UK Recruiting

Will UK land another frontcourt recruit this month? Here’s the most likely addition.

With the fall signing period for college basketball recruits now just a week away, it remains unclear whether Kentucky will add any more early commitments to its 2020 class.

The Wildcats’ future backcourt is already stacked. UK has pledges from five-star shooting guards Brandon “BJ” Boston and Terrence Clarke, four-star wing Cam’Ron Fletcher, and five-star point guard Devin Askew, a 2021 prospect widely expected to reclassify to 2020. Boston, Clarke and Fletcher will be eligible to sign with UK starting next Wednesday. Askew is holding off on a reclassification decision until the spring.

The Cats got a dose of bad news Tuesday night, when their top recruiting priority in the 2020 class — five-star point guard Cade Cunningham — announced his commitment to Oklahoma State.

Even with the loss of Cunningham, it’s still been a prosperous summer and fall for Kentucky, and the Cats could still add another commitment before the end of the month.

The biggest immediate question for UK’s future roster is now in the frontcourt, where the Cats have just one commitment — from four-star power forward Lance Ware — and could realistically lose all three of their frontcourt players off the current roster.

As it stands, highly touted forward Isaiah Jackson — a 6-foot-9 player from the Detroit area — seems to be the only real possibility to join Kentucky’s frontcourt class in the early period.

Jackson has narrowed his choices to UK, Alabama and Syracuse, and he’s already taken official visits to all three schools. His recruitment has been a fluid one, with Michigan State and UK both taking turns as perceived favorites earlier this year.

He will reveal a college decision on Nov. 16, though there’s no widespread consensus on where he’ll end up. His Crystal Ball outlook is a mess. Michigan State, a school that has already been eliminated from his list, is currently the favorite on his 247Sports page, a product of several outdated picks and ongoing uncertainty. National recruiting expert Andrew Slater did make a prediction in favor of Alabama in September, and 247Sports analyst Jerry Meyer followed suit a few weeks later.

No other national experts have weighed in, and neither of Rivals.com’s national analysts — Eric Bossi and Corey Evans — had made a Future Cast prediction on Jackson’s player page, as of Tuesday morning.

“I’m still not entirely confident on selecting a (favorite) for him,” Evans told the Herald-Leader on Monday night. “I think Alabama has undoubtedly worked the hardest on his recruitment. As we know, working the hardest doesn’t always equate to a commitment. But I think they definitely have a strong, strong chance.”

More predictions coming soon?

Evans said he would probably make a public prediction sometime in the next few days. “At this point, I’m leaning toward Alabama. I would say, right now, it’s Alabama, Kentucky, Syracuse, in that order.”

New Alabama head coach Nate Oats has deep ties to Jackson’s home state. Oats’ first head coaching job was at a high school in the Detroit area — he was there for 11 years — and he made Jackson a top recruiting priority early in his tenure with the Crimson Tide.

Rivals.com ranks Jackson as the No. 23 overall player in the 2020 class.

“He’s probably one of the best defenders in all of high school basketball,” Evans said. “He’s a quick-twitch defensive guy. I always kind of roll my eyes when people say, ‘He can guard the ‘1’ through ‘5.’ But he is one of the few that actually can, I think. He’s an elite shot-blocker. Great second jump. He has great length and great instincts. He moves well laterally, moves well vertically. He just has a really good feel for the game, so he brings a lot defensively.

“Offensively, you kind of wish he would’ve taken a step forward as more of a refined, polished prospect. But he’s also someone who doesn’t really play outside of his element. He plays to his strengths and knows what he is.”

Other options for Kentucky

After Jackson makes his decision, the only two frontcourt players in the 2020 class with Kentucky scholarship offers will be Greg Brown and Cliff Omoruyi, and both recruits have said they will wait until after the early signing period to make a college choice.

Brown — a 6-8 forward from Austin, Texas, and ranked No. 7 nationally by Rivals — is the son of a former Texas football standout and includes the Longhorns in his final five, along with UK, Auburn, Memphis and North Carolina.

“If all things go right at Texas this year, I think he’ll be playing for Shaka Smart at Texas next year,” Evans said. “I think Memphis actually has a much better chance than people assume. They’ve done a great job recruiting him. And Kentucky, people were surprised they made the list. And, as we know, you can never discount Kentucky in a race for a five-star prospect.”

Evans added that he didn’t see Brown picking UNC or Auburn, calling this recruitment a “three-horse race.”

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Omoruyi — a 6-10 center from Nigeria, now playing for the alma mater of Kahlil Whitney and Isaiah Briscoe in New Jersey — is ranked No. 53 overall by Rivals and has several schools on his list.

Evans said a “vital factor” for Omoruyi will be the opportunity to play alongside a top point guard, and he thinks UK will check that box. Even though the Cats lost out on Cunningham — the top point guard prospect in the country — they should have at least one dynamic point guard on next year’s roster. Evans said he thinks Askew will “definitely reclassify” and play for UK next season. He also said Omoruyi and Askew also have a history.

“There actually is a background there between Devin and Cliff. They played (in a camp) and developed a quick rapport,” Evans said. “That’s kind of gone under the radar a bit, but I think getting a guy like Devin really helps with a guy like Cliff.”

He noted that Omoruyi’s college decision is likely a long way off, mentioning Rutgers, UConn, North Carolina State, Arizona State and Memphis as teams with a legitimate shot. Auburn has also been talked about among recruiting insiders as a possible landing spot in recent weeks.

Class of 2021 power forward Paolo Banchero has been constantly discussed as a reclassification candidate — and Evans is currently predicting he will end up at UK — but Banchero has repeatedly shot down those rumors in recent weeks and Evans told the Herald-Leader that he is “99.9 percent” certain Banchero will indeed stick in 2021.

Cade Cunningham commits

The biggest recruiting question on the minds of UK fans for the past few weeks has been: where will Cade Cunningham play in college? The 6-7 point guard from Texas answered that question Tuesday night with his commitment to Oklahoma State, where his brother, Cannen Cunningham, was hired as an assistant coach earlier this year.

Cunningham had narrowed his college choices to Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina, Washington and Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys had long been seen as the favorite in Cunningham’s recruitment, but UK emerged in recent weeks as Oklahoma State’s main competition for his commitment. The Cats hosted Cunningham for an official visit on Big Blue Madness weekend, and John Calipari and Tony Barbee made several trips this fall to see Cunningham at his high school in Florida, as well as meeting with his parents in Texas.

In the end, Cunningham decided to follow his brother to Stillwater.

“This process was stressful for me,” he said in his commitment video Tuesday night. “When my brother took a job at Oklahoma State, most people assumed my decision had been made for me. But my family encouraged me to explore my options and make my own decision, based on what I feel is best for me. ...

“I loved all the schools I visited, and I appreciate each program investing their time and energy into me. To be honest, I was this close to picking a different school, but blood is always thicker than water. Go Pokes.”

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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