Good evening, BBN! Welcome back to another edition of Pilgrim's Insider Notes.
This weekend was a massive one in the world of Kentucky basketball recruiting, as UK hosted ten elite prospects for Big Blue Madness ranging from the best of the best in the senior class to unranked, high-potential athletes in the 2022 class.
The big names? 2020 five-star guard Cade Cunningham, 2020 commitments Terrence Clarke and Lance Ware, and 2021 five-star forward Paolo Banchero, among others.
So how did things go with the top targets, you ask?
Let's dive right in and find out.
As I wrote in my Insider Notes post last week, the Kentucky coaching staff followed up Devin Askew's official visit to Lexington by immediately preparing for Cunningham's visit.
“Next week is the big one,” one source close to the situation told KSR last weekend. “[They are] not playing around, going for the kill.”
Sources told KSR that Kentucky head coach John Calipari took a visit to Cunningham's school to talk things over and preview his upcoming official to UK.
Going into the trip, sources told KSR that Cunningham was never going to be sold by the lights, pyrotechnics, and smoke of Big Blue Madness. He also wasn't looking for a pitch that only highlighted his abilities or the opportunity to take as many shots as he wanted like some other top recruits have and continue to do. With UK already picking up commitments from Terrence Clarke and BJ Boston, Cunningham was interested in learning how they would all work together as the most dynamic backcourt in college basketball next season and build their collective NBA Draft stock together.
Ask and you shall receive.
Sources tell KSR that outside the normal impressive official visit techniques the UK coaching staff held a film study session with Cunningham that resonated extremely well with the five-star guard. During this time, the staff broke down his game and how he would be utilized in Calipari's system next year alongside numerous other elite prospects in what is looking to be one of the UK head coach's best recruiting classes ever. Clarke - who I'm told (and as evident on his social media pages) has been "relentless" in recruiting Cunningham on his own - was also there during the film session, with all three parties (Cunningham, Clarke, and the UK staff) talking about how well the two star guards would work together. Cunningham had an idea of what he was looking for in this regard and the overall style of coaching, and the Kentucky staff blew him away.
Outside of the film work, Cunningham explored the facilities, watched practice, visited Keeneland, went to the Kentucky vs. Arkansas football game, and ate dinner at Jeff Ruby's, among other UK visit regularities. All major boxes checked in terms of learning about the program and what everyday life would be as a potential future Wildcat.
I said on the Sources Say Podcast last week that for the first time since Cannen Cunningham, Cade's brother, was hired on at Oklahoma State, I felt Kentucky had a legitimate shot at landing the elite five-star guard. The Wildcats were picking up significant momentum going into the visit, and the UK coaching staff went out of their way to go above and beyond to shatter those expectations. It takes a lot to screw up an official visit - seriously, when is the last time you heard of an official visit going wrong? It's not often - but it also takes a lot to be a difference-maker in a top-five prospect's recruitment. Kentucky did a phenomenal job making sure the latter came to fruition.
So where do things stand now?
As you guys are well aware by now, 247Sports Director of Recruiting Evan Daniels submitted a Crystal Ball pick in favor of the Wildcats this afternoon, a massive development. Daniels is 42/42 on recruiting predictions in 2019, as the recruiting insider never submits a pick until he's pretty darn certain. He originally had a pick in for Oklahoma State this summer (when Cunningham was almost certainly going to follow his brother to Stillwater), then changed it to "foggy" when it became apparent he was not tied down to OSU and strongly considering a commitment elsewhere. Even when North Carolina buzz picked up, the popular recruiting held off on an official prediction. The fact that the recruiting insider - who has correctly predicted 94.4% of all-time picks - opted for Kentucky this afternoon immediately following Cunningham's official visit is quite significant.
To provide some background, Kentucky feels it has done enough to secure a commitment from the 6-foot-7 guard when it comes time for a decision. To take it a step further, those in the Arlington/DFW area - Cunningham's hometown - believe Kentucky is the firm leader at this point. There are also rumblings that North Carolina is no longer confident in landing the five-star guard, as they are aware of UK's recent surge and Oklahoma State's longtime status as the clubhouse leader. Another individual told KSR this evening that those around the UNC program now feel they are running third behind the Cowboys and Wildcats and will likely not land their prized guard target. As for the Cowboys, I can't get too far into detail here, but there are some other rumblings that the current OSU administration - including his brother - won't even be there by the time Cunningham ends up on a college campus. I'm not certain how much the five-star guard is factoring this into his decision, but it obviously can't hurt Kentucky's chances.
OSU is not losing hope quite yet, but UK's internal confidence is growing louder. As it should.
Sources tell KSR that despite the UK buzz, Cunningham is still planning on taking his official visit to Washington next weekend, with the five-star guard planning on setting an announcement date not long after. There is strong speculation that Cunningham will then make his decision around Thanksgiving next month and sign during the fall signing period.
Kentucky was tasked with making a jump to the top spot in the 6-foot-7 guard's recruitment this weekend, and I believe they did just that. It's not over quite yet, as Oklahoma State will try its best to throw a counterpunch to UK's momentum, but it cannot be discounted just how promising things look for the top guard in the nation.
