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Kentucky Wildcats Basketball Recruiting: Fall Signing Period Primer and Predictions

Everything you need to know for the most important week of college decisions.

USA Basketball, FIBA and USA Today Sports

For one week, beginning November 8 and ending November 15, college coaches are able to secure the commitments of their future players in the fall by having them sign a piece of paper.

A lot of players will make their college decisions this week, sign their NLI’s, and put an end to recruitments that have pressured them since entering high school. For Kentucky fans, that means several five-star players.

Any commitments that come after the one-week early signing period will have to sign in the spring during the extended main period (or not sign at all, because they don’t have to in order to enroll and play).

As it currently stands, there is only one Kentucky commit to Cal’s 2018 recruiting class. That will change in a hurry.

Note: All player rankings were shared via 247 Sports’ Composite Rankings, which take into account ESPN, Rivals, Scout and their own rankings. Players are sorted by the alphabetical order of their last names.

Already Committed and Expected to Sign

Immanuel Quickley - #2 point guard, #8 overall

Calipari already has his next point guard lined up. He has plenty of shoes to fill, most of which are on NBA floors as you read this. Like Quade Green before him, Quickley has embraced becoming a recruiter to help solidify Kentucky’s place with some of their other recruitments, most notably Zion Williamson’s.

This has caused fans to be thankful for Quickley’s commitment while simultaneously underrating his own abilities as a player. You won’t watch his tape and be blown away, part of which because he lacks one dominating skill. The good news is that there isn't really a flaw to his game.

He has good size for a point guard and is an aggressive defender. His jumper has improved significantly over the past year and has made himself into a legitimate outside threat. He can drive, dish, and doesn’t really turn the ball over. Quickley, with great teammates around him, is going to be a great college basketball player. He might even draw comparisons by some Kentucky fans to Brandon Knight (if you trade some of Knight’s shooting for Quickley’s defense).

Considering Signing Early with Kentucky

R.J. Barrett - #1 small forward, #1 overall

Whom most consider the prized jewel of 2018 recruits, Barrett is an NBA All-Star caliber talent and will look like it for whoever he chooses to play for. The popular choice is Duke, who had a ton of momentum in his 247 Crystal Ball beginning at the end of September and into October.

Since then, his recruitment has been almost completely silent. He is going to announce his decision on November 10 and almost certainly sign his NLI before the period ends.

Oregon is a sneaky contender in his recruitment to the point where some wonder if Kentucky is in third place for his pledge (I don’t personally believe this). The good news for fans is that the last time a major Kentucky recruitment has been this quiet was Kevin Knox’s, who surprised Duke and Kentucky fans alike. Can history repeat itself? Yes, but it’s not likely.

Most readers here know that Barrett (a Canadian) beat Calipari’s USA U19 team by setting the nets on fire with 38 points. Barrett can get easy shots in just about whichever way he feels like. Whether it’s bouldering some helpless kid over, using his polished handle to get by, or just shooting over the defense, Barrett is going to get what he wants on the basketball floor. He’s not a “knock down” three point shooter, but it probably won't matter for whoever gets him. Barrett does literally everything else at an elite level.

A potential Barrett and Cameron Reddish pairing at Duke would make for some beautiful, if not depressing, basketball to watch. With that said, I have a feeling that Kentucky still has a fighter’s chance in this one.

Prediction: Duke (70%)

Competition: Kentucky (20%), Oregon (10%)

Bol Bol - #1 center, #3 overall

The only center to receive a scholarship offer from Calipari so far, Bol is a fascinating prospect. The son of the NBA’s tallest ever play Manute Bol, he is a 7’3” giant that loves to step out and drain the three. Fun, no?

Unfortunately, Kentucky has steadily lost momentum in his recruitment ever since he was cut from Cal’s USA U19 team this past summer (which wasn’t the sole decision of Calipari). He has publicly expressed disappointment over the situation, and the perception of his recruitment has changed because of it. He became a heavy Arizona favorite, partially of which was because his good friend Shareef O’Neal – another son of a notable NBA player, though I’ll leave this one to your imagination. After Arizona got tangled up in the FBI scandal, Kentucky fans got excited about their improved odds only for the “recruiting media” to peg Oregon as his likely destination a few weeks later. He has announced that his decision will be made November 12.

At Kentucky, he’d be a weird fit. This doesn’t mean a bad fit, just different. He is more like Skal Labissiere than any other Kentucky big men of the past, and Cal wasn’t able to push the right buttons with him and has since admitted he used Skal in the wrong way. Maybe if he had Bol Bol next year, he’d let him do Bol Bol stuff and roam outside of the paint. Defensively, he’d change nearly every shot at the rim.

