Many of the top high school basketball recruits in the country will be out in Colorado Springs this weekend for a major USA Basketball training camp, but UK is still expecting an impressive group of prospects for Big Blue Madness on Friday night.
The guest list for the season-opening showcase in Rupp Arena includes the Wildcats’ top-ranked commitment, a pair of top-five national recruits, the top in-state prospect, and a handful of younger players that could blossom into major Kentucky targets down the road.
Madness has also yielded some last-minute, surprise visitors in the past, so the Wildcats’ recruiting guest list could grow in the final hours before Friday night’s festivities begin.
A year ago, Terrence Clarke was the No. 1-ranked sophomore in the country when he came to Big Blue Madness on an early recruiting trip. On Friday night, he’ll be back in Lexington for an official visit. This time around, Clarke is coming to town as a UK commitment after pledging to the Wildcats and announcing his reclassification to 2020 last month.
The 6-foot-5 guard from Boston is ranked by Rivals.com and 247Sports as the No. 4 overall player in that 2020 class — making him UK’s top-ranked commitment in five years — and the ebullient prospect will surely be helping the Wildcats’ coaching staff with their recruiting efforts this weekend by pitching the program to his peers.
Four-star power forward commitment Lance Ware was also in Lexington this time last year on an unofficial visit, and he, too, is coming back Friday night for a second Big Blue Madness trip. Ware — ranked by Rivals.com at No. 32 overall in the 2020 class — is one of the fastest-rising prospects in the country and also visited Kentucky last weekend.
The 6-9 post player from New Jersey is Kentucky’s only frontcourt commitment so far for the 2020 class. Like Clarke, he’ll be eligible to officially sign with the Wildcats next month.
Recruiting visits don’t get much bigger than this one.
Cade Cunningham — a 6-foot-7 point guard from Texas — decided to skip the USA Basketball camp in Colorado to instead attend Big Blue Madness, where he’ll get to see the rabid Kentucky fan base up close.
John Calipari has made it clear that he’s looking for at least one more point guard from the 2020 class, and Cunningham has clearly emerged as the Wildcats’ top target. Rivals.com and 247Sports both rank him as the No. 2 overall player in the class. USA Today has him No. 1 in that group. He was named the most valuable player of the highly competitive Nike EYBL travel league over the summer and is already being talked about as a possible No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Calipari has been a regular visitor to his high school in Florida — Montverde Academy — since the fall recruiting period began, and UK assistant coach Tony Barbee was also there last week.
Oklahoma State has been viewed as a major favorite in Cunningham’s recruitment ever since that program hired his older brother, Cannen Cunningham, as an assistant coach back in June. But, in recent weeks, the buzz in recruiting circles has indicated that Cunningham is serious about the possibility of going somewhere else. And, in recent days, Kentucky has emerged as the most likely alternative to Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys should still be considered the team to beat, but Cunningham has lofty individual and team goals that include winning a national title, becoming the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, and ultimately being a max-contract player in the league.
Calipari has the track record — four No. 1 picks and billions of dollars in NBA salaries among his former players — to help make that happen, and Cunningham’s commitment to Kentucky would make the Cats an early favorite for a national title in 2021.
This will be UK’s best shot to make a winning impression on the nation’s top available recruit.
One of the fastest-rising recruits in the country is also the top prospect in the state of Kentucky for the 2020 class.
JJ Traynor — a 6-8 forward with a 7-2 wingspan — made a splash on the summer circuit with his Louisville Legends travel squad, and he’s rocketed up to the No. 77 overall spot in the 247Sports rankings for the class of 2020.
National analyst Evan Daniels watched Traynor during the summer and was at Bardstown High School recently to see him go through preseason workouts.
“My opinion of his game hasn’t changed,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “He brings impressive physical gifts. He’s versatile. He’s a guy that can play both inside and out. And I think he’s a guy with a lot of upside and potential. He does need to get stronger and add some weight to his frame, but you can’t teach the 6-8 and 7-2 wingspan and 36-inch vertical. He’s got some tools, and he’s getting better at just the right time.”
