4-Point Play: Kentucky pledges shine in McDonald's All-American Game

On3 imageby:Jack Pilgrim04/02/24

I, Jack Pilgrim, agree to the terms and conditions acknowledging you, Big Blue Nation, may not care what I am about to write given the current state of the program and recent postseason results. I understand it is difficult to get excited for next season, specifically the next batch of blue-chip recruits set to line the roster. Time heals all wounds, take as long as you need.

Three of Kentucky‘s six signees in its second-ranked 2024 recruiting class took the floor in the prestigious McDonald’s All-American Game on Tuesday, 24 of the nation’s best competing in Houston split between the East and West teams — Jayden Quaintance and Boogie Fland suiting up for the former, Karter Knox for the latter. It was the East squad pulling off the hard-fought victory in a wildly competitive battle from start to finish, the matchup coming down to the final buzzer following a go-ahead putback bucket from Fland that would eventually prove to be the game-winner.

How did the future Wildcats perform? Let’s break it down tonight in a late edition of 4-Point Play.

Boogie Fland finishes the putback to win

The five-star guard was named New York High School Player of the Year last week after leading Archbishop Stepinac to a CHSAA Class AA championship, averaging 19.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.4 steals per contest overall. He’s flashy, but there’s so much substance there and it translates to winning.

That was put on display yet again on the big stage, Fland going for 17 points on 6-14 shooting and 3-6 from three with five rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes, highlighted by the late follow-up conversion to put the East team ahead and ultimately for good. He was singled out as a practice standout all week, then separated himself as a top performer in the live scrimmage broadcast on ESPN+, as well. That was without shooting the ball well from deep, instead showing off his craft around the basket while nailing pull-up mid-range attempts and thriving as a facilitator.

In the main event, Fland found himself on a mini heater after a slow shooting start while picking up where he left off in the other areas of his game. Once he found his footing, the Kentucky signee emerged as the best point guard on the floor, controlling the pace and directing traffic while picking and choosing when to step up and/or defer to his teammates. His high basketball IQ stood out quickly, just as it has from the time he arrived in Houston.

Jayden Quaintance is a force both now and down the road

The 6-10 forward made headlines as the youngest player in McDAAG history, coming in at just 16 years old with a mandatory two-year wait until he can enter the draft. And his age showed at times, struggling to find his groove in the live scrimmage Sunday before ramping things up in practice late. That was the case right away in the official game, getting his shot swatted inside on his first attempt before using defense to get rolling in a hurry, picking up back-to-back steals en route to four total.

His switchability was apparent and effortless, using his quickness to guard out on the perimeter while his length and strength caused problems for the opposition inside. And he was a force on the glass, pulling down seven boards — four offensive, three defensive — while fighting for loose balls, showing better flashes in that area than much of what we saw from the Wildcats this past season.

On the other end, he finished with both power and finesse, keeping one dribble hand-off for a graceful bucket off the left-side glass while also ripping the rim down on another two-foot leap and slam through congestion down low. Then he had a big-time punch in transition to cap off the impressive all-around effort, adding three assists to go with his seven points in 14:33 of game action.

Again, Quaintance is raw and will be a work in progress once he arrives on campus. But when you have him for a minimum of two years, you’re free to bring him along however quickly is necessary. His size, strength, quickness and leaping ability give him a relatively high floor from day one while the natural gifts pave the path for an otherworldly ceiling. And given the extended runway he’ll have in Lexington, it’s possible we’ll see both short-term production and long-term stardom.

Karter Knox is a versatile score-first threat

He may have played the least among Kentucky pledges, but Knox actually finished tied for third in made field goals for the West team and seventh overall, knocking down 4-6 attempts and going 1-1 from three for nine points. The younger brother of Kevin Knox, Karter attacked the basket and finished with purpose while also confidently launching and drilling his lone three of the night. He had one dribble move that led to a spin and drive for a finger-roll finish over Quaintance in the paint, showing off his creation and finishing touch.

And he looked the part physically, as well, commentators praising the top-20 recruit for getting his body where it needs to be as a versatile wing with small-ball four potential at 6-6, 225 pounds. His frame will allow him to be a plug-and-play freshman this season beyond his pure scoring abilities.

And his energy was where it needed to be both on and off the floor, a previous knock on him coming into the event. He’s got the natural talent, but does he have the competitive fire to contribute to winning in Lexington? Knox showed it on Tuesday in Houston.

Is he slowly becoming Kentucky’s biggest sleeper in the class?

A rough night for new target Liam McNeeley

The Wildcats had an event-leading three guys in attendance, but could it finish as four by the time the late signing period rolls around? Kentucky is pursuing Indiana decommit Liam McNeeley, a top-15 forward considered the top available high school prospect in the nation. He told reporters at the event he’s “not really worried about recruiting right now” and won’t until after Chipotle Nationals wraps up this week.

The skilled forward acknowledged, though, that Kansas, UConn, Kentucky, Houston and Michigan were the schools pushing for him the hardest.

“I’m sure there are more that I’m missing, but those are the ones that are top of my mind right now,” he said.

Now officially a UK target, how did McNeeley look? Well, not great. He finished with two points on 0-6 shooting and 0-3 from three with four rebounds, one assist and one turnover in 12 minutes. That comes after a standout effort in the live scrimmage on Sunday, hitting the game-winning three in the left corner at the buzzer on an assist from Boogie Fland.

Once upon a time, McNeeley and Fland considered playing together at IU. Now, could they both wind up at Kentucky to close out the Wildcats’ high school recruiting class? Coach Cal is interested — even if he struggled a bit Tuesday.

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2024-04-22