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Pilgrim’s Insider Notes: How does Kentucky close out the 2020 class? Can 2021 be just as strong?

Jack Pilgrim02/17/20


Article written by:On3 imageJack Pilgrim
Screen Shot 2020-02-17 at 3.31.02 PM
Good evening, Big Blue Nation. Welcome back! Hopefully you've been following along on the Sources Say Podcast over the last several months - if not, I'd strongly recommend subscribing to our weekly show on Apple Podcasts here or Spotify here- for all of the latest in the Kentucky basketball recruiting world, but I decided it was time to write another rundown on the grand scheme of things and what to expect moving forward. With the guard class likely complete after signing the likes of BJ Boston, Terrence Clarke, and Devin Askew in the early signing period, where does Kentucky stand with some of its top frontcourt targets to close out the 2020 recruiting class? And from there, how are things looking in 2021? Will the Wildcats be able to earn yet another top-ranked recruiting class next year, as well? Let's dive right in.

Class of 2020

Greg Brown

Oddly enough, the only remaining "elite" prospect officially in the class of 2020 still being courted by Kentucky is five-star forward Greg Brown. Brown, a 6-foot-9 big man out of Austin, TX and arguably the most athletic prospect in all of high school basketball, is down to a final five of Auburn, Kentucky, Memphis, Michigan, and Texas. Brown has been outspoken in the past about waiting through the late spring to make a decision, focusing on his senior basketball season and pushing off the decision-making process for after. He has taken visits, but in terms of actually sitting down and making a decision, Brown has said time and time again that he simply isn't ready to choose a college. Texas has long been seen as the leader due to strong family ties to the program, but with Texas struggling this season, other schools have since picked up momentum. After officially visiting Kentucky back in January, the Wildcats picked up some brief momentum, followed by both Auburn and Memphis in recent weeks. Jerry Meyer of 247Sports said on his podcast this week that he actually felt Kentucky had emerged as the leader for Brown, but as of today, I don’t see that as the likely scenario quite yet. If a decision were made today, I’d put Kentucky below Memphis - the emerging favorite in this recruitment - and Auburn, with the Cats being in the next tier with Texas. Here’s where things get interesting, though. Texas is sitting at 14-11 overall and 4-8 in the Big 12, good for seventh in the conference standings. There are strong rumblings that Shaka Smart is hanging on by a thread and that he may not. If Smart is not in Austin, I don’t see a scenario where Brown is a Longhorn. As a side note, John Beilein leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers would be an interesting fit at Texas, one that those in the area have quickly begun rooting for. Beilein will have his pick of schools if he decides to return to the college ranks, and I'd be slightly shocked if UT wasn't one of them. Memphis basketball has also slowly become a nightmare this season with the Tigers sitting at 17-8 on the season and 6-6 in the American conference, and things aren't looking up to close out the year. Like Texas, there could be a coaching shakeup at Memphis, as well, albeit a bit further down the totem pole. There are some rumblings that well-respected Tiger assistant Mike Miller could explore the NBA ranks this offseason or potentially make a jump as a head coach at a lower-tier college. The Tigers sit pretty with Brown, but things could change in the coming months. If Jalen Green ends up at Auburn - and I feel they have been a slight leader for several weeks now - then things slowly start shifting in favor of the Bruce Pearl's Tigers for Brown. I was told late this summer that the 6-foot-9 forward was extremely intrigued with the idea of playing with Green, who actually prefers to facilitate and set up for his teammates with the ball in his hands and make plays off ball. With Sharife Cooper running the point and Green potentially playing off-ball, the fast-pace, run-and-gun style of play is a situation Brown would love playing in. On the flip side, if Green ends up elsewhere, the situation isn't as appealing for the five-star forward. I don't like Kentucky's chances right now, but there are plenty of moving parts with the other finalists on Brown's list. With the Austin, TX native opting to wait to make a decision, it allows time for momentum to shift and UK to come in as a top finalist. Patience will be important with this one.

Paolo Banchero

Here is the good news with 2021 top-three prospect and major UK target Paolo Banchero: no matter when he goes to college, I believe Kentucky has solidified itself as a slight leader, and if a decision were made today, he’d likely be a Wildcat. The “bad” news is that when he goes to school is very much up in the air. Banchero has been adamant about sticking with his original class of 2021, telling KSR a few months back that he wants one final year in high school to "be a kid" just a while longer and have the opportunity to go to prom, compete for a high school title, attend Peach Jam next summer, and become the No. 1 player in the class, among other goals. With a reclassification, none of that would be possible. Still, though, I am extremely confident that Kentucky is still pushing for Banchero in the class of 2020 and feel they can ultimately convince him to reclassify this spring, with the program feeling he can be an immediate star in the frontcourt next season en route to earning lottery pick honors in the 2021 NBA Draft. If Banchero is adamant about holding firm, and he certainly seems to be right now, Kentucky will (obviously) not push to the point of making the prized five-star forward uncomfortable and will happily take him in 2021, as well. Whenever he wants to come to Lexington, Banchero is UK's top priority in the frontcourt, as they feel his versatility and dynamic toolbox of skills on both ends of the floor would be the perfect fit in Calipari's system. The dream scenario remains for the dynamic 6-foot-10 forward to anchor the frontcourt next year, but if you take Banchero at his word, it seems that will likely happen in 2021. Outside of Kentucky, the strongest contenders for Banchero are Duke, Gonzaga, Tennessee, and Washington. The five-star forward has also told KSR that he is extremely interested in teaming up with 2021 five-star guard Kennedy Chandler at the next level. In what is almost certainly no coincidence, the UK coaching staff actually paid a visit to the 6-foot-1 guard on Monday evening, the fifth time Kentucky has been in to see him since September. Chandler will also take an unofficial visit to Lexington this weekend.

