UK Recruiting

What to watch for with Kentucky basketball recruiting over the next few (busy) weeks

With plenty of off-the-ball perimeter players already committed to Kentucky — or expected to return — for next season, and the frontcourt recruiting situation still in flux, it’s the point guard spot that continues to be most intriguing in the weeks leading up to UK’s early signing period.

For right now, the ball seems to be entirely in Devin Askew’s court.

The 6-foot-3 point guard from California starts his final tour of visits this weekend with a trip to Arizona, followed by a visit to Memphis late next week and an official visit to Kentucky right after that. He’s expected to choose one of those schools or Louisville — and, most likely, it’ll either be UK or U of L — sometime in October, well ahead of the signing period that runs Nov. 13-20.

Askew remains in the 2021 class and could stay in that group for the time being, meaning he wouldn’t sign with the school of his choice in November. Still, if that program has a need at point guard come next spring — and both UK and Louisville are looking like they will — recruiting insiders are still expecting that Askew will ultimately make the jump to 2020.

This will be the recruitment to watch for UK fans in the coming weeks, and the Herald-Leader has been told that the Wildcats are optimistic of their chances of landing Askew, who is ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 9 overall player in the 2021 class.

Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader earlier this week that he’s sticking with his UK prediction, and Askew’s Crystal Ball page has been quiet in recent days, despite the high-profile nature of his recruitment and his impending decision.

With Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey projected as NBA Draft picks after this season, John Calipari is clearly looking for one more point guard for the 2020-21 campaign, either to complement the possible return of Immanuel Quickley or to take over the primary responsibilities at the position.

As it stands, Askew appears to be, by far, the most likely option.

Cade Cunningham — the top-ranked uncommitted recruit in the country — was the first player that Calipari visited to start the fall recruiting period, but the buzz of UK’s chances with him have continued to die down in recent weeks. Oklahoma State, where his brother is an assistant coach, remains the favorite. North Carolina, where he will visit this weekend, remains the main alternative, according to recruiting analysts.

Sharfie Cooper, who landed a UK scholarship offer last fall, committed to Auburn on Friday night.

Canadian guard Karim Mane has become another popular candidate to fill the spot, but 247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader recently that he doesn’t classify Mane as a point guard. “I don’t think he’s like your true set-up guy, but he’s definitely a combo who can pass and can really score,” he said.

Mane, who turns 20 years old in May, will be eligible for next year’s NBA Draft — and ESPN projects him as a first-round pick — throwing more uncertainty into his college recruitment. Daniels, however, doesn’t expect him to go the pro route right away. “I can’t imagine that he actually makes that move,” he said. “I think college seems to be (more likely).”

The analyst also noted that Maryland could be a major player in his recruitment, but past that, it seems relatively wide open. UK has yet to show serious interest this fall.

If the Cats miss on Askew — and can’t pull the upset with Cunningham, who will also decide this fall — perhaps Mane could get more attention as a complement to a player like Quickley.

If UK can land Askew, the Cats’ complete recruiting attention for 2020 is likely to shift to the frontcourt, where much is unsettled.

Latest with Isaiah Todd

Kentucky appears set with off-ball guards and wings after the early commitments of Brandon Boston, Terrence Clarke and Cam’Ron Fletcher, plus the players who should return at those positions from this season’s team.

The question remains: who will join Lance Ware — the Cats’ lone frontcourt commitment — especially if EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards join Nate Sestina in departing the program after this season.

For a while, it looked like five-star forward Isaiah Todd might be the most likely addition. North Carolina — long considered to be UK’s top competition — has hosted him for several campus visits in recent weeks, however, and Rivals.com’s Corey Evans wrote this week that he thought Todd would ultimately end up in Chapel Hill.

Evans walked that prediction back a bit in an interview with the Herald-Leader this week.

“That thing is so fluid now,” he said. “If you would have asked me two days ago, I would have thought it was nearly done for UNC. But it’s been so fluid, which really wouldn’t surprise you if you’ve been following Isaiah Todd, because that’s how it’s been for the past year or so.”

