UK Recruiting

New developments (some in Kentucky’s favor) with several basketball recruits for 2020

With a little more than a month to go until the early signing period for college basketball recruits, Kentucky has just one commitment from a frontcourt player for next season: four-star power forward Lance Ware.

Ware — a 6-foot-9 prospect from New Jersey — will be in Lexington this weekend for his official visit to UK, and the Cats are likely to add two or three (or maybe more) frontcourt recruits to their 2020 class.

Here’s the latest on the Wildcats’ top options at those positions, in order of most intriguing new developments on each player’s recruitment:

Scottie Barnes

His 6-foot-8 frame often gets him lumped in with the frontcourt players, but Barnes’ skilled and multi-dimensional game could put him anywhere from point forward to stretch “4”on the court in college.

Though he was the first player from the 2020 class to land a UK scholarship offer, there hasn’t been much buzz surrounding Barnes and the Wildcats in recent months. That’s about to change.

Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader that he spent some time with the Florida native this week and was surprised by how much he talked about Kentucky. “They really are a legitimate suitor for him,” Evans said.

Barnes — ranked No. 9 in the class by Rivals.com — wants to be a one-and-done player at the next level, and Evans said the recruit sees UK as one of the best options to make that happen.

He has already taken official visits to Florida State and Oregon, but a couple more trips are in the works.

Evans said he expects Barnes to take official visits to Kentucky and Miami and then make a decision in time for the early signing period, which ends Nov. 20. That trip to UK could come on Oct. 18 or Oct. 25, according to Evans, who also told the Herald-Leader that he would currently handicap the chances to land Barnes at 50 percent for Florida State, 40 percent for Oregon and 10 percent for Kentucky.

Of course, an official visit to UK could increase the Wildcats’ chances.

Barnes is also high school teammates with five-star point guard Cade Cunningham, who is UK’s top remaining target in the 2020 class and is still a legitimate option for the Wildcats.

Isaiah Jackson

At the beginning of this fall recruiting period, Jackson appeared to be the most likely player to commit to Kentucky before the early signing window.

That might still be the case.

The 6-9 power forward from Detroit narrowed his college options to UK, Alabama and Syracuse this week. He has taken official visits to UK and Syracuse, and he’ll be on Alabama’s campus later this month for what is likely to be the final trip of his recruitment.

Rivals.com’s Corey Evans has written recently that he likes Alabama’s chances to land Jackson, though he has not yet made a Future Cast prediction on the player’s page. His colleague at Rivals.com, national analyst Eric Bossi, wrote this week that he thinks UK has the slight edge.

That outcome wouldn’t surprise Evans.

“It’s going back and forth, honestly,” he said. “One week you think it’s Kentucky, the next week you think it’s Alabama. … I do think he’s going to sign early.”

Evans noted the “fluid” state of Jackson’s recruitment, saying that a few months ago it looked like an in-state battle between Michigan and Michigan State. Then, once he landed a UK offer, some recruiting experts thought he was a lock for the Wildcats. Now, he’s down to a final three.

“I think Alabama is in a good spot. But if I’m going to sit here and credibly say, ‘I think he’s going to Alabama,’ or, ‘I think he’s going to Kentucky,’ I’d be out of out my mind,” Evans said. “I just don’t have a great feel — and I don’t think anyone has a great feel — for the whole situation there.”

Rivals ranks Jackson as the No. 23 player in the class.

JJ Traynor

The fast-rising forward from Bardstown is also going through an ever-changing recruitment. Traynor visited Cincinnati, Xavier and Kentucky on consecutive days this week and will spend the weekend on an official visit to Louisville, where his father — former Mr. Basketball Jason Osborne — once played.

Rivals.com’s Corey Evans made a Future Cast prediction in favor of U of L last week, but that was before the trip to UK materialized.

