A few current University of Kentucky basketball players joined Wildcats past and future in Lexington on Friday night for the start of the final open recruiting period of the spring.
The Nike Elite Youth Basketball League is in town for the first time, bringing with it many of UK's priority recruits. EYBL alums Devin Booker, Willie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress and Tyler Ulis were all at the Kentucky Basketball Academy to see it.
Former UK players Travis Ford and John Pelphrey were among the coaches in attendance, a group that did not include John Calipari.
The Wildcats head coach started his weekend at the Adidas event in Indianapolis with Tony Barbee, who many expect to be named the next assistant coach of the Wildcats.
Calipari and Barbee watched class of 2016 point guards Kobi Simmons, who just picked up a UK scholarship offer last week, and Dennis Smith, a talented playmaker who started hearing from the Cats a few days ago.
Back in Lexington, some fans wanting a glimpse at UK's stars of the future had to be turned away from the gym. Only 300 fans at a time will be allowed into each session this weekend to prevent overflowing a venue that already has hundreds of players, coaches, parents and media members. As fans leave throughout the day, others will be permitted to enter.
Assistant coach Kenny Payne was UK's representative in Lexington, and he watched class of 2016 stars Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Malik Monk and Udoka Azubuike. Fellow UK assistant coach Jon Robic spent the night at an Under Armour showcase in Louisville watching Josh Jackson, who 247Sports ranks as the No. 1 player in 2016.
All four coaches are expected to be back at it Saturday morning for a full day of games.
Newman stays home
Five-star basketball prospect Malik Newman announced his commitment to Mississippi State on Friday.
Newman — a 6-foot-3 guard from Jackson, Miss. — chose the Bulldogs over Kentucky, Kansas and Ole Miss. His father, Horatio Webster, was a standout player for Mississippi State in the late 1990s.
Kentucky was long seen as the favorite for Newman, who was targeted by Coach John Calipari more than two years ago as UK's No. 1 backcourt priority in the class of 2015. In recent weeks, Mississippi State began to emerge as the new favorite, especially after the school hired Ben Howland as its head coach on March 24.
One of Howland's first moves after getting the job was to schedule an in-home visit with Newman, who had just wrapped up his fourth consecutive state championship season.
"You know, he came in and he told me what his vision was for Mississippi State," Newman told the Herald-Leader earlier this month. "What his vision was for me. How he planned on turning the program around, and just things of that nature.
"I wasn't very familiar with him. But we sat down and talked for like two and a half hours, three hours. I really felt like I've been knowing him for some time."
Scout.com ranks Newman as the No. 8 overall prospect in the class of 2015.
The next Cat?
Junior-college All-American Mychal Mulder is scheduled to be in town this weekend for an official visit, and he could be the next player to join UK's class of 2015.
Mulder — a 6-4 shooting guard from Windsor, Ontario — averaged 15.7 points per game to lead Vincennes University last season. He also made 88 three-pointers and shot 44.7 percent from long range on the season.
It's highly possible that Mulder will commit to the Cats during the trip or sometime shortly after returning to Indiana. He would have two years of eligibility starting next season.
Change of plans
Canadian guard Jamal Murray — a top UK recruiting target — announced Thursday night that he would not travel to Lexington for this weekend's Nike games, citing a need to rest after several long trips in the past few weeks.
Fellow five-star prospects Tyus Battle and Marvin Bagley also aren't in town this weekend.
Battle — a top shooting guard in the class of 2016 — was on the Team Final roster for the Nike EYBL event, but he did not make the trip. The New Jersey native took official visits to Duke and Louisville in the past few days. He is still listing UK as a college option, and he could make a decision as early as this spring.
Bagley — the No. 1 player in the class of 2018 — was supposed to play with his travel team at a separate event in Lexington. The Arizona native did not make the trip.