The No. 1 player in high school basketball is considering a reclassification to the class of 2021, and even with 12 scholarship players on the roster - six being frontcourt pieces - Kentucky is prepared to go out fighting by the time a decision comes at the end of the summer.
Jalen Duren, a 6-foot-10, 230-pound center in the rising senior class, has openly discussed the possibility of taking the professional route. At one point, the five-star prospect even told 247Sports
that a school would have to "wow" him to consider going to college.
At this week's Pangos All-American Camp in Las Vegas, though, talk of Duren strongly considering the college route this fall began ramping up, with the five-star center telling KSR that he has scheduled three official visits this month. He'll start with a trip to Miami (FL) this week, followed by trips to Kentucky and Memphis at the end of June.
The nation's No. 1 overall prospect also told KSR he is planning to make his final decision at the end of the summer, another indication that a reclassification is on the table.
"I came away very, very convinced he's seriously considering the college route. It is not a done deal he's going to the pros," I said on this week's edition of the Sources Say Podcast. "... He's also planning to make a decision at the end of the summer. That's something that I don't think people realize at all, we are within months of a Jalen Duren final decision.
"I was told from somebody else that would definitely know that a reclassification is still very much on the table. ... If he reclasses, it's with the intention of going to college."
On Friday, Adam Zagoria broke the news that Duren is expected to reclassify and enroll in college for the 2021-22 season, adding that the NBA G League is also offering him a contract worth more than $1 million to turn pro. His final list includes Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, Miami (FL), Memphis, Michigan, Penn State, UCLA and Villanova among college programs, along with the G League and National Basketball League (NBL) being included among professional options.
Will he take the quick money and turn pro, signing his lucrative G League deal to team up with the likes of Jaden Hardy and Mike Foster? Or does he see value in the branding that comes with being a college basketball superstar, following in the footsteps of Cade Cunningham and Jalen Suggs, who made similar moves this past season? Will the opportunity to make money in college with the upcoming name, image and likeness rule changes expected to pass this season make a difference?
For starters, it's not about the money.
"I don’t try to take it for granted, I know I’ve been blessed with these opportunities," Duren told KSR. "I don’t really look at the money too much, I’m not really a flashy guy who really needs the money. People automatically think, ‘oh, they’re going to offer money, so he’s going to go there.’ I don’t think like that."
For the five-star prospect, it's more about who can help develop him into the NBA superstar he hopes to become. This isn't a one-year decision, it's a 10- to 15-year decision, and he's making that clear with the schools and professional leagues recruiting him.
"It’s really about development for me, I try to preach that a lot. Everyone I talk to whether it’s pro or college, it’s about how they’re going to develop me," Duren told KSR. "When I look at the money aspect, it’s not really about that for me. I don’t care too much about it. I mean, it’s good to have, but it’s not going to make the decision for me."
He sees the benefits that come with being a college basketball superstar and the brand you're able to build on a winning team.
"With teams and their own success, I feel like that’s a big win," Duren added. "Schools like Michigan and UCLA, a couple of the other schools on my list, Kentucky, the history of Kentucky, Michigan making a big run last year, UCLA making a huge run last year, it just goes to show that’s their type of culture. It’s definitely a good feeling about where I could fit in and how they love to win too."
That's where the name, image and likeness rules come into play. While it's all still brand new and nothing official has been passed - NCAA president Mark Emmert told the Senate Commerce Committee this week that the organization's NIL rules are expected to pass in late June - schools are already using branding as a key pitch for Duren. It's something the five-star standout supports.
But again, money is "not really a big thing" for Duren.
"It just started so a lot of people are just trying to figure out what it really is," Duren said of the anticipated NIL rule changes. "As people learn more and more about it, coaches are starting to show me their plan about how they’d be able to market me and brand me. Like I said, the money is cool, but it’s not really a big thing for me. If someone offered me this much and someone else offered me a different amount, it’s not like I’m just going to go here because it was more money.
"As I learn more and more about it and my family learns more and more about it, and other people, coaches learn more about it, I’ll be able to speak more about the NIL. I feel like it is a good idea to give athletes the money they deserve."
This comes after the UK coaches said earlier this offseason that the Kentucky program will be able to benefit the most of anyone in college basketball, and they had the stats to back it up.
“Obviously, we have to wait to see exactly what the rules state,” UK head coach John Calipari said back in May. “But no one should be able to do it better for men’s basketball than our program. Two years ago, TV-wise, our ratings before the pandemic would have ranked fourth in the NBA – Golden State, the Lakers, Cleveland with LeBron (James) – would have been above our ratings. So, all the social media stuff and all the stuff we do, and we can do, in my mind it should be the best in the country.”
“For us at Kentucky, we understand how big a platform and how big of a brand we have, especially in college basketball," Kentucky assistant coach Jai Lucas added. "So for someone who really wants the opportunity to enhance their brand on the biggest market, we feel that’s what we are and what we have to offer. ... We feel like with what we have and how many times we’re on TV and stuff like that, it’s something we should really be able to use.”
Speaking of Kentucky, Duren says the program's history "speaks for itself" and he's a fan.
"I had a Zoom call not too long ago with Coach Orlando and Coach Chin, just them introducing themselves. Coach O recruited me while he was at Illinois, so I kind of talked to him already, but when he got to Kentucky he wanted to continue that," Duren told KSR. "I definitely see them changing around their whole program for the betterment, continue the success they’ve been having. Everyone knows Kentucky and the history, it speaks for itself. I definitely notice the energy they’re bringing and I like it."
Calipari and the UK coaching staff will get their shot with Duren at the end of June, a potential game-changer for the program going into the 2021-22 college basketball season. Will they be able to flip the basketball world on its head by pulling off the upset with the nation's No. 1 overall prospect?