Bol Bol and Calipari’s approach to big guys in this class is perhaps the most puzzling narrative of all. Bol going to Oregon is going to leave Cal with very few options to round out the class with an elite big man. Could this mean the staff has confidence in Nick Richards returning for a sophomore season? Is there a possible reclassification in the works (cough cough, James Wiseman)? Who knows, but Cal meeting with Moses Brown on November 5, who he recruited heavily last year and has ignored most of this year, shows that he might be moving on to other options.

Prediction: Oregon (85%)

Competition: Kentucky (15%)

Quentin Grimes - #2 combo guard, #16 overall

Grimes is a player that’s really fun to watch and is dynamic from the guard spot. He has good size, underrated athleticism and maybe the second best jumper of anyone named in this list. His mother was an athlete at Kansas, and they have been perceived the leader in his recruitment for some time now. He seems to like Kentucky a lot, maybe even more than Kansas, but getting Grimes to Lexington this fall is going to be challenging for a couple of reasons.

First of all, Kansas has put a lot of work in this recruitment that Kentucky is just recently starting to catch up with. Since September 29th, Grimes has visited campus, met with Coach Cal, and met with Kenny Payne in three separate instances. He’s dealt with Kansas in some capacity just as many times in the same timespan. The difference is, he was perceived as a Kansas lean this time a whole year ago, and that’s a lot of time for UK to make up in just a couple of months.

Additionally, Kentucky is talking to a lot of guards right now, and there will be only so many spots in this year’s recruiting class. The probable return of Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, paired with Quickley’s commitment, mean that Kentucky is likely to take only two more guards in this class. All of the signs point to Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro (more on them below). A major surprise from Barrett would shake all of that up, but it’s hard to see Grimes fitting into the equation right now. The kid might even prefer to play for Kentucky, but circumstances behind the scenes seem to be making that unlikely. Grimes and Johnson were never going to play together in my opinion, although I’d like to be wrong.

He’s ramping up his recruitment quickly and seems primed to make a choice in time for the Fall Signing Period.

Prediction: Kansas (75%)

Competition: Kentucky (20%), Texas (5%), Marquette

Tyler Herro - #4 shooting guard, #36 overall

Immediately upon his recent decommitment from Wisconsin, Herro was pegged as someone likely to be interested in Kentucky, and his recruitment has moved fast from there. Cal just recently saw the kid workout and has offered him a scholarship. He has set an official visit for November 11 (one day after Barrett’s decision) and the obvious assumption is that he will leave his visit a Wildcat and announce to the world shortly after. He may even sign while he’s still in Lexington. The only thing that would keep Herro from Kentucky in my mind is if Kentucky lands two other top guard options in the near future, which seems unlikely.

Herro is one of the most talented shooters in the 2018 class, but it would be selling him short to just label him as a shooter. Like Luke Kennard (not a fan favorite around here, but oh well), Herro is crafty in the way he finds his shots. He pairs a fantastic shot with skilled footwork and good athleticism to create space when playing as a primary playmaker. He is nice at the rim and will be just fine defending guards at the college level.

At Kentucky, he’d be asked to play mostly without the ball in his hands and will need to find ways to get open away from the play. If the transition to high school star to role player goes smoothly and is something Herro is willing to accept, he will be a problem for other teams. Watch some of his highlights and tell me he doesn’t show shades of Devin Booker from a few years ago. A commitment from him shouldn't scare off other targets like R.J. Barrett or Keldon Johnson, and if Herro winds up the lowest rated player in a 4 or 5 man freshman group, you have a damn good recruiting class.

Prediction: Kentucky (95% if he decides this fall)

Competition: Fall commitments from 2 of the 3 of Barrett, Grimes and Johnson

Keldon Johnson - #2 shooting guard, #14 overall

Once Calipari got involved with Johnson, there was a feeling almost right away that he was Kentucky’s to lose. There have been rumors that the kid’s father preferred another option and that Keldon himself wanted Kentucky, but whatever the case may be, it will be his decision to make. It’s also one he wants to make during the fall signing period. Unless R.J. Barrett surprises everyone with a commitment to Kentucky on November 10, expect Johnson to be a Wildcat and sign in the fall.

If you were able to take a few inches away from P.J. Washington and modify his skillset to be more in-line with a guard’s, you’d get Keldon Johnson. The young man is an absolute bully on the floor. At 6’6”, he can play multiple wing positions and takes advantage of his size by muscling defenders to the rim. His midrange jump shot is an easy two points, and his range is only getting deeper.

At the USA Basketball youth minicamp this past month, Johnson stood out as an elite competitor with the skills to match. It doesn’t hurt Kentucky that he built a very solid rapport with Immanuel Quickley during that time. Johnson is very much a guy who could find himself in the top 10 of the rankings before it’s all said and done.

