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Kentucky reaches out to Jabari Smith

Smith is climbing the rankings quickly.

A new recruit has emerged as a target for the Kentucky Wildcats in the class of 2021 — Jabari Smith.

On June 15, college coaches were granted permission to start directly contacting recruits in the 2021 class. Smith, a top-five recruit nationally, spoke to Ben Roberts of the Herald Leader the day before to discuss his recruitment and who he hoped to hear from.

“Everybody wants to hear from the blue bloods,” Smith said. “Duke, Kentucky, Kansas — all those big programs known for winning.”

The 6-9, 190-pound power forward has indeed heard from Kentucky since the recruiting period opened, Roberts reports, and deservedly so. Smith averaged 13.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 7-19 from three (36 percent) during FIBA play last month in front of UK assistant coach Joel Justus.

After an impressive spring, Smith has vaulted up the recruiting rankings, as high as No. 5 nationally according to Rivals and No. 10 on ESPN.

Smith also participated in the NBPA Top 100 Camp last week where Kentucky’s coaching staff was able to watch him again.

When talking to Rivals, he mentioned the Auburn Tigers, Georgia Bulldogs, and LSU Tigers as the first three schools to call him on June 15, but interest in the old school big man will assuredly pick up quickly.

The Arkansas Razorbacks, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, Georgetown Hoyas, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, and Maryland Terrapins are among the other schools showing strong interest in Smith.

Right now, the only recruits in the class of 2021 with scholarship offers from John Calipari are Terrence Clarke, Jonathan Kuminga, and Paolo Banchero. However, Smith could be next, so he’s worth keeping an eye on.

Smith did make a comment that will be music to Kentucky fans ears, though. When asked who he would compare his own style of play to, he responded with a name Cats’ fans are very familiar with.

“I look at PJ Washington — how he plays,” he said. “That’s really all I think about comparing to my game. … I just know that there’s a high chance of going to the NBA out of that program. They’re all about winning, and I like what Coach Calipari’s philosophy is — just how he coaches.”

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one more important tidbit. If the name Jabari Smith sounds familiar, it’s because his father shares the same name. The eldest Jabari was a standout player at LSU before being selected with the No. 45 overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft and playing several years of professional ball overseas. That leads me to believe that the Tigers will be a real player in this recruitment.

It’s too early to tell, but it looks like this might be Kentucky’s first major frontcourt target in 2021.

But for now, just enjoy these highlights.