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Good evening KSR! This was a popular feature I did during my days at Rivals where subscribers would ask questions and I would answer them to the best of my ability. Certainly you all know how mailbags work, right? I'm bringing that same energy to the KSR Basketball Recruiting Q&A, except this time no one has to pay for it! Let's have some fun and if your question wasn't answered tweet me or send me an email
. I gotcha.
Cody starting off with a banger! I have gotten many recruitments wrong. I did tell Cody that the stipulation would be that I'm only including UK recruits and I'm only counting at the time of their decisions or shortly before (I explain below). But for example, I was told that Tyler Herro wasn't going to be a UK target by someone close to UK's staff and a couple weeks later he was hot and heavy with Kentucky and it was clear that I was told wrong and the kid was going to UK. So, I'm going by decision day to make myself look smarter.
Let's start when I started
- Andrew Wiggins (I thought FSU would be the choice but no one had any clue. Even Bill Self said he was surprised when Wiggins picked KU. I bet Bill. I bet you were $urprised.)
That seems to be it in 2013. We did break the Harrison's to UK story at CI (shoutout to Corey Albertson)
- This was another strange class. Probably the strangest since this year. At times Emmanuel Mudiay and Stanley Johnson seemed like locks for Kentucky. The Cats made a strong push for Kelly Oubre but more parent drama there. At times I thought all three would end up at UK but before their decisions it was clear the Cats weren't the leaders.
Trey Lyles (One of my few misses where a kid actually picked UK. I thought he was going to Louisville until a couple hours before the decision)
James Blackmon (Everyone in the morning thought he was going to UK, but the Cats landed Devin Booker instead and Blackmon had a change of heart. Whoops)
- Jaylen Brown (I thought he'd be at Kentucky but on Oaks Day in 2015 he picked California)
Cheick Diallo (I wasn't confident in his recruitment. Weird, weird recruitment. The Kansas pick wasn't a major shocker, but the timing was strange)
Jamal Murray (I had no clue. Hours before the decision I guessed Kentucky but it was just a guess, so not really wrong but I didn't have the in here)
Carlton Bragg (The timing surprised me and UK seemed to be in a great spot for a long time, but things quieted down when he randomly announced for KU)
- Markelle Fultz (I didn't think it would be UK but I was surprised by the Washington pick and the timing)
Bam Adebayo (The night before/the morning of it was clear it was going to be UK, but a week before that would NOT have been my prediction. So, again I wasn't technically wrong by the time of the decision but it was tough to follow before he announced)
- Marvin Bagley III (I didn't think it would be UK but I thought he'd stay in L.A.)
DeAndre Ayton (I didn't think it would be UK but I wasn't 100 percent sure it wasn't Kentucky the day of the announcement)
Mohamed Bamba (I still don't know how UK lost out on Bamba)
Kevin Knox (I didn't confidently say he would end up at Kentucky, but I gave UK a much better chance than the majority of other analysts. Still an L for me)
R.J. Barrett (I didn't think it would be UK, but my guess was Oregon)
Zion Williamson (See above, except I thought it would be Clemson. Duke, man)
So far so good. There was a time I thought UK led for Oscar Tshiebwe and Scottie Lewis, but as decision day neared it was clear neither would be Cats, as we talked about on KSR.
15 surprising commitments and more to come! Weird thing is I remember where I was when finding out/watching every single one of these commitments. This job.
As for my prediction on the 2019 class?
Grad-Transfer to be named later
Just remember to ask me a day or two before these guys commit.
Easily the best prank. I love the detail, the time it took for Jim and the shock from Dwight and Erin. Nick is gullible enough to believe a prank like this and I'm going to get him one of these days.