Prediction: Kentucky (80%)

Competition: Maryland (12%), NC State (5%), Texas (3%)

Considering Signing in the Spring with Kentucky

Moses Brown - #2 center, #15 overall

Like Naz Reid before him, Brown is a guy that seemed to be begging for a blue-blood to offer and despite being recruited hard by Cal was ultimately dismissed. At least that’s what everyone thought happened. Calipari meeting with Brown last week was a huge surprise, even with the Bol Bol train seemingly en route to more western lands. If Brown is offered, I’d think that the Cats are the favorites. Maryland has been on him for a while and have been the default favorite, but he’s had all of the time in the world to commit if he truly wanted to be a Terrapin.

He plans to visit campus soon, but any visit he would take to Lexington would be after the end of the signing period. A commitment in December would still mean he signs in the spring, although it doesn’t ultimately matter when a player would sign or if they sign at all. Nevertheless, this is a development to follow closely throughout the next few weeks. If Bol Bol does indeed pick Oregon, Calipari may work hard to convince the 7’0” center from New York to be the big man of the 2018 class. He may not even need to work that hard.

Brown is a true low-post center in the mold of a Dakari Johnson or DeMarcus Cousins type. Which is basically me saying that in college, he’s going to be parked in the paint. He couldn't be more different as a player than Bol Bol. He’s thick which means he won’t struggle defending post-ups, but he doesn't have the same rebounding radius or help-defense potential that Bol has. There have been concerns over his motor which Cal has expressed according to Brown’s father in a piece from the Herald Leader, and those will need to be addressed between him and Calipari before the offer is extended.

Prediction: Kentucky (90% if offered); Maryland (90% if not offered)

Competition: A Bol Bol commitment or 2019 reclassification

Darius Garland - #3 point guard, #10 overall

Garland is an offensive-minded point guard that is super shifty and can score in a variety of ways. He’s a really fun player, but it looks like he’s going to be headed elsewhere. At Kentucky, he could be one of four point guards and would have to play mostly off-ball because of it. He does hold an offer, but it has never looked like Kentucky was a realistic option in his recruitment. Indiana and Vanderbilt are neck for neck for his services, which is a weird sentence to type in 2017. It’s more weird that the Hoosiers and Commodores are in the final lists of two players listed in this primer.

Prediction: Vanderbilt (55%)

Competition: Indiana (44%), Kentucky (1% - never say never)

Romeo Langford - #1 shooting guard, #5 overall

After a rocky experience on Cal’s USA U19 team, it was clear Langford was headed elsewhere. We didn't really know at the time whether his lack of playing time was injury-based or not, and neither did his family which caused a disconnect between Cal and Langford’s circle. The kid is super talented and may have been headed down I-64 to play for Louisville if not for that whole debacle. An Adidas AAU kid, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t rock three stripes on his college jersey.

Prediction: Indiana (50%)

Competition: Kansas (30%), North Carolina (15%), Vanderbilt (5%), Louisville (lol)

Zion Williamson - #2 small forward, #2 overall

There are three major players in Zion’s recruitment: Kentucky, Duke, and the state of South Carolina. Kentucky is the favorite, Duke is there to make Kentucky fans even more nervous than they’d be otherwise, and his home state is proving to be hard for him to leave. Apparently, his mother wants him to stay close to home, which is understandable ... but Kentucky isn’t that far from South Carolina. I’ve driven to Myrtle Beach a few times and it’s doable.

Anyway, if Zion were to pop with a surprise announcement this fall, Kentucky would feel great about their odds. If it extends out into the spring the way it looks like it will, Duke will have time to make their pitch about having a superclass with him, Reddish and Barrett (assuming they land him). Gross. Clemson and South Carolina will tell him that he can be the face of a program forever, lead them to relevance, be a hero, yada yada yada. He has a great relationship with the Kentucky staff, and if his boy Drake has any influence in his recruitment he’ll be in Lexington. It is interesting that as an Adidas kid, he seems to only be considering Nike schools. For a while, it looked like Kentucky’s biggest competition would be Kansas, but that has since faded.

Zion is a freak athlete in a way that I’ve never seen before. At 6’6”, he recently measured in at over 270 pounds but can still jump like Hamidou Diallo and dunk with the ferocity of LeBron. If you somehow haven’t seen him on YouTube, where he’s been a major name since the 10th grade, you have some homework to do after this article. Trust me, it’s crazy. He has an explosive first step and even finishes with a surprising level of craft for someone as massive as he is. Shooting the ball from distance is a concern, but he’s never shown that he needed to be a good shooter. No one has ever been able to guard him, and that includes top players in AAU and at USA Basketball mini-camps. He’ll be the most entertaining player to watch in college basketball next season, and probably the most in a long time.

Prediction: Kentucky (60%)

Competition: Duke (25%), Clemson/South Carolina (15%)