Several college coaches have also been at Bardstown High over the past few weeks, including UK assistant Kenny Payne, a friend and former U of L teammate of Traynor’s head coach, James “Boo” Brewer.
Kentucky has not yet extended a scholarship offer. Neither has Louisville, where Traynor’s father — former Mr. Basketball Jason Osborne — once played. Those two schools are watching close, however. Traynor visited Xavier and Cincinnati last week — both of those schools have offered — and Western Kentucky also has a great shot to land his commitment.
Daniels said that he thinks it’s “likely” Traynor will sign in the early period, which runs Nov. 13-20. If that’s the case, the next few weeks will be very interesting.
John Calipari is hoping to watch Traynor play in an actual game before extending an offer, but Bardstown’s season won’t start until after the early signing period. If Traynor does indeed decide to sign early, will Calipari budge? Or will the in-state star hold off on a decision in order for UK — and possibly other schools — to prioritize him?
Either way, this weekend will be the next chapter in Kentucky’s recruitment of the high-upside forward.
Somewhat lost in the Cade Cunningham mania surrounding this Big Blue Madness is the fact that the Wildcats will also be hosting five-star power forward Paolo Banchero, one of the best high school players in the country, regardless of class.
Banchero — a 6-9 prospect from Seattle — is the No. 2 overall player in the 2021 class, according to Rivals.com, and he was named the MVP of the annual NBPA Top 100 Camp over the summer. Since the fall recruiting period began last month, Calipari has made multiple trips to the West Coast to visit with Banchero and his family, and it’s clear he will be one of UK’s top priorities in the 2021 class.
(There has also been continued speculation that Banchero could reclassify to 2020, though he has repeatedly said that he’s sticking in 2021, and he won’t even turn 17 years old until November).
Washington — the hometown school where both of his parents played sports — had long been assumed to be Banchero’s favorite, but Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans has put in a prediction in favor of Kentucky. Duke appears to be the other top competition if Banchero does leave home for college.
One of the most recent prospects to land a scholarship offer from Kentucky, Moussa Cisse is ranked by 247Sports as the No. 9 player in the 2021 class and hosted Calipari for a recruiting visit just last week.
The 6-10 center will return the favor Friday night by attending Big Blue Madness.
Cisse, who moved from his hometown of Brooklyn to Memphis for his upcoming junior season, will attend the same high school as former UK player Skal Labissiere. Cisse averaged 11.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.8 blocked shots per game on the Nike circuit this past summer and was second in the league in the latter two categories.
The Herald-Leader was told recently that Memphis would be tough to beat for his eventual commitment, but Calipari is obviously putting in the early effort to try and land the top-10 talent.
Emerging as one of the more intriguing prospects in the 2021 class, Trey Kaufman — a 6-9 forward from Sellersburg, Ind. — is now ranked No. 29 overall by 247Sports.
UK assistant coach Joel Justus recently traveled to Kaufman’s high school for a workout, and the four-star recruit will make the 90-minute trip to Lexington for Big Blue Madness on Friday night.
Kaufman has drawn quite the crowd this fall. He already had scholarship offers from such programs as Louisville, Indiana, Purdue and Xavier, and his high school coach told the Herald-Leader that Virginia, Stanford, Michigan and Notre Dame are among the many other schools that have come by for visits.
A skilled forward who averaged nearly double digits in rebounding as a sophomore and can play away from the basket — he was a 43 percent three-point shooter last season — Kaufman is just now getting to know UK’s coaching staff, but he could turn into a prominent Wildcats target as his recruitment continues.
2022 and beyond
As usual, Kentucky is expected to host several high school underclassmen for Big Blue Madness.
One of those players will be class of 2022 point guard Paul McMillan, a relatively local recruit who plays in Cincinnati and is ranked by 247Sports as the No. 34 sophomore in the country. Local schools Cincinnati and Xavier have both already extended scholarship offers.
Also expected on the guest list is Tennessee small forward Brandon Miller, who is ranked No. 14 in the 2022 class by 247Sports and already has an offer from the home-state Volunteers.
A few additional younger recruits are likely to be in attendance.
Big Blue Madness
7 p.m. in Rupp Arena (SEC Network)