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4-Point Play: Catching up after chaos at the beach

Jack PIlgrimby:Jack Pilgrim06/12/24

I’ll be honest, vacationing with an eight-month-old is a whole heck of a lot different than I imagined going into our first family trip to Panama City. Maybe it was the shark attacks just down the beach resulting in lost limbs at the exact time we floated in the water with blissful ignorance or the fact that we’ll be cleaning sand out of our belongings for the next decade. Or that rest and relaxation doesn’t really exist beyond fitting in power naps when the baby goes down for his mid-day snoozes, little mini windows of decompression rather than a complete week’s worth. You replace the peaceful book reading and listening to the waves crash onto the shore with sand castles, toy distractions and creating shade.

Not that it’s worse in the slightest, just different. Life as a new dad.

It was also my first real time off since little man was born last fall, finally disconnecting after the coaching carousel spun out of control this offseason and the roster overhaul began. Fortunately, Jaxson Robinson’s decision was the last real domino that needed to fall besides Will Riley‘s official visit to Lexington as Mark Pope puts a bow on his first group as head coach, that coming right before I slammed my laptop shut for the week — as good a time as ever to do so.

What did I miss? Dan Hurley almost took the Lakers job while the Bat Cats made it to the program’s first-ever College World Series (yes, I’m devastated I missed those electric days and nights at Kentucky Proud Park). We also saw some major recruiting events take place and developments unfold with the Pangos All-American Camp taking place in Las Vegas, USA Basketball winning the FIBA U18 AmeriCup for the seventh straight year and the NBPA Top 100 Camp tipping off in Orlando — Pope in attendance for the latter two events. That’s led to scholarship offers for 2025 top-20 prospects Chris Cenac and Nikola Bundalo with more to come, namely when the direct contact period for rising juniors opens this Saturday, June 15.

Welcome home, Jaxson Robinson

Speaking of Robinson’s big decision, the BYU star transfer has officially arrived in Lexington, Kentucky sharing photos and a video from move-in day on Wednesday.

His message to Big Blue Nation? It’s time to go win a national championship in his final season of eligibility as a Wildcat.

“Jaxson Robinson here, just touched down in Lex,” he said. “I’m ready to get to work, ready to get to know you guys on a deeper level. Let’s go chase No. 9.”

And his first look in Kentucky blue and white sporting his new No. 2 uniform.

The 6-7 wing fits right in.

Who gets the 13th roster spot?

Amari Williams is the lone holdout among Wildcats moving in, set to arrive in Lexington on June 15. From there, the other 11 have all arrived, Jaxson Robinson being the latest to settle in at his new Kentucky home. From there, the attention shifts to that 13th and final roster spot — a “floating piece,” as Pope previously called it.

“It could be a place for a young player. It could be a place for a senior player who is going to take a redshirt year. It could be a place for a project. It could be a place for a high-risk guy,” he said.

Will Riley is a serious reclass candidate as a top-10 recruit considering a move from 2025 to 2024. Coming off an official visit to Lexington, the 6-9 wing from Ontario released a new list of five finalists, including Alabama, Arizona, Illinois, Kentucky and the New Zealand Breakers of the NBL. Coming down the home stretch of his recruitment, though, the Wildcats and Illini are seen as the top contenders with the latter seen as the favorite.

What happens if Orlando Antigua is able to pull off the win over the program he previously called home? Keep an eye on other reclass and international possibilities to emerge later this summer. One way or another, that spot is being filled.

“We’re going to fill this roster, we’re just going to take our time with that 13th one,” Kentucky assistant coach Cody Fueger said back in May ” … You never know what European kid is going to want to play college basketball late. Things are so fluid and changing in this college basketball environment right now.”

New recruits to watch in 2025

We’re in an awkward overlap with offers going out to rising seniors under the new coaching staff while others still claim offers from Kentucky, albeit under Coach Cal. 13 scholarships are technically out, but how many are actual targets for Pope and the Wildcats in 2025?

We can start with Cenac and Bundalo as confirmed names — they just got their offers this week. The same applies to AJ Dybantsa, Darryn Peterson and Jasper Johnson, who have all made it clear the new staff has extended scholarships and are top priorities moving forward. Top-15 prospect Tounde Yessoufou is an early favorite for Pope while in-state standout Malachi Moreno has also made a strong early impression and is a name to watch. Talks have stalled, however, with Darius Acuff, Koa Peat and Caleb Wilson while the jury still out on mutual interest with Meleek Thomas and Cameron and Cayden Boozer.

Who could be next up to receive an offer from the Cats? Pope watched Trey McKenney (No. 12 overall), Nate Ament (No. 15), and Shelton Henderson (No. 43) closely at the FIBA U18 AmeriCup in Argentina, along with the likes of Brayden Burries (No. 14), Hudson Greer (No. 19), Jerry Easter (No. 27), Davion Hannah (No. 30) and Kaden Magwood (No. 82) at the NBPA Top 100 Camp in Orlando. Pope was joined by Alvin Brooks III, Cody Fueger and Jason Hart for that event. Isiah Harwell (No. 7), Mikel Brown Jr. (No. 13) and Kingston Flemings (No. 25) are other names of interest.

It’s still early, but Kentucky’s recruiting board is coming together quite nicely.

Add Clemson to the non-conference schedule

It’s official: Kentucky’s opponent in the 2024 ACC/SEC Challenge has been set.

Previously reported by Jon Rothstein, UK has since confirmed that the Wildcats will travel to Clemson to take on the Tigers on Dec. 3 at Littlejohn Coliseum. A TV designation and tip time will be announced at a later date.

Kentucky leads the all-time series 12-4, the programs last facing off on Nov. 29, 1997 — a 76-61 win for the Cats. That was a part of the Premier Classic in Phoenix during UK’s 1998 National Championship season, the last edition of the series. It will be Kentucky’s first trip to Clemson since the 1933-34 season.

An updated look at the non-conference schedule as we know it:

  • Tue., Nov. 12: vs. Duke (Champions Classic, Atlanta)
  • Tue., Dec. 3: at Clemson (ACC/SEC Challenge)
  • Sat., Dec. 7: vs. Gonzaga (Seattle)
  • Sat., Dec. 14: vs. Louisville (Rupp Arena)
  • Sat., Dec. 21: vs. Ohio State (CBS Sports Classic, New York City)
  • TBD: Western Kentucky (Rupp Arena)
  • TBD: Lipscomb (Rupp Arena)

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