I think as of today that's what I'd go with. Hurt or McDaniels. I'm still not giving up on Wiseman or Carey, but there's no denying the Cats don't have the momentum as of today. Obviously the Wiseman stuff is well documented, but the Carey recruitment is head scratching. Kentucky at one point had the momentum and looked like the team to beat (folks close to UK who are usually optimistic said this but it was also verified on by EYBL sources) then after the Duke visit that UK was momentum was gone. The weirder part was there's still a chance he doesn't even pick Duke and ends up at Michigan State! So, what happened at Duke that made Carey cool on Kentucky? Again, don't count out Calipari but I'll need some positive news in those recruitments before believe UK is the leader again.
Well, the easy and obnoxious answer is that UK's staff is full and Orlando Antigua has a nice job at Illinois. I kid, Slone. I understand the question and there is some truth in the obvious answers. Antigua will not be an option for John Calipari until a spot opens up on his staff and as of right now there isn't a spot available. If a spot opens up I would expect UK to at least reach out to Antigua, but that's a lot of ifs. I also don't expect Calipari to fire anyone.
Something a lot of people don't know is that Calipari didn't give a complete blessing for Antigua to take the South Florida job. Cal didn't hate the job, but he didn't think USF would commit to its basketball program and that's a big thing supposedly when Calipari considers head coaching jobs for his assistants. He feels like Tony Barbee was given a raw deal at Auburn, a place that has neglected basketball for most of its history. Supposedly Calipari wasn't mad at Antigua and didn't blame him, but he wasn't 100 percent convinced it was the best spot for Antigua and it's my opinion that Calipari wanted Antigua to be a little more selective. But there is no bad blood. It certainly explains why Kenny Payne hasn't wasted his time interviewing at bad jobs. I don't get the sense that Antigua leaving Cal once would eliminate a possible reunion, but interesting all the same.
This has been slightly overblown over the months, but Montgomery didn't want to play with R.J. Barrett. It seems clear that Montgomery wasn't in love with how things went down when Barrett joined Montverde Academy and he didn't want to be teammates with Barrett again. I have never heard that Montgomery had a bad experience with Williamson or Reddish. I think there was some friendly trash talk at the McDonalds All-American game, but maybe it was more personal to Montgomery? The knock on Barrett is that he's the shit and he knows it. He expects all the touches and is extremely critical to teammates. Those were the AAU/high school rumors, but so far so good at Duke with him playing selflessly with Williamson and Reddish.
I did hear that when Barrett committed to Duke that the Blue Devils staff had to call/meet Reddish and tell him everything would be OK and he would still be featured. Supposedly Capel smoothed everything over.
That one was really bizarre. Kentucky thought they were landing Brown. He committed to California during his senior season award ceremony or banquet ceremony where there were no media members and it came out of left field. From what I've gathered from folks close to UK is that he wanted to do something different and he wanted to create his own path. A rebel, if you will. Everyone thought he was going to go to UK where he would be another five-star player and a one-and-done. He curved everyone by picking Cal, even UK's staff. Every so often you're going to get a kid that's going to spurn the bluebloods because they don't like people telling them what they have to do to be successful. To be young again.
I wrote a column last February after Williamson picked Duke saying that Calipari needed to do this, but it's not that easy. Kentucky's sell right now is to get to the NBA early and if you're being recruited by UK then that tells kids they have an avenue to the NBA sooner than later. That's why so many people (myself included) think UK leads after they offer a kid because the kid is so flattered. For the five-star, top 10 kids it's not such a big deal, but for sophomores or juniors that land an offer it's really a big deal for the kid or family. I'm not sure how Calipari offers a kid but says "Well, now kid, you're gonna be here a little longer than others." Cal never promises anyone a one-year path to the NBA, but instead talks about working hard and following the plan and they may be able to get there. But kids hear that and think NBA and I don't blame them.
So, I'm not sure how Calipari changes his pitch. I think every year he needs to go after a four-star target they like that is ranked 40-60 and they do need to be honest with the kid and his family. The NBA will be on the table, but if he has to stay a few years he will be successful, too. There are so many talented bigs UK has overlooked because they were worried about the impact they would make their freshmen year. Thomas Bryant, Udoka Azubuike, and Moses Brown just to name a few (there are several more).
