UK Recruiting

UK target Carlton Bragg keeps close eye on Cats

Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph's standout Carlton Bragg (31) has narrowed his list to three schools, including Kentucky.
Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph's standout Carlton Bragg (31) has narrowed his list to three schools, including Kentucky. AP

The question of whether he had been watching the University of Kentucky basketball team this season drew a big smile and an immediate reply from five-star recruit Carlton Bragg over the weekend.

"Oh my God, yes," he said. "That team is a bunch of animals."

Bragg was back in Kentucky on Saturday night for the second consecutive season, this time for the Marshall County Hoop Fest.

Last year's trip to the Mustang Madness event in Paducah resulted in a UK scholarship offer for the 6-foot-9 prospect out of Cleveland.

In the 11 months since that visit, Bragg has maintained his five-star ranking and narrowed his college choices to four schools: UK, Kansas, UCLA and Illinois.

He and his mentor, Michael Graves, have seen plenty of the top-ranked Wildcats this season.

"We're fully paying attention to what's going on," Graves said with a smile. "I mean, you can't go without watching Kentucky."

Graves is helping Bragg navigate the recruiting process and said the high school senior texts him regularly to say that he's watching the Wildcats.

UK assistant coach Kenny Payne was the one doing the watching Saturday night.

Payne was courtside to see Bragg go for 25 points and 13 rebounds in Villa Angela-St. Joseph's victory over nationally ranked Archbishop Carroll (Pa.), one of the program's biggest wins in years.

It was the season opener for Bragg, who started slowly but picked up his intensity as the game went on and scored 19 second-half points, including a crucial three-pointer and a go-ahead alley-oop finish in crunch time.

Graves, VASJ Coach Babe Kwasniak and the college coaches recruiting Bragg have all been on him to ratchet up his energy level. When he goes all out, few high school players can match him.

"Coach Kenny Payne is always texting me and Carlton saying, 'If you want to come to Kentucky, you got to play hard on defense. It's not going to be easy,'" Graves said. "Coach Babe — he's a hard guy and he pushes Carlton really hard. So that's good for him."

Kansas Coach Bill Self and Illinois Coach John Groce joined Payne in Marshall County for Bragg's opener.

He's the No. 11 overall prospect in the senior class, according to Scout.com, and those coaches will likely have to stay on his trail all season long.

Bragg had originally planned to announce a college decision this month, but he's delayed that timetable and it now seems almost certain that he will wait until after his high school season to pick a school.

Graves said he sits down with Bragg and his mother once or twice a month to go over the latest in his recruitment. He speaks to coaches from each college two or three times a week.

Bragg's mentor says the family has created a "formula" that charts several different factors for choosing a school. Those include academics, campus life, the "togetherness" of the team, coaching style and demeanor, the coaching staff.

They're also keeping an eye on how many players at Bragg's position will be returning to each of the four teams.

"Right now we have a chart," Graves said. "So we know how many forwards each school has. We're charting to see which ones might go to the NBA. We'll just have to see."

Off the court, Bragg seems sold on the UK "experience."

He was in Rupp Arena for Big Blue Madness in October, an event that he said was made even better by a special appearance.

"Drake made it even more fun," Bragg said. "They said he was going to be there, but I didn't really believe it until I saw him for myself. It was pretty exciting."

Graves accompanied Bragg on that trip, along with the player's mother and her boyfriend.

They stopped for gas several miles outside of Lexington and UK fans recognized the recruit. It was the same scene when they stayed in Louisville on the way to Marshall County last weekend. And when they stopped at a pizza place in Paducah the next day.

"They all want to know where he's going," Graves said. "The state of Kentucky — they're fully knowledgeable about basketball.

"But all of these are really great programs. It's all about the best fit for Carlton and where he feels comfortable. Because, when he's comfortable, he plays great basketball."

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