High School Basketball

'Crystal Ball' looks in on Cats on eve of coaches' fall recruiting blitz

Bridges
Bridges AP

Private jets and rental cars with college basketball coaches aboard will be crisscrossing the country starting Wednesday, the first day of the fall recruiting period.

For the next two months, college coaches are permitted to visit with prospective recruits off campus — in their homes and at their high schools — as they try to bolster their future rosters in the lead-up to the early signing period in November.

UK Coach John Calipari is often among the busiest of coaches during the early days of the recruiting period. This year's version will include a detour to Springfield, Mass., for Friday night's Hall of Fame induction, but plenty of recruits are on the itinerary, too.

Calipari already has a commitment from newly minted five-star power forward Sacha Killeya Jones, and the Wildcats are expected to add at least a couple more players to their class of 2016 in the next few weeks.

247Sports national analyst Jerry Meyer, on his "Crystal Ball" page, is currently predicting four five-star recruits from the senior class to pick Kentucky.

He shared his thoughts on those players — and other UK targets — with the Herald-Leader on the eve of the fall recruiting period.

Talented like a Fox

One of the most impressive players of the summer was Texas point guard De'Aaron Fox, an already highly touted prospect who is now ranked No. 2 overall in the class of 2016 by Meyer.

"Basically, I see everything you want to see in a point guard," he said. "It would be very difficult to identify a major weakness in his game. Obviously, there's room to improve and polish up his game, but he has the entire skill package, and the athleticism, length and intangibles you look for in a point guard."

The 6-foot-4 recruit will host Calipari for an in-home visit on Sept. 21, and he'll be in Lexington for his official visit on Big Blue Madness weekend in October.

Fox is also considering Kansas, Louisville, Louisiana State, Arizona, North Carolina and North Carolina State. Meyer is among the 95 percent of Crystal Ball prognosticators pegging Fox to UK.

"From everything I gather, I think they're in the lead," Meyer said. "I think Kansas was the team to beat until Kentucky offered. Obviously, things can easily change with visits, but right now — to me — it looks like a Kentucky-Kansas race."

Point guard conundrum?

Kobi Simmons is also in the category of possible UK point guards of the future.

The 6-5 playmaker from Atlanta took official visits to Kentucky and UNLV earlier this month, and he's scheduled to see Ohio State in a few days. Home-state Georgia is also in the mix.

"It's a little complex, but not really that difficult to decipher," Meyer said of the recruitment.

His take is that Simmons wants to go to Kentucky, and UK's coaches want him to be a Wildcat, but their No. 1 point guard priority at the time is Fox, who isn't expected to make a college decision for at least a couple of months.

"I think Kentucky would like to have both Simmons and Fox," Meyer said. "It's just — they're going to have to convince them that it would be a good thing for them to play together. And I don't know how that's going to work out."

For right now, Meyer is predicting both point guards to Kentucky. But his Crystal Ball picks are made in a vacuum, and if one chooses UK, he said he'd reassess the other's recruitment.

"That's where the Crystal Ball gets tough," he said. "Right now, I think Kentucky's the leader for both. ... But, chances are, it's one or the other."

Calipari vs. Izzo

One or the other probably best describes the recruitment of Michigan native Miles Bridges, another breakout star of the summer.

Most analysts — including Meyer — believe it'll be Kentucky or Michigan State for Bridges, a 6-6 small forward who is entering his senior season at nearby Huntington (W.Va.) Prep.

Bridges is also considering Indiana, Michigan and North Carolina, but the Wildcats and Spartans seem to be in the best spots.

Like Fox, Bridges will visit Lexington for Big Blue Madness. Also like Fox, he's on Meyer's Crystal Ball page as a Kentucky lean.

Another similarity: Meyer says Bridges and Fox are total team players who should thrive in whatever situation they find in college.

"They're about winning," he said. "I don't think they're as self-obsessed as a lot of prospects are right now. They just love to play the game, and they play it to win. And they have a lot of talent to do it with."

Side note: Huntington Prep released its tentative 2015-16 schedule earlier this week, and it includes nine games in the state of Kentucky. That's plenty of opportunities for Bridges to play in front of UK fans.

Tough to figure

The fourth five-star recruit with a UK logo next to his name in Meyer's Crystal Ball predictions is Brooklyn guard Rawle Alkins, who might be the toughest player on UK's radar to read.

"Am I confident that Kentucky is going to get him? I wouldn't necessarily phrase it that way," Meyer said. "I think it's the best pick for him right now. But I do think it's a pretty open situation, and there could be some twists and turns."

Alkins is still considering nearly a dozen schools, has not confirmed any official visits — despite earlier plans for a trip to Big Blue Madness — and he's spent the past few weeks deciding on a new high school, not concentrating on his college recruitment.

He announced Tuesday that he'll play his senior season at Word of God Academy (N.C.). UK fans will remember that as John Wall's alma mater.

"Stuff like that doesn't hurt," Meyer said of the new UK connection.

Anyone else?

Calipari is targeting several other major prospects in the class of 2016, and he'll be visiting with their families and hosting them for official visits over the next few weeks.

Meyer is predicting five-star combo guard Malik Monk to home-state Arkansas, but he mentioned Monk as another player UK is in good shape with.

Meyer said he doesn't like UK's chances for Dennis Smith Jr., and Edrice Adebayo (he has both to N.C. State), Wenyen Gabriel (Maryland) or Harry Giles (Duke).

Texas center Marques Bolden, who visited UK last week, goes in the "tough read" category.

"A lot of people think he's Duke," Meyer said. "I'm hearing Kansas is still the team. ... Alabama could even slip into contention there."

Disclaimer

Whenever the Crystal Ball is analyzed, it's important to note that predictions change with the frequency of the minds of 17-year-old kids, so there's no guarantee the Cats end up with any of the four players Meyer currently has in their category.

What should be expected is another stellar recruiting class for Calipari.

Meyer specifically mentioned UK, Duke, Maryland and UConn as the programs sitting pretty going into the fall. "I think Kentucky is in great shape," he said.

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