I think the bigger issue is the culture that if you don't leave after a year you're a failure. UK's trying to change that but there's only so much they can do. Peer pressure goes into seeing good friends sign with agents while you're still walking to biology class and living in a dorm. I'm not sure how UK makes it cool to stay behind while your roommate chases a dream you've had for 12-15 years. Sure, the G-League life sucks and being the big man on campus seems cooler to you and me, but money talks.
I'd be shocked if Calipari were to fire Joel Justus or Tony Barbee. Cal loves both those guys and both do a lot of really good things for Kentucky, both in recruiting and with the team. Calipari is incredibly loyal and he's not going to give up on a friend who's working hard. Now, if Justus or Barbee were just sitting around not recruiting that would be a different story. Justus has done a great job in Wiseman and Hurt's recruitment, but these kids can only pick one school.
Now, if an assistant coach takes a head coaching job position that could open up an assistant spot. Maybe that happens after this season, but no one is getting fired. The Slice experiment didn't really work for the Cats and he wasn't fired, but did end up going back home for another assistant spot...
Hey, Calipari doesn't need advice from someone who's missed like 15 recruitments in seven years, but here's some questionable advice from your favorite basketball recruiting analyst at KSR:
- Stop with the Kentucky isn't for everyone pitch. Kids who have never been told and parents who think they have the next LeBron rarely find that attractive. Cal's pitch isn't a lie, but maybe he should play the game a little more?
- Start recruiting/offer kids earlier. Only once has UK offered a kid super early and he committed and fell in the rankings. Charles Matthews. He's doing just fine for Michigan and will be drafted this June. Building relationships earlier goes a long way and I'm not sure having "offers mean something" is as impactful as the staff thinks.
- Negatively recruit. UK's doing more of this over the years but it used to be a zero tolerance policy. Penny's never been to the NCAA Tournament, had a draft pick or won a conference game. UK should let the Wiseman family know the risks involved in first year head coaches.
- Grad-transfers. UK landed Reid Travis but Cal needs to cool it on his grad-transfer take. Go scoop up the best player you can regardless if it hurts another coach. I expect this to happen more frequently for Kentucky.
I expect Allen to follow the Darius Miller path. I know that's lazy since both are wings and are Kentuckians, but I wouldn't expect too much from Allen in year one, but I love his potential and what he can be later in his career. He must get better defensively and he needs to try and shoot 40 percent or higher from deep. If he works on those two things than the sky is truly the limit. I do really love his versatility offensively and think as long as he's patient and works hard he will be a fan favorite.
I love these questions. I had a few questions like this but next time I'm going to answer more because I think the answers are more entertaining than me guessing UK's class or trying to figure out what an 17-year-old kid will do in five months. I know that's my job and I have educated guesses, but recruiting is wild and changes constantly.
And the reason I didn't answer more of these types of questions today... well, that's what we in the biz call a tease. Let's do this again soon.
Bolden's mom lived up to her billing. She truly did want the best for her son, so I can't fault her too much, but she did NOT think highly of the academic side of UK. I remember once I called her for an interview and here's how the gist of the conversation went:
"Mrs. Bolden, this is TJ with Rivals. I was wondering if you had a minute to talk about your son?"
"Yes, UK's Rivals site."
"Oh, UK? Kentucky?"
"How'd you get this number?"
"Marques actually texted it to me."
"Did you try his dad?"
"Melvin actually said to talk with you."
"Well you'll need to talk to Marques about UK. I haven't spoken with them."
He had already officially visited UK and the Cats had been in several times to speak with Bolden and the family. The mom just wasn't feeling UK and couldn't be convinced otherwise by Kentucky's coaches. It happens. I'm told eventually UK's staff stopped trying to convince here and specifically pitched Melvin and Marques. Wild stuff.
Thanks for the questions and remember to tweet me if I didn't answer your question: @TJWalkerKSR. We'll do another one soon.