Jonathan Kuminga

Jonathan Kuminga, the top-ranked player in the class of 2021, also remains an option, with the general consensus remaining that he will ultimately reclassify to 2020 this summer. As for his school of choice, that's where things get a bit more foggy. Duke was seen as a heavy favorite for the last year, but lost significant momentum this fall and into the winter, allowing for programs such as Kentucky, LSU, Memphis, Auburn, and Texas Tech to make up ground with the elite forward prospect. Since then, though, the Blue Devils have worked their way back into strong contention, with some rumblings in recruiting circles indicating they have moved back into the top spot. Kentucky is still recruiting the top-ranked junior and envisions a potential dream scenario of both Kuminga and Banchero reclassifying and forming a super team of sorts in Lexington if the opportunity presents itself. As it stands, though, optimism just isn't that great that the Wildcats will be the final landing spot as of today, especially in 2020. It's not that UK feels they are losing ground, but rather that with visits still in the works and plenty of time before an anticipated decision, it's simply too early to feel confident either way with so many moving parts. If I had to make a prediction (more like an educated guess) right now, I'd pick Duke or LSU to land the five-star forward in 2020, but it remains a fluid situation between all of the finalists. The fact of the matter is that there just isn't a strong feel right now regarding his recruitment with a few months (at the least) expected before a decision regarding his reclassification and school of choice. Like N'Faly Dante last summer, Kuminga could follow in his footsteps and make a decision after Peach Jam with several schools picking up and losing steam until then. Those close to Kuminga are comfortable with Kentucky being a potential destination, and the five-star forward has also told KSR in the past that he "operates differently" and is very interested in suiting up with other elite prospects in his anticipated lone year of college. Kentucky has also visited Kuminga the most - four times since September, including three trips from Calipari - among all coaches on his final list, so the effort is still absolutely there. Outside of that information, things remain unclear.

Cliff Omoruyi

Kentucky is in a bit of a holding pattern with 2020 four-star center Cliff Omoruyi. While the Wildcats remain a viable option for the 6-foot-11 big man out of Roselle Catholic (NJ), UK has obviously prioritized other higher-ranked players in the frontcourt such as Brown, Banchero, and Kuminga. They are also starting to monitor potential graduate transfer options and seeing who may become available after the season comes to a close. Omoruyi, who continues to take visits to the final five schools on his list (he is set to visit Arizona State this week) is not necessarily seen as a "backup" option, but it's not unfair to say Kentucky would prefer to see if they can land two of the major five-star options before pushing for a commitment from the top-50 recruit. Omoruyi is gritty and possesses traits all fans would love to see in Lexington - toughness, shot-blocking ability, and rebounding - but with limited space remaining in the recruiting class, it's best for Kentucky to wait just a bit longer. If Kentucky strikes out on Brown and the reclass candidates opt to stick around in 2021 and/or head elsewhere, Omoruyi will immediately become a major priority to close out the class. The only question will be if the four-star center decides to pull the trigger on a decision earlier than the rest, a risk the UK staff will have to weigh. If UK feels they've lost ground with the other top targets, will they push for a commitment earlier? We should find out in the next month. One final thing I will add is that Devin Askew is very close with Omoruyi and is extremely interested in playing with the four-star center in Lexington. They are regularly talking to one another about playing together, and it's my understanding that the rest of the UK signees are very much on board with the idea, as well. If the Kentucky staff pushes for (and secures) a signature from Omoruyi, don't think of him as a lesser, unfavorable option. This is a popular prospect for players that have a strong voice in UK's recruiting efforts.

Class of 2021

As impressive as Kentucky's recruiting class in 2020 is currently, the UK coaching staff is already picking up significant momentum for 2021, with yet another top-ranked class on the table. In fact, I'd argue that Kentucky has already solidified itself as a heavy favorite for three elite prospects currently in the class of 2021 and/or those mulling a potential reclassification to 2021.

Jaden Hardy

As I write this, the Wildcats have picked up three FutureCasts on Rivals.com in the last day alone, including two from recruiting experts Corey Evans and Dan McDonald. Whether that means a commitment is imminent - there have been rumblings that Hardy could pull the trigger early - or that national analysts are finally buying the hype that he'll ultimately end up at UK at some point, it's nothing but more good news for Kentucky. After talking with Hardