With the summer recruiting circuit winding down, it’s time for a roundup of the latest news surrounding the Kentucky Wildcats’ targets in 2018.
The ‘Big’ Board
UK appears to be fading for its top big man targets in 2018, including five-star forwards Marvin Bagley III and Bol Bol. Bagley is spending most of his recruiting visits on the West Coast with the likes of UCLA, USC and Arizona after first visiting Duke, who still appears to be his favorite
Bagley may still visit UK, but even that may not be enough to keep him from ending up at frontcourt-needy Duke or staying close to home (and family) at USC. It’s still unclear if Bagley will be able to move up to the 2017 class, but regardless, it looks like UK is not among his favorites regardless of what class he’s in.
This is both bad and very intriguing news for UK, who hasn’t offered another big man in the Class of 2018. We’ve seen various levels of interest shown in David McCormack, Naz Reid, Moses Brown, Simisola Shittu, Jordan Brown, Reggie Perry, and Emmitt Williams, but no offer has been extended to any of those guys.
That brings into question how Calipari is going to treat what’s already expected to be a smaller class for UK. It should be somewhere in the 4-6 player range, depending on who leaves for the NBA Draft (only Hamidou Diallo and Kevin Knox look like likely defections, which would give UK four opens spots with two current openings heading into the 2017-18 season, but there are no graduating seniors next season).
Perhaps Calipari thinks enough talented big men on the current roster return for the 2018-19 season that he doesn’t need to get desperate and offer a big who’s less talented than recruits at other positions UK is in good shape for.
For now, my guess is Calipari’s dream four-man class includes Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and Bagley. The next five in would be something like Reddish, Bol, Louis King, Quentin Grimes and Darius Garland.
Depending on how confident Calipari feels about all of these guys, he may not offer a scholarship to anyone else anytime soon...
Will King Score An Offer?
As well as King has been playing this summer, he could be the unfortunate victim of playing at a position that’s not only loaded in 2018, but UK is also in great shape for many of the top guys at.
UK is favored for Williamson, in the top two with Duke for Reddish, and is among the favorites for Barrett. Calipari’s positionless approach makes it easier to take multiple guys at one position, but it’s hard to see him taking Zion, Reddish, Barrett and King in the same class.
If King wants an offer, he’s going to either have to wait until the spring, or hope that those other three guys all make college decisions this fall. Then if UK misses any of those first three, King should get an offer.
Until then, it’s hard to see King getting one.
More Interest In Shittu
One recruit who is drawing increased interest from UK is Simisola Shittu. The Canadian big man is ranked as a top-10 recruit in nearly every service, including No. 8 overall by 247 Sports. Watching his film, it’s easy to see why.
Shittu is a very skilled big who can easily play the 4 or 5 while getting spot duty at the 3, especially for a positionless coach like Calipari. The 6-8, 210-pound Shittu shows some point-forward potential with his ability to handle the ball the length of the floor, see the court and make a big impact without scoring.
I personally think Shittu is more than worthy of an offer from UK, especially if Calipari doesn’t feel good about getting Bagley and Bol. It just so happens Calipari and Kenny Payne were in Canada this weekend to watch Shittu.
With U.K. head coach John Calipari courtside @ center court Simi Shittu had 15 PTS to go with a plethora of fancy dimes and explosive dunks pic.twitter.com/xwQTYdpCo9— Sonny Bairos (@sonnybairos) July 30, 2017
Calipari has had a lot of success recruiting Canada, including Jamal Murray, Trey Lyles and Shai Alexander, three guys who were a five-star recruit in at least one recruiting service.
Perhaps UK can keep the Canadian connection going with Shittu and even Barrett. That would make for a killer Canadian duo in Lexington.
Johnson Bidding For Guard Spot
You’ve probably noticed UK having extended scholarship offers to several guards in the Class of 2018, including Darius Garland, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, and Romeo Langford. However, Quickley is the only one likely to UK, while the rest appear to be trending elsewhere.
That could make Keldon Johnson the next guard that Calipari offers. Johnson has been one of the fastest risers in the Class of 2018 thanks to a great showing in the spring and summer periods. He already has offers from Kansas, UCLA, Maryland, Texas, Indiana, Virginia, and Louisville, but the hope is one from UK ultimately comes, as SEC Country’s Kyle Tucker writes:
“Kentucky’s been pick up their interest a lot. They’ve been coming to a lot of my games. I’ve been talking to their assistant [Joel Justus],” Johnson said, noting what the Cats have told him about how to impress them: “Just keep competing, keep playing hard and just play my game — don’t get out of character. I think if I play my game, they’ll recognize what I can do.”
The versatile, 6-foot-5 wing who recently transferred from Huntington (W.Va.) Prep to Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) was an All-EYBL and All-Peach Jam selection this summer after leading his team to the Final Four on Nike’s AAU circuit. He averaged 19.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.3 steals in 23 games against some of the best players in America.
Johnson is versatile enough to play the 2 and 3 at UK, which could make him even more attractive if UK misses on Reddish, Zion or Barrett. It’s hard to say if Johnson is closer to an offer than King, though the former looks like the superior prospect.
To no surprise, R.J. Barrett has reclassified from 2019 into the 2018 class. This was expected for a while, but not that Barrett has made the move, the ball can get rolling on his recruitment.
That includes official visits, which should begin fairly soon. Expect Duke, Kansas and UK to score visits with Barrett at some point. Those three appear to be the early frontrunners for Barrett.
It just so happens that UK and Duke are also strongly in the running for Cameron Reddish. I think he’s a slight Duke lean right now, but UK would love to have Barrett anyhow. It will be interesting, however, to see if Barrett is willing to be part of a class that includes Zion Williamson, as UK is expected to land Zion at some point during the fall period.
If I had to guess, I would say Duke gets Reddish, UK gets Zion, and Barrett ultimately picks the Cats due in large part to the Canadian connection. He’s also good friends with current UK Canadian Shai Alexander.
That said, I still think this recruitment has a long way to go, and I won’t be surprised if Barrett ultimately opts for Duke. This is another class UK vs Duke battle brewing.
As far as who becomes UK’s first pledge in 2018, I expect it to be Immanuel Quickley. Unless UK surprisingly offers King and he commits soon after, Quickley will probably be the first commitment that Calipari secures for 2018.
Quickley is planning to take several official visits before making a decision sometime in September or October, but UK should come out of the fall signing period with his signature.
The only other player who appears likely to decide this fall is Zion Williamson. He would be the next guess for UK’s first pledge, as both he and Quickely have already discussed being a package deal in college.
After them, it remains to be seen if Bol Bol, R.J. Barrett, Cameron Reddish or other targets will be part of the fall signing period, but I do think there’s a decent shot that UK comes out of the fall with three players signed for 2018.