UK Recruiting

Calipari sees limitless potential in Greg Brown. ‘He doesn’t even know how good he is.’

Back in early August, when five-star basketball recruit Greg Brown revealed his final five schools, there was quite a surprise.

Auburn, Memphis, North Carolina and Texas were four of the colleges on his list. That was not unexpected.

Kentucky was the fifth. That raised some eyebrows.

At that point in Brown’s recruitment, it wasn’t widely known that UK was even interested in the highly athletic, 6-foot-9 post player from Austin, Texas.

It turns out, John Calipari and his coaching staff made a late overture. The Brown family liked what they had to say, and they wanted to hear more.

“They started recruiting us after Peach Jam,” his father, Greg Brown II, told the Herald-Leader of the initial contact, which didn’t come until a couple of weeks before his son cut his list. “They started calling, and they immediately got Cal on the phone. And Cal was just saying that he would be a great asset to the program. His athleticism — he has a chance to do some big things if he comes in and buys in. He said Greg has a really high ceiling and he would love to coach him.”

Calipari’s initial pitch to Brown — ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 7 player in the 2020 class — made an impression.

“He likes that I can do everything. He said he would make me the No. 1 pick in the draft,” Brown said, a smile growing on his face as that last bit came out. “Yeah, that’s what he’s been saying.”

Brown’s father clarified Calipari’s message, saying hard work and the right situation could be beneficial to unlocking his son’s vast potential.

“You can’t make anybody the No. 1 pick,” Brown II said. “You can put them in great positions to be successful, and he was saying — with Greg’s athleticism and how hard Greg plays — he would have a great opportunity.”

There’s no doubting Brown’s upside.

ESPN’s first NBA mock draft for 2021 — which was released Monday morning — placed Brown in the No. 9 position. He was one of the best players on the Nike circuit this past spring and summer, averaging 18.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while playing alongside top UK target Cade Cunningham, the league’s MVP, the projected No. 1 pick in ESPN’s 2021 mock draft, and a player both Brown and his father have said they’d love to team up with in college.

This past weekend at USA Basketball minicamp in Colorado Springs, Brown put his impressive physical gifts on display once again.

A lot of potential

In the Saturday night scrimmage — going up against some of the best prospects in the country — Brown went off. In the first three minutes alone, he hit a three-pointer and threw down three highlight-reel dunks, the final one an alley-oop finish where his head hovered above the rim.

A couple of minutes later, Brown worked a smooth spin move into a finger roll and then completed a strong and-one finish while running the floor in transition, one of his specialties.

Brown’s father, a former football standout at Texas who later played in the NFL, has a unique perspective on his son’s game. He said if you look at the past two or three recruiting classes, his son’s class, and the next two or three classes that will follow, one thing is clear to him.

“I think he’s the best player by far, among all those players, that doesn’t know how to play basketball,” Brown II told the Herald-Leader. “And what I mean by that is, he just plays hard. He doesn’t know how to read a defense yet. If someone attacks baseline, he might stay in the way instead of lifting — just basketball stuff. And a lot of that stuff, I guess, hasn’t been taught through the years. And I think, once the court spreads open a little bit and he gets the spacing down, it’s going to be a problem.

“He doesn’t even know how good he is. He came to me yesterday, ‘What does this person think about me? What does that person think about me?’ At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about you today. You must keep getting better. You must keep working your ass off. And that’s it. And when you get a chance to come out here and play against great guys like Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes, you have to come out here and show out. And I think he’s definitely done that this weekend.”

Brown was indeed one of the standouts of the USA Basketball camp, and recruiting analysts have echoed — in more diplomatic terms — his father’s critique of his game. Everyone is infatuated with his athleticism and motor. If his skill set continues to evolve, Brown could be scary on the court.

Getting the most out of Brown’s vast potential will be a key factor in his recruitment, his father said. He won’t be signing in the early period next month. Brown II said the family plans to take it slow, space out their campus visits, watch to see what each of his five finalists do on the court this season, and then evaluate the roster turnover after the season.

UK has a chance

Brown, who said he has traveled to Lexington twice before, is scheduled to be at UK for an official visit Jan. 10.

“I like the atmosphere of the program — how they teach kids to be pro-ready once they step on the floor at Kentucky,” he said. “And Coach Cal, he’s very intense and gets the best out of all of the kids. I just want to learn about the school and the basketball program. I want to see how they’ll use me and how I would fit in with the team.”

Brown’s father, mother and uncle all went to Texas — the hometown option — and Brown II acknowledged that there is a “huge pull” in that community to have his son follow in the family’s footsteps. The Longhorns are seen by many recruiting analysts as the favorite, but both father and son say that’s not the case. Brown said all five of his schools are on even footing.

“We’re more interested in what’s going to best for Greg,” his dad said. “I could give less than a damn what’s best for anybody else. What’s best for my son to be able to develop and get to where he is trying to get to? We’re making our decision based off of that.”

Brown II stressed player development throughout a lengthy interview with the Herald-Leader, and when he spoke about that topic, he kept coming back to Calipari and his track record of getting players to the NBA.

He said he’s heard others imply that anyone could take the recruiting talent Calipari gets and turn them into pros. He’s not buying that angle.

“I don’t think there’s anyone that can do it like he does. Just telling you like it is,” Brown II said. “The proof is in the pudding. If you could, you would. And you’re not. So, with that being said, I think it’s going to be interesting how this process works itself out.

“You can never sit back and say, ‘Oh, I’m the man. I’m ranked this.’ ...You gotta continue to work, get better. And that’s the one thing that I think Kentucky brings to the table. Cal just does what he does, man. And, at the end of the day, that’s something you can’t take lightly, in my opinion.”

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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