At one point, Kentucky’s 2019 recruiting class was shaping up to look completely different than what eventually became reality. John Calipari and the UK coaching staff had landed a commitment from four-star small forward DJ Jeffries and were the runaway favorite for the No. 1 prospect in the class, James Wiseman.
They landed five-star guard Tyrese Maxey, and beyond that, Wiseman was talking about teaming up with fellow elite big man Vernon Carey Jr. and becoming the next Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins at whichever school they decided to attend.
When Penny Hardaway became the head coach at Memphis that spring, he immediately began recruiting Wiseman, his star center with his former AAU squad, the Bluff City Legends. And there were rumors Jeffries was interested in teaming up with each of them in Memphis.
Just a few months later, Jeffries became the first player under John Calipari to decommit from Kentucky and eventually pledged his commitment in October to Hardaway’s Tigers. Wiseman soon followed in November.
For Jeffries, he says it wasn’t an easy process and that he realized the magnitude of his decision, he just felt it was the best decision for him.
“Making the adjustment from Kentucky was kind of hard, you know?” he said. “I mean, it’s Kentucky, right? Not too many kids leave Kentucky. When I did that, it just felt like it was right for me, felt like it was the best thing.”
So why was it the best thing for Jeffries and his future? Hardaway helped him realize that he wanted to represent the city of Memphis at the next level.
“Penny (Hardaway), of course, and my teammates,” he said. “I played AAU ball with most of the guys already there, and James (Wiseman) is a big part of it. I just wanted to do something for the city (of Memphis), you know?”
Though he did become the first player to decommit under Calipari at Kentucky, he said that he has nothing but love for the UK coaching staff and the time and effort they put into recruiting him.
“But Coach Cal, he’s still a really great guy,” Jeffries said. “I don’t have anything (against) him, Tony Barbee, none of them. They have a great coaching staff.”
After Jeffries decommitted, Kentucky was able to put the full-court press on five-star small forward Kahlil Whitney, who ended up committing to the school just a week later. Fast forward to March of this year, and five-star forward Keion Brooks Jr. also decided to make Lexington his new basketball home.
In Jeffries’ eyes, both Memphis and Kentucky ended up better off in the long run with how things played out.
“(Kentucky has) two great players in Keion Brooks and Kahlil Whitney (at the wing) now, so there’s no bad blood,” he said. “I really just had to do what was best for me.”
On Thursday, the SEC announced that they had formed a scheduling alliance in basketball with the American Athletic conference going forward.
As of now, the idea is that the top four AAC schools would face off against the four SEC schools who do not currently participate in the SEC/Big 12 challenge, meaning that does not include Kentucky for now. That being said, the partnership could lead to increased dialogue between both parties and a potential matchup between UK and Memphis could come about that way.
With the dust settled a bit, Jeffries said he would be all for a friendly rivalry with head-to-head matchups while he is at Memphis.
“I hope for it,” he said. “That’d be really fun. It’d be fun, because, you know, the fans gave me so much backlash. But I still love them, I ain’t got no problem with them. I’d just love to have a game against Kentucky.”