A lot of people asked last week about how Kentucky's positive momentum with Cunningham and potential commitment would affect the team's pursuit of 2021 five-star guard Devin Askew.
In short, it doesn't hurt in the slightest. In fact, it only helps.
Ben Roberts of the Herald-Leader
- who has done phenomenal work this weekend in Colorado Springs at the Team USA Minicamp - asked both Askew and his father what they thought of Cunningham's potential addition, and they had nothing but high praise for the five-star guard and the idea of suiting up next to him in Lexington.
I talked about UK making certain both parties were okay with the idea of playing together on the podcast last week, so this confirmation straight from Askew today is certainly a good sign.
To take it a step further, I reached out to one source extremely familiar with Askew's official visit to UK last week, and I continue to hear only positive news regarding Kentucky's chances. In fact, this same individual told KSR on Sunday afternoon that it's not a secret within the UK program that Askew is expected to become a Wildcat in the coming weeks, with a reclassification to 2020 likely to follow.
"Just go on and pencil him in to Kentucky [for the class of 2020] at this point," the source said.
As crazy as it sounds for UK to land both Askew and Cunningham in the same class, it's looking more and likely to be reality. With or without Cunningham, I would be shocked at this point if the Santa Ana, CA native ended up anywhere other than UK.
This week, Ben Roberts reported from Colorado Springs that 2020 top-ten prospect Scottie Barnes had scheduled an official visit for Kentucky next weekend for the school's annual Blue-White Scrimmage. Around the same time, it was reported that Barnes would no longer be visiting Miami (FL) and cutting the Hurricanes from his list, leaving just Florida State, Oregon, and Kentucky in contention.
Oddly enough, both sets of news came not long after Kentucky commit BJ Boston went on Hey Kentucky and hinted at UK having a major silent commitment in the frontcourt.
Coincidence? Strangely enough - especially when you factor in Barnes' hectic recruitment and the schools long seen as the strongest contenders - it actually might not be.
On Thursday evening, a source told KSR that despite the obvious Barnes may actually be the individual Boston was referring to, with the UK staff looking to utilize the 6-foot-9, 215-pound forward as a small ball four alongside Cunningham, Clarke, and Boston.
On the outside, it admittedly sounds ridiculous. After including Kentucky in his list of final eight schools (Miami, Oregon, Ohio State, Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, California, and Florida State) back in February, he later told reporters at Peach Jam that Oregon, Kansas, Ohio State, Miami and Florida State were the five schools he was most strongly involved with. Kentucky's chances with the top-ten prospect seemed non-existent, with sources telling KSR that mutual interest between UK and Barnes was lukewarm, at best. In fact, one source close to Barnes told KSR back in the spring that he simply didn’t see a scenario where he would "ever" end up in Lexington.
In terms of the schools in the best position to land Barnes, Oregon has long been seen as the favorite, though Florida State has emerged in recent weeks as a major contender and the new likely favorite.
Admittedly, I have to see it to believe it simply based on the strong rumblings surrounding both the Seminoles and the Ducks and the longtime absence of UK buzz. That being said, the Kentucky coaching staff likes to move in silence and work behind the scenes. You just never know with Calipari.
I don't feel strongly enough to stand behind the rumors - correct in the end or not - but it's at least worth passing along given the five-star forward's upcoming official visit to Kentucky. It's also worth noting that the pro-UK buzz was out there before the visit was scheduled this weekend, it that means anything.
We'll have more on Barnes following his trip to Lexington next week.
This past summer, a high-major Division I assistant coach recruiting 2021 five-star forward Paolo Banchero told KSR at Peach Jam that there was "no way" he ended up anywhere other than Washington.
Since then, though, Banchero has told everyone that will listen to him that the Huskies are not his leader, with one source telling KSR a few weeks back that he would be fairly surprised if the five-star forward ended up at Washington.
So where will the consensus top-four prospect in the class of 2021 land?
After his official visit to Kentucky weekend, I feel strongly that the Wildcats are one of Banchero's top options, if not the firm leader in his recruitment. Things went extremely well this weekend, as sources tell KSR that the 6-foot-10 forward's family was "in love" with the UK staff's approach both on and off the floor. It's not easy to send your child almost 2,000 miles away, but Calipari and his assistants did a phenomenal job making sure Banchero's parents were comfortable in doing so, should he ultimately decide to sign with Kentucky.
On another note, despite telling various outlets that he is no longer considering a reclassification, sources in various recruiting circles (both nationally and locally) believe he will ultimately wind up in the class of 2020 when it's all said and done.
If anyone were to be silently committed to UK for 2020, I’d venture to say Banchero certainly feels more likely than Barnes. After all, he did mesh well together with Clarke, Lance Ware, and Cunningham this weekend...
I try to stay levelheaded on these notes and try to avoid hyping things up, but it's fairly obvious that this weekend was a massive success for Kentucky on the recruiting front.