“My feeling — before the Kentucky visit was scheduled — was that I thought Louisville was going to push for a commitment this weekend,” Evans told the Herald-Leader. “And Kentucky might’ve got wind of it, and — in order to slow him down — they bring him on campus and make him think twice. Maybe that’s accurate, maybe it’s not, but it would definitely align with what I think is going on.”

UK has not yet extended a scholarship offer, and assistant coach Kenny Payne — the Wildcats’ lead recruiter — has told Traynor’s camp that John Calipari likely needs to see him play before that offer comes. Traynor is planning to be at Big Blue Madness next weekend (assuming he does indeed leave Louisville this weekend as an uncommitted player).

Rivals ranks Traynor as the No. 88 player in the class.

Cliff Omoruyi

The closest player to a true center with a UK scholarship offer for next season, Omoruyi’s recruitment appears wide open heading into the fall.

The 6-10 prospect from New Jersey — and originally from Nigeria — recently “narrowed” his recruitment to 13 schools, including Kentucky.

Rivals.com’s Corey Evans made a public prediction in favor of Arizona State last week. 247Sports national analyst Brian Snow made a Crystal Ball pick for the Sun Devils on Thursday.

“It’s just some rumors swirling right now,” Evans told the Herald-Leader. “But the thing is: he is not signing early. If he signs early, it’s going to take a lot for one specific program — they have to do some damage in the next few weeks. So there is going to be some time before a commitment happens.”

Evans noted that Omoruyi — ranked No. 54 by Rivals — took an official visit to Auburn last month, then canceled some of his other planned trips. UK assistant coach Tony Barbee recently visited his high school — the alma mater of Kahlil Whitney and Isaiah Briscoe — but there has been no confirmation that John Calipari has been there this fall.

“They want to see how the season plays out,” Evans said. “And they want to see — everyone is saying they want him, but who is really, really going to show it to them throughout the last five or six months before the late signing period?”

Isaiah Todd

One of UK’s original targets for the 2020 class, Todd announced Monday that he will reveal his college decision Oct. 17, and he has narrowed his recruitment to Kansas and Michigan.

The 6-10 forward — ranked No. 10 by Rivals — is playing his final season of high school ball in Raleigh, N.C.

UK assistant coach Joel Justus visited Todd and his family on the first day of the fall recruiting period, but there hadn’t been much Kentucky buzz since, and John Calipari did not meet with him this fall, deciding instead to prioritize other frontcourt targets. There has also been talk of Todd playing professionally next season.

Greg Brown

Brown — a 6-8 forward from Austin, Texas — is actually the highest-ranked frontcourt target on UK’s list for 2020, coming in at No. 7 on Rivals.com’s list of recruits. He has narrowed his recruitment to Kentucky, Auburn, Memphis, North Carolina and Texas.

The hometown Longhorns — the team his father played football for — remain the likely favorite, but a subpar season in Texas could open the door for UK and others. Brown is set to visit Lexington in January and will not make a college decision until the spring.

Other options

Class of 2021 standouts Paolo Banchero and Jonathan Kuminga continue to be mentioned as reclassification candidates, with Kuminga — the No. 1 player in 2021 — thought to be the most likely to jump to the 2020 class. Some recruiting analysts are picking Duke for Kuminga, but the buzz that he and UK commitment Terrence Clarke are talking about teaming up in Lexington is legitimate. Banchero is the No. 2 player in Rivals’ rankings for 2021 and will be at UK for Big Blue Madness next weekend.

Neither Makur Maker (No. 8 in the Rivals rankings) nor JT Thor (No. 53 overall) is expected to land at Kentucky, which has not offered either player. Maker is still more likely to play pro ball next season. Georgia and Oklahoma State are seen as favorites for Thor.

It still seems likely that UK will add at least one graduate transfer to its group of 2020 recruits, especially if both EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards depart Lexington after this season. Calipari won’t go into a season with an all-freshman frontcourt, so UK will surely be monitoring possible grad transfer bigs to bolster the 2020-21 roster.

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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