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Pilgrim’s Basketball Insider Notes: Two Kentucky targets nearing a decision

Jack Pilgrim01/14/19


Article written by:On3 imageJack Pilgrim

(Photo: Lopez/Nike)

Good afternoon, everyone! I hope everyone had great weekends and aren’t dreading this cold and cloudy Monday too much. If so, I may just have the cure to help push you through the home stretch at work or to get your relaxing evening started on a positive note.

We’re back for another edition of Pilgrim’s Basketball Insider Notes.

As I mentioned last week, Kentucky is in a holding pattern with the few remaining targets left on the board for 2019 due to high school basketball season in full-force and NBA Draft decisions still a ways away. As a result, I expected this version of the Insider Notes to be focused on updates with Kentucky’s current commitments/signees and some notes on 2020 prospects.

After hitting the phones and making my regular rounds, however, I actually came across quite a bit of interesting information we need to touch on regarding the recruitments of the available big names in 2019.

Let’s get right to it.

Keion Brooks

Photo: D1 Vision

The biggest news of the last week in terms of recruiting news has to do with the in-home visits five-star forward Keion Brooks Jr. held with his family on Sunday afternoon.

Brooks, a 6-foot-7 forward playing at La Lumiere HS in Indiana, hosted just two schools on his final list of six: Kentucky and Indiana. 

I’ve been told both in-home visits went extremely well for different reasons. On Kentucky’s end of things, John Calipari represented the school, and the Wildcat head coach sold his message of being a versatile playmaker on both ends of the floor with a solid shot at making it to the NBA after one season with relentless work and dedication to his craft. No other assistants made the trip with Coach Cal.

One interesting thing I learned is that while some recruits are getting turned off by the “Kentucky is not for everyone” pitch with zero promises on playing time, shots, etc., Brooks is absolutely in love with the mindset, and so is his family. Brooks’ father, Keion Sr., played basketball at Wright State and knows the grind that comes with being a college basketball player. The Kentucky target wants to be at a school where he can develop as a player and as a person, and he genuinely feels he can do just that en route to a successful NBA career by landing in Lexington. It’s a big reason why Brooks Jr. and his family are having such a hard time saying no to Calipari and company.

On Indiana’s end of things, however, the “hometown hero” pitch is working, and his close friends/people around the local area are only adding to that pressure of staying home. Brooks’ family also feels he can be successful and grow as a player in Bloomington and they respect Archie Miller as a head coach. The family is very much open to the schools in contention and want Brooks to make the decision best for him, but that’s not stopping others in the area from pushing the Hoosiers.

Evan Daniels of 247 Sports said in his latest mailbag that Michigan State and UNC also have shots with Brooks, but I stand by my prediction from last week that the final two schools in serious consideration when a decision is made in the coming weeks are the Wildcats and the Hoosiers.

Last week, I addressed his “inching toward a decision” comments, but I felt the sooner an announcement came for Brooks, the worse I felt about the Wildcats’ chances. Now, though, I’m under the impression the Kentucky coaching staff is confident no matter when the five-star forward makes it official. I’d probably put Indiana ever-so-slightly ahead of Kentucky for now, but I genuinely think they’ll have a shot in the end.

I have been told Brooks will absolutely be the first to make a decision of Kentucky’s four remaining major targets in the class of 2019, followed by Isaiah Stewart in February, Matthew Hurt in April, and Jaden McDaniels sometime during the regular signing period, as well.

Keep a close eye on Brooks…

Isaiah Stewart

On Saturday night, Isaiah Stewart told reporters he’s not going to make a final cut to two or three schools like most elite recruits do. Instead, the five-star power forward said he will just choose a school from his final five of Kentucky, Duke, Michigan State, Syracuse, and Washington.

Stewart also added that while he’s not ready to make a commitment quite yet, he acknowledged that it will be coming soon, with sources telling KSR that early February is the target timeframe.

Last week, I felt Duke was the favorite in his recruitment, followed by Michigan State, Kentucky, Washington, and Syracuse in that order. Since then, however, the Washington Huskies have garnered the most buzz for the talented prospect out of Indiana.

In fact, the Huskies have received four of Stewart’s last analyst predictions on Rivals.com, including one from recruiting guru Eric Bossi.

I can confirm Washington is right in the thick of things and have the majority of momentum right now, with two individuals actually telling me they are now the team to beat. Folks around the Kentucky program don’t believe they are out of the running yet, but I do get the sense they are much more confident in Matthew Hurt and Jaden McDaniels in the frontcourt. I’d probably put the Wildcats behind Washington, Duke, and Michigan State at this point.

I’ve been told one interesting dynamic regarding Stewart’s recruitment actually involves 2020 five-star center Walker Kessler. Duke had a significant amount of momentum with Stewart, but after a brief period of silence, they offered the 6-foot-10 star out of Fairburn, GA at the end of December. I’ve been told Kessler is a legitimate candidate to reclassify to 2019, and if he does, the Blue Devils may be the team to beat.

Duke may just want a backup option in place should Stewart land elsewhere, or they may just seriously want Kessler in the class of 2020. But I don’t think Duke’s interest in Kessler for 2019 and the tide shifting toward Washington for Stewart is a coincidence.

The Huskies are a legitimate player for the five-star power forward out of La Porte, IN.

