher to form UK’s early class for next year.
They’ll be eligible to officially sign with the Cats on Nov. 13.
This is Calipari’s 11th full recruiting cycle in charge of the Wildcats, and he actually had at least four signees in five of his previous 10 classes. But only one of those groups — the eventual national title-winning class of 2011 — had this many commitments this quickly.
Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer all committed to Kentucky before Sept. 1 of their senior year of high school. Other classes took a little while longer to come together.
The 2017 class featured four early signees, but the first commitment in that class didn’t come until Nov. 10. The 2016 class had five early signees, but only one before Oct. 1. The 2014 class included four early signees, but just two before Nov. 1. And the five-man early signing class of 2013 had just one commitment before Oct. 4 of that cycle.
The Herald-Leader was told recently that Kentucky is actually expecting at least one more early commitment for its 2020 class.
The Cats appear to be all set with off-ball guards and wings for next season, but they’re still looking for help at point guard and in the frontcourt.
Post players are likely the biggest need. Ware is the only frontcourt commitment for the Cats so far, and they could lose all three of their current post players — EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards and Nate Sestina — after this season.
UK will probably add at least two more frontcourt recruits to this group. Who will they be?
“It’s a guessing game, isn’t it?” Rivals.com analyst Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader.
Power forwards Greg Brown, Isaiah Jackson and Isaiah Todd, and center Cliff Omoruyi all have scholarship offers from the Cats, and a few others — including Dawson Garcia, JT Thor and Bardstown High School standout JJ Traynor — are on Kentucky’s recruiting radar for 2020.
Another graduate transfer — like Sestina this year and Reid Travis last year — would be an option in the spring. It’s also possible that a star post player from the 2021 class could move to 2020. Paolo Banchero — a major UK target — is still being mentioned as a possible reclassification candidate, but Evans said he doesn’t think that will happen.
The Herald-Leader has been told that Jonathan Kuminga — a 6-8 forward and the No. 1 player in the 2021 class — is a much more likely reclassification candidate for 2020, and UK is likely to be a major player in that recruitment, despite some recent buzz in Duke’s favor. Calipari visited with Kuminga on Monday.
Of the established frontcourt targets for the 2020 class, Jackson — a highly athletic 6-foot-9 prospect from Detroit — is the player that the Herald-Leader was recently told would be the most likely early commitment for Kentucky.
Evans named Alabama, Syracuse and in-state suitors Michigan and Michigan State as possible competition for UK, which hosted Jackson for his first official visit this month.
“Isaiah is probably one of the best defenders in the frontcourt, from a versatility perspective, that I’ve seen in the past seven or eight years,” Evans said. Rivals.com ranks him as the No. 23 overall player in the class.
However, national recruiting expert Andrew Slater logged a Crystal Ball pick Monday in favor of Alabama for Jackson, who has scheduled an official visit to Tuscaloosa for this weekend. Jackson is also expected to take an official visit to Syracuse next weekend.
Todd — a 6-9 prospect at Word of God Academy (N.C.) — hosted UK assistant coach Joel Justus for a visit last Monday, the first day of the fall recruiting period. He’s also considering Kansas, Memphis, Michigan and North Carolina.
“I think Isaiah is going to come down to UNC and Kentucky, just like we thought it would be this time last year,” Evans said. “I think that’s a toss-up.”
Omoruyi — a 6-10 center at Roselle Catholic (N.J.) — has been hosting coaches and going on recruiting visits in recent weeks, but he hasn’t been as closely linked to Kentucky as some others on the Wildcats’ recruiting list. He is scheduled to meet with Calipari in New Jersey on Tuesday.
Brown — another super-athletic 6-9 prospect — hosted Calipari for a visit in his hometown of Austin, Texas, on the third day of the fall recruiting period last week.
“I still think they’re playing catch-up with Greg Brown a little bit,” Evans said. “Cal was there (Wednesday) for him. I still think that Texas and Memphis are the two to beat, but Kentucky is definitely making up ground there. I think it’s more about the point guard. I think Greg wants to play next to a facilitating, playmaking point guard. If Kentucky can deliver that by the time Greg signs in the spring, it’s definitely a possibility.”
Assuming Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey turn pro after the upcoming season — which is the most popular current projection — the Cats will almost certainly be adding a point guard before next season.
“If it’s not Cade and it’s not Devin, who’s it going to be? There just aren’t many options,” Evans said. “It’s not like any other program where you just go and get a solid facilitator. You need a big-time ball player, because, as we know, Cal relies on that point guard to be the head of the snake. So, who can be the head of the snake? There just aren’t many guys available in this class like that.”
Cunningham is a 6-7 prospect and the No. 2 overall player in the 2020 class. He was the first recruit Calipari met with last week, and he was teammates with Brown on the Nike circuit this past summer. Cunningham’s brother is an assistant coach at Oklahoma State, but he’s still listening to other schools.
“I do think that the Cade Cunningham recruitment is wide open. It’s not a done deal for Oklahoma State, whatsoever. If it was, he’d be committed right now,” Evans said. “But, then again, I don’t know that Kentucky would be the landing spot for him. So that just puts even more attention on Devin Askew, and trying to — first of all — get him to reclassify, and then try to get him to commit. But I do think Kentucky is one of the few that has a very, very good shot at Devin.”
Askew, who turns 18 years old next July, is currently in the 2021 class, but he’s often mentioned as a player who could jump to 2020 and play in college next year. Evans has put in a prediction in favor of Kentucky, and — if the Cats do indeed have an opening at point guard after this season — that could be a perfect opportunity for the California native.
Unless the Cats pull an upset with Cunningham, their point guard pursuits are likely to extend into the winter and spring.
So far, this class is off to an exceptional start.
“The term ‘versatility’ is the name of the game there,” Evans said. “You have both Terrence Clarke and BJ Boston that can play the ‘1’ through the ‘3’. You have Cam Fletcher than can play the ‘3’ or the ‘4’. And you have Lance Ware that can play the ‘4’ or the ‘5’. … And it’s mid-September that they got it done?
“That just really allows Cal to zero in on Cade, or zero in on Greg Brown or Isaiah Todd or Devin Askew. And kind of pick what direction he wants to take with the class as a whole and where he wants his roster to be next year.”
UK commitments before Oct. 1 of senior year
|2020||4||Brandon Boston, Terrence Clarke, Cam Fletcher, Lance Ware|
|2019||3||Dontaie Allen, Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney|
|2014||2||Karl-Anthony Towns, Tyler Ulis|
|2011||4||Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Kyle Wiltjer|