UK Recruiting

No. 1 prospect for 2016 lights it up for Kentucky's Calipari

Scout.com ranks Jayson Tatum, left, as the No. 1 overall prospect in the junior class. Most peg him as a small forward at the next level.
Scout.com ranks Jayson Tatum, left, as the No. 1 overall prospect in the junior class. Most peg him as a small forward at the next level. ASSOCIATED PRESS

WHEELING, W.Va. — Name a way to put a basketball in a basket, and Jayson Tatum probably did it Friday night.

There was a Eurostep in transition, a contested two-handed dunk, a turnaround fadeaway from the baseline, a stepback jumper from the wing, a fast-break finger roll, an up-and-under lean-in from the paint and a pull-up three-pointer at the buzzer.

And that was just the first half.

Tatum scored 39 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, made all 12 of his free-throw attempts — many of those while clinging to a close lead in crunch time — and led Chaminade (Mo.) to an 88-81 victory over nationally ranked Stevenson (Ill.) at the Cancer Research Classic. He was an efficient 13-for-20 from the field.

A week ago, UK Coach John Calipari sent Tatum a text message that said he was planning to attend the game. Calipari — and UK assistant Barry "Slice" Rohrssen — were front and center for Friday night's show.

"It means a lot," Tatum said. "I've built a great relationship with Coach Cal. I like when he comes and watches me play."

Tatum — a 6-foot-8 prospect from St. Louis — was the first player in the class of 2016 to receive a scholarship offer from the Wildcats and says he talks to Calipari "fairly often" in addition to regular contact with UK assistants Kenny Payne and John Robic.

It's not hard to figure out why Calipari is so interested.

Tatum is as smooth as they come on the court, often taking primary ball-handling duties and directing the action in the half-court offense. He was credited with only three assists Friday but made several right-on-target, no-look passes in traffic.

When it comes to scoring, there's no one in the class quite like him.

"The biggest thing that stands out about his game is his overall skill set," said Scout.com director of recruiting Evan Daniels. "At 6-8, he is such an accomplished scorer. He handles the ball really well. He has unbelievable footwork, especially for a kid his age. And he has a really impressive mid-range game."

Tatum made shots from all over the floor Friday night, often at odd angles and with at least one defender right in his face.

Scout.com ranks him as the No. 1 overall prospect in the junior class, and that means something in a group loaded with such surefire NBA players as Harry Giles, Josh Jackson, Thon Maker and Malik Monk.

The only question about Tatum's game is where he'll play at the next level.

He's listed by most recruiting services as a forward, but he plays everything from point guard to post at the high school and AAU levels.

"I think Jayson is a true small forward," Daniels said. "I think that's his natural position going forward. He plays on some teams where they put the ball in his hands, and he's skilled enough to do so at the high school level. Against the competition he's playing against, he's better at every position.

"But he's a wing going forward, and he's a guy who's going to be a really good perimeter scorer at the college and professional level."

His college career will likely be short, but there's a lengthy list of suitors. Tatum recently cut his list to 10 schools: Arizona, Duke, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Saint Louis, UConn and Wake Forest.

He's already taken unofficial visits to many of those campuses, including a trip to UK for Big Blue Madness in 2013 and another while he was in town for a high school game last January.

Tatum mentioned a possible official visit to Duke to see the Blue Devils play Syracuse on Feb. 28, but he said he doesn't have a "favorite" in his recruitment.

The locals would like to see him stay close to home and play for Saint Louis, like his father.

"I probably go there every other week," Tatum said. "It's about eight minutes from my house. ... A lot of people in the city would love to see me go to SLU. I feel like it would be a great place for me — put St. Louis on the map. I just really want to work my options out — (find) the best place for me."

He's in no hurry to do that.

Tatum mentioned several schools that he still hasn't visited but intends to see before cutting down his list to a more manageable number.

"Maybe I'll cut it down to five around the AAU season," he said. "You know, really get serious about this college thing."

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