It’s been a year and a half since Scottie Barnes became the first basketball recruit from the class of 2020 to land a UK scholarship offer.
Barnes — a 6-foot-8 forward from Florida — was still a sophomore in high school at the time of that offer. Now, he’s a senior, nearing a college decision, and he’s still ranked among the top 10 prospects in the country.
For several months recently, it seemed like Kentucky was no longer a serious option for Barnes, who has been relatively quiet about his recruitment. Other schools were getting more publicity, and the Wildcats were rarely mentioned as real contenders for his commitment.
That might be changing.
Barnes told the Herald-Leader on Friday night that he is planning to take an official visit to Lexington this coming weekend, a trip that will include the annual Blue-White Game and give John Calipari and the Wildcats’ coaching staff one final shot in his recruitment.
That visit will put UK in very select company. Barnes has taken two other official visits — to Florida State and Oregon (the Crystal Ball favorite) — and he said he’s planning to make a college commitment in time to sign during the early period, which begins Nov. 13. An official visit to Miami has also been mentioned as a possibility, but Barnes said Friday night he was unsure if that trip would happen.
Rivals.com ranks Barnes as the No. 9 overall recruit in the 2020 class, and he’ll be an instant-impact player at whichever college he chooses.
“I still think it’s Florida State. And then Oregon — I think it’s 1A and 1B,” Rivals analyst Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader. “I can’t discount Calipari, because it’s Cal and it’s Kentucky. I think they are serious suitors for him. … Scottie wants to play with other elite guys. That’s his personality. That’s his nature. That’s his DNA. But I still think they’re playing catch-up.”
The upcoming official visit could go a long way.
Kentucky the right fit?
Barnes is clearly open to Kentucky’s recruiting pitch. Calipari was at Montverde (Fla.) Academy — where Barnes will play his senior season — a few days ago, and that visit left a positive impression.
“The goals I really want, Kentucky really brings to that table,” Barnes said. “I want to be a one-and-done, get to the league. And not just be in the league for a few years — they proved that they really get people to the league and they stay 10, 15 years. I want to be like that in the future.”
All summer and fall — and, most recently, at Big Blue Madness — Calipari has continued to talk about the number of his former players that have signed maximum-level contracts in the NBA. Those comments are directed at recruits like Barnes, and it’s a pitch that’s clearly landing.
“He really talked to me about what he can do for me as a player,” Barnes said. “He talks to me about my goals and dreams, and how he can really make those come true.”
Barnes’ versatility and size should make him a mismatch at the college level. He has the strength to overpower smaller opponents and the quickness and skill to outmaneuver larger ones. He’s also not afraid of internal competition.
Earlier in his high school and travel league career, Barnes was teammates with top-five national recruit Vernon Carey, who will be a Duke freshman this season. Over the summer, Barnes played for the same Nike league team as Isaiah Todd, a fellow top-10 recruit. This high school season, he’s transferred to Montverde Academy, where he’ll team up with several high-major college prospects, including top UK recruiting target Cade Cunningham.
And Barnes has spent the past three summers in the USA Basketball system, winning FIBA gold medals while playing for the junior national team. Don Showalter, the director of the USA Basketball youth program, was Barnes’ coach on the first gold medal team and has remained influential in his growth as a player.
Showalter recalled Barnes as an energetic 16-year-old prospect when he first coached him, a player who thrived on his enthusiasm.
“I think when he was younger, Scottie was probably not as talented as some guys, but he brought so much energy,” Showalter told the Herald-Leader. “And that allowed him to do things that some guys couldn’t do. Now, he’s getting a little older, so I think he has to rely more on his skill level than he does his energy level. And I think that’s been a big difference for him.
“I think he’s now more focused on: ‘How can my enthusiasm make my team better?’ Originally, when he was a younger kid, that wasn’t part of it. He brought enthusiasm and passion, but now he’s more focused on where he can do the most good. And he’s grown and matured as a player and a person. … I tell him all the time the things he needs to work on. If he’s not bringing his ‘A’ game, I let him know that. And he responds really well to that stuff.”
Barnes had his ‘A’ game going this weekend at USA Basketball minicamp. He was blocking out and grabbing strong rebounds, staying engaged on defense, and throwing down dunks with gusto. He was also communicating with his teammates, and — during dead balls — walking all over the court to show other players where they needed to be and what they needed to do.
“His ability to defend all across the floor, his personality, his playmaking — he’s the heartbeat of your team. And that’s consistent,” Evans said. “It’s hard to find consistent guys like that in any walk of life, and when you’re talking about a 17- or 18-year-old kid who you can rely on every game, every day, to do that — it’s impressive.”