Unless something changes, the 2018 Kentucky Wildcats football recruiting class will not include one player signed directly out of a high school in Kentucky.
The 2017-18 UK men’s basketball roster does not have a recruited scholarship player from the commonwealth for what appears to be the first time ever.
Over the past two women’s basketball recruiting classes, the state of Kentucky has produced six players ranked in the national top 75 by ESPN’s HoopGurlz — four of them from outside Jefferson County. UK has signed only one.
Are we watching the flagship university’s hold on the state’s best prospects evaporate?
The answers differ by sport.
In the current recruiting class, UK only offered scholarships to three in-state prospects. Of those three, Trinity wide receiver Rondale Moore is committed to Texas; Bowling Green linebacker Justice Dingle is pledged to Georgia Tech; and Waggener defensive back Jairus Brents is thought to be headed out of state as well.
(UK is recruiting a junior college linebacker, Bryant Pirtle, who played at DeSales High School).
According to research by the Herald-Leader’s Ben Roberts, every UK football signing class dating to 1939 (when the available records began) has had an in-state player.
Yet high school coaches I spoke with Friday say not to make too much of this year’s expected UK oh-fer in home-state recruiting.
“I think this year is a one-off situation,” said Lexington Catholic Coach Mark Perry, a former UK player and graduate assistant. “I think (UK) goes very hard at Kentucky high schools. Guys like Coach (John) Schlarman (UK offensive line coach) and Dean Hood (UK special teams coordinator and former Eastern Kentucky head coach), too, they are very thorough in getting out in the state and identifying players.”
Boyle County Coach Chuck Smith, who spent eight years as a UK assistant under Rich Brooks and Joker Phillips, also cautions against “drawing too much from one year. The current staff has done a pretty good job in recruiting. I tend to think this year, they just didn’t find a matchup with their needs with the players they could have gotten (from the commonwealth).”
Since John Calipari became Kentucky head coach in 2009, the Wildcats have signed 55 players. Of those, 40 have been five-star prospects as ranked by Rivals and 13 have been four-star players.
So the hard truth is the state of Kentucky does not produce many players talented enough to play at UK.
Still, last season, the only two three-star prospects Calipari has signed at UK — in-state products Derek Willis (Bullitt East) and Dominique Hawkins (Madison Central) — were vital contributors as seniors for a UK team that reached the NCAA Tournament round of eight.
In Lexington, many had hoped Paul Laurence Dunbar guard Taveion Hollingsworth, the 2016 Sweet Sixteen MVP and 2017 Kentucky Mr. Basketball, would get a chance to follow the path of Willis and Hawkins.
“(UK) was interested and (Hollingsworth) was interested in them,” Dunbar Coach Scott Chalk said. “We had an unofficial visit, and it was all very polite. But we just reached an impasse.”
Hollingsworth, a three-star recruit, wanted to sign early and concentrate on his senior season, Chalk says. UK was not prepared to offer him a scholarship in November.
So the 6-foot-2 Hollingsworth signed early with Western Kentucky, where he is already a starter. UK spent this past spring scouring the country looking for backcourt help.
“(Kentucky) recruits nationally, and they usually are late to commit on in-state guys even when we do have one good enough to play there,” says Chalk. “I don’t think the current (UK) staff is unique in that. It’s been that way for the past four, five coaches (at UK). They were late getting in on (ex-Bryan Station and Butler guard and current NBA player) Shelvin Mack, too.”
The past two recruiting classes have been bountiful for homegrown talent in Kentucky. In the 2017 class, ESPN ranked Bullitt East’s Lindsey Duvall the No. 24 prospect in the nation and Butler’s Jaelynn Penn No. 71.
Of those six, Matthew Mitchell and UK signed only Green. Duvall, Robinson and Robins all chose Louisville; Penn and Berger picked Indiana.
For UK Hoops, that seems a worrisome trend.
The Kentucky Premier AAU program produced all six of the ESPN top 75 players. David Tapley, the Kentucky Premier Director, said the upheaval that befell UK’s program after the 2015-16 season in which all three assistant coaches left for varying reasons amidst an accompanying player exodus left the Wildcats behind in recruiting the commonwealth’s best.
“I don’t think the current (UK coaching) staff really had much chance with most of those 2018 kids,” Tapley said.
Last summer, UK received a verbal commitment from Lincoln County’s Emma King, the top-ranked junior in the state in the Herald-Leader’s preseason rating of top players. UK now appears to be making an effort to build relationships with the state’s top girls’ basketball prospects earlier in the recruiting process, Tapley said.