Recruiting elite recruits is a tough game that’s only getting tougher.
While the duo of John Calipari and Kentucky basketball has proven to be a force on the recruiting trail, it’s never easy to go against the likes of Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and the who’s who of the sport.
Now, Kentucky has a new adversary that’s already proving to be as fierce as any Hall of Fame coach.
It’s no school, but instead the NBA’s G-League professional pathway program.
Over the last year, the G-League has signed Jalen Green, Jon Kuminga, Isaiah Todd and Daishen Nix, all recruits Kentucky had some level of interest in. The Wildcats were actually seen as the favorites at various points for Green and Todd, but they were also strongly considering the G-League.
Ultimately, Kentucky passed on them, largely due to the threat of the G-League poaching them in the summer when there’d be no adequate replacements for Calipari to pursue.
It appears a similar fate could be playing out with Jaden Hardy.
Once viewed as a strong Kentucky lean, Hardy has been trending away for several months now, and a big reason why is Hardy’s interest in the G-League.
Rivals recruiting guru Corey Evans broke down the situation in an interview with Kentucky Daily, two days after he changed his prediction from Kentucky to UCLA for Hardy.
“He’ll (Hardy) be one of the last to actually commit to a college in the spring. Even if he does, we could see a Daishen Nix, Isaiah Todd situation where he leaves that program at the altar,” Evans said of the top-10 recruit from Nevada.
“I just think John Calipari and Kentucky, they rely heavily on high-level scoring guards, and I don’t think Cal wants to be left in that spot next year. I think he wants a high-level high school talent, and if I could tell him now, ‘Hey, take Hickman, take Devin Askew, and Hunter Sallis,’ I think he’d be OK with that.”
As mentioned above, Nix was someone Kentucky considered before he ultimately committed to UCLA. However, he ultimately signed with the G-League in April and left the Bruins hanging.
That’s the kind of risk Mick Cronin can take in just his season year on the job. But a school like Kentucky that’s always talented enough to compete for a Final Four berth can’t afford that big of a loss so late in the game. That’s likely why we’ve seen Kentucky reaching out to more guards in recent weeks, including Hunter Sallis.
So while it would be nice to see an incredibly gifted athlete like Jaden Hardy play in Lexington, Calipari isn’t going to let himself get burned at the last second when it’s clear Hardy has real interest in the G-League. That’s likely why Kentucky is fading in this recruitment, while a school like UCLA is probably more willing to take the gamble.