Matthew Hurt

Hurt will visit Duke for their game this weekend against Virginia for his third official visit out of five. He started with Kentucky in the first week of December and then followed it up with a trip to North Carolina on December 14. He’ll also take a trip to Kansas in February and again likely to either Memphis or Minnesota for his fifth and final official.

After my conversations last week, I came away feeling pretty confident in Kentucky’s chances. One individual flat-out told me they felt the Wildcats were in the driver’s seat, saying John Calipari and staff made up a great amount of ground in a short period of time with Hurt.

I felt Kentucky had a slight lead, with Kansas running close behind at No. 2 and Memphis making a push a little further behind at No. 3. Duke, North Carolina, and Minnesota are the other three schools with buzz.

Since then, however, I’ve had a few people follow up and tell me the Jayhawks are still very much in the running and they might actually be neck-and-neck with the Wildcats. Hurt has always loved the Kansas program and will give them serious consideration right until the very end.

One source told me the dynamic 6-foot-9 scorer is in no rush to make a decision and we’re really just getting started with his recruiting process.

“Hurt is expected to have an entire second recruitment this spring,” they said. “Things will really start to heat up after his senior season ends and spring rolls around.”

I’ll catch up after his visit to Duke this weekend to see if there are any updates, but expect this thing to go the distance.

Jaden McDaniels

Photo via Endless Motor

Last week, I tried to touch on McDaniels’ recruitment from Kentucky’s side of things. This week, I tried to attack it from McDaniels’ side of things, which proved to be much more difficult.

To put it simply, trying to get information out of the 6-foot-11 star or his family regarding his recruitment is tough. Really tough. His family is an extremely close-knit group and they go about the recruiting process from within. They don’t talk to reporters much, and when they do, it’s usually nothing that sweeps the recruiting scene or makes major headlines.

That being said, Kentucky has made him a priority and they feel he can be an incredible addition to the class of 2019. As I mentioned last week, the staff feels his versatility can allow them to get back to playing a true Dribble Drive style, something they have gotten away from over the last several years. They could even update the offense to an entirely new system, something similar to what we’ve seen in the NBA where all players on the floor can stretch the floor and knock down shots. I said it before, but the idea of bringing in Hurt and McDaniels has those within the program extremely excited about the potential challenge.

If McDaniels leaves the west coast, and that’s not a sure thing, I’m under the assumption Kentucky will be the final destination. They’re a quiet bunch, but it’s well-known they love what Kentucky has to offer and could definitely see the elite forward fitting in with the program.

Anthony Edwards

Photo: Alyssa Trofort/Under Armour

Top-three prospect Anthony Edwards made headlines this past week when he joked on Instagram Live that he would be committing to Florida State.

The video is no longer available, but he talked about the Seminoles in passing originally, and then later said, “I just told you where I am going to college but y’all don’t want to listen.”

At the time, FSU fans took to Twitter to celebrate the news, even if the timing was completely random and didn’t really make a whole lot of sense.

Evan Daniels came out and said a decision has not been made and the No. 1 point guard in the class of 2019 didn’t mean anything by it:

Considering Florida State has been considered the favorite in his recruitment from the second he reclassified back in November, it’s interesting, nonetheless.

Beyond Florida State, James Wiseman also openly says he’s recruiting Edwards to Memphis, and the star point guard himself said he’s open to hearing the Tigers’ pitch:

I was told by someone on Kentucky’s end last week that Edwards has “a ton of interest” in the Wildcats, with the school’s ability to coach one-and-done talent being the key reason. Beyond Florida State, Kentucky, Memphis, and Georgia are generating the most buzz with the sure-fire 2020 NBA Draft lottery pick. North Carolina and Kansas are also on his final list.

That being said, when there’s smoke, there’s usually fire, and there has just been too much talk about the Seminoles for me to change my prediction.

Other options for 2019

Kentucky would like to finish with at least two of the five elite prospects left on the board in the class of 2019. If things go south with the four individuals listed above, where would they look next?

2020 prospects R.J. Hampton, Jalen Green, and Sharife Cooper have all been mentioned in reclassification talk, and though it’s not as much of a necessity with Kentucky’s potential backcourt depth next year, they will gauge potential interest and monitor each of their situations individually. As far as I know, there’s not any individual 2020 player they are actively recruiting for the class of 2019 like they did with Tyrese Maxey, Jalen Lecque, and Ashton Hagans this past year.

In the frontcourt, however, I’ve been told Kentucky will be watching closely for late bloomers with interest in making the jump, but they aren’t counting on it.

6-foot-11 center N’Faly Dante is really the only true frontcourt option that has been rumored to reclassify connected to the Cats, and though I’ve been told the Kentucky staff is interested in him as a player, I’m under the assumption they prefer him in the class of 2020 to allow him to develop a bit more.

I have also been told Kentucky would be open to bringing in another graduate transfer, but like we saw with Reid Travis, it would have to be the right situation with the right fit. They’re expected to lose PJ Washington to the NBA Draft and Travis to graduation, but they feel confident enough in their standing with the current available 2019 prospects and those potentially coming back from the current group that the graduate transfer route isn’t a focus right now.

Barring another hectic week of new developments, the plan is to break down Kahlil Whitney, Tyrese Maxey, and Dontaie Allen, along with some tidbits on the 2020 class in next week’s edition of the Monday Insider Notes.

We’ll see you then.


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