UK Recruiting

Calipari expected to see in-state basketball recruit soon. ‘They are very interested.’

The first couple of weeks of college basketball’s fall recruiting period have made Bardstown High School a busy place.

After senior power forward JJ Traynor’s breakout summer, that was to be expected.

UK assistant coach Kenny Payne was among the visitors for Thursday’s 6 a.m. workout at the school, and he wasn’t alone.

Cincinnati head coach John Brannen was there for the second time since the recruiting period began last Monday. The Bearcats have made Traynor a major priority.

Xavier head coach Travis Steele was also there, and he extended a scholarship offer later in the day.

Traynor — the son of former Kentucky Mr. Basketball Jason Osborne — has become quite the attraction, and his best basketball is still way ahead of him.

“He’s the type of player that is only going to get better,” Bardstown Coach James “Boo” Brewer told the Herald-Leader. “He’s got great length. He’s very willing to put in the work. … He’s athletic. Even though his dad was good — he’s more athletic than his dad, and that’s saying a lot. His shot is coming along. Eighteen (feet) and in, he’s really solid. And his three-point shot is getting a whole lot better, which I love.

“I just love the way that he’s going about everything. He’s working extremely hard to become the best version of JJ that he can.”

Traynor rode a stellar summer with Coach Dion Lee and the Louisville Legends — his first summer of AAU ball, Brewer noted — to a top-100 national ranking. 247Sports ranks the 6-foot-8 forward as the No. 77 overall player in the 2020 class. Rivals.com placed him at No. 88.

“When I watched him, I was really impressed with his versatility,” 247’s Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader recently. “I was impressed, obviously, with the physical gifts. But then he had some flashes of skill that were really impressive. I thought his footwork around the basket was impressive. But then he was able to step out on the floor and make mid-range jump shots. He even hit a couple of threes. … I just think there’s a lot of upside there.”

College coaches are coming to the same conclusion.

The crowd at Bardstown on Thursday morning was no anomaly. Coaches from Louisville, Maryland, Missouri, Virginia Tech and DePaul have been in over the past few days. Western Kentucky’s Rick Stansbury brought his coaching staff to town Tuesday.

Brewer said he’s expecting U of L assistant Dino Gaudio to visit for the second time in as many weeks Friday, and Cardinals head coach Chris Mack is planning to be on that trip.

Traynor’s father played for U of L after his McDonald’s All-American high school career at Male High School, and Brewer is one of the program’s most prolific three-point shooters, but the coach doesn’t think those Cardinal ties will play a major factor in Traynor’s own college choice.

“He’s a very intelligent and humble young man,” Brewer said. “The thing with him is he loves basketball. His dream is to play at the next level, and he just wants to go somewhere he can successfully do that.”

That could ultimately be Louisville. Or Kentucky. Or somewhere else.

Payne’s interest in Traynor is noteworthy. UK has signed just three in-state players in a decade under John Calipari’s watch — Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins and incoming freshman Dontaie Allen — but the Wildcats’ pursuit of Traynor appears to be getting serious.

Thursday morning’s workout marked the first time that Payne and Traynor had met for a face-to-face conversation. Their previous communication had been on the phone.

“After Kenny saw him for the first time — in person, one on one — they are very interested. They love what he can become,” Brewer said. “And they love his skill set, his length. He’s 6-8 and a half with a 7-2 wingspan, a 91-inch standing reach, a 35-inch vertical — that’s pretty good.”

Brewer said Traynor is already well aware of Payne’s reputation as a top-notch developer of post players. The UK assistant coach also goes way back with Traynor’s coach. Brewer and Payne were teammates at U of L in the late 1980s, and they’ve remained close in the years since.

“He’s taught me a lot, as far as basketball and how to become a man,” Brewer said. “Our friendship is still the same. I can still call him and talk to him — he’s like a mentor to me.”

The Bardstown coach added that he sometimes goes to Lexington to check in on UK practices and has attended Calipari’s annual coaching clinic.

In the near future, the roles will be reversed, and it’ll be Calipari walking into Brewer’s gym.

The topic of a UK scholarship for Traynor has been brought up, but Payne told his old friend that Calipari would need to see more of Traynor before that happens. No exact date has been set for that, but Brewer said Payne told him to expect Calipari “soon.”

“That’s understandable,” Brewer said. “ I think it speaks volumes to JJ and his work ethic that they took the time to come to a 6 a.m. workout and now Calipari is going to come and watch him, as well. … That’s promising.”

Brewer also confirmed that Traynor is still on for a visit to Big Blue Madness next month, and he’ll be accompanying him on that trip. There’s no set timetable for Traynor’s college decision, but — as UK continues to search for more frontcourt help in the 2020 class — the Cats remain a possibility.

“He knows Kentucky’s tradition — he’s a Kentucky boy, and he knows what they can do with players, as far as development and putting them in a position to be successful,” Brewer said. “For a 17-year-old, that’s very interesting.”

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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