UNC already has commitments from Walker Kessler and Day’Ron Sharpe, two other five-star big men in the 2020 class. Evans pointed out that there are questions as to whether McDonald’s All-American freshman Armando Bacot — another five-star big man — will be a one-and-done player. And top returning scorer Garrison Brooks — yet another post player — could still be around for a senior season after this one.

“Now, Isaiah is way different than those kind of guys, and UNC definitely relies on multiple big-man lineups,” Evans said. “But I might need to walk back away from what I said (earlier this week) and I think it might be a little more wide open than previously assumed.”

Evans noted that he does consider Michigan a darkhorse candidate to land Todd. (The Wolverines will host him for a visit this weekend). UK, Memphis and Kansas are the other three in his group of finalists.

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Other UK frontcourt targets

Isaiah Jackson — a 6-9 power forward from Detroit — has had a similarly fluid recruitment. As recently as a couple of weeks, it was Jackson who seemed like he might be the Cats’ most likely commitment to finish out the fall recruiting period. Since then, there hasn’t been much buzz.

Syracuse is expected to host Jackson for an official visit this weekend. Alabama has emerged as a very real contender. National recruiting expert Andrew Slater recently logged a Crystal Ball pick in favor of the Crimson Tide, who will host Jackson for an official visit next month. Michigan and Michigan State are also still getting mentions. His ultimate destination remains unclear.

Bardstown forward JJ Traynor will be an interesting player to follow over the next several weeks. UK assistant coach Kenny Payne visited last week, and the Wildcats have definite interest in the in-state prospect, but Calipari has yet to see him play in an actual game. The UK head coach is expected to visit for an open gym sometime soon. Will that be enough to pull the trigger on a scholarship offer?

If it’s not — and Calipari would rather see more of him during the high school season — will Traynor hold off on a college decision beyond the early signing period?

Cincinnati, Xavier and Western Kentucky are among his current offers, and Louisville could join that list. Evans made a prediction in favor of the Cards this week. If UK offers, the Cats could take the lead. If they don’t, Traynor could stick to his original timeline of an early decision.

Top-10 recruit Greg Brown — a 6-9 power forward — will visit UNC with Nike league teammate Cade Cunningham this weekend. If the Tar Heels can land Cunningham, that would help them with Brown’s recruitment. (So, UK fans should probably hope that — if Calipari can’t land Cunningham — he ends up at Oklahoma State). Kentucky will host Brown for an official visit during the season, and he’s not planning to make a college decision until the spring.

UK assistant coach Tony Barbee visited the other 2020 frontcourt player with a UK offer — four-star center Cliff Omoruyi — a few days ago, but there’s been very little buzz regarding the Wildcats in that recruitment lately.

UK vs. Duke for No. 1

Duke landed the commitment of four-star power forward Henry Coleman on Friday, and that addition gave the Blue Devils a fourth top-50 recruit to go along with previous commitments Jalen Johnson, Jeremy Roach and DJ Steward.

That haul still isn’t enough for Duke to overtake UK for the No. 1 spot in the class rankings for 2020, according to the 247Sports class calculator, which still grades the Wildcats’ four-man class of Terrence Clarke, Brandon Boston, Lance Ware and Cam’Ron Fletcher just slightly ahead of Duke’s group.

Like in past years, the UK-Duke recruiting battle won’t be decided until late in the cycle. And the No. 1 class ranking might ultimately go to whoever lands Jonathan Kuminga, who is currently the No. 1 player in 2021 but is a candidate to reclassify into 2020.

There has been plenty of Duke buzz around Kuminga — a 6-8 forward — in recent weeks, but he and Clarke have also talked about teaming up in college, and UK is making him a major priority. There is no timetable for Kuminga’s decision on a college destination or reclassification.

North Carolina looming

Another blue-blood is likely to join UK and Duke in the battle for the No. 1 spot.

North Carolina already has commitments from five-star frontcourt players Walker Kessler and Day’Ron Sharpe, and the Tar Heels are major favorites to land five-star point guard Caleb Love in the very near future. According to the 247Sports class calculator, that would put UNC just behind Kentucky and Duke, at No. 3 in the 2020 rankings.

With the Heels still in the mix for top talent such as Cade Cunningham, Greg Brown, Isaiah Todd, Ziaire Williams, Dawson Garcia and others, they could realistically end up in the top spot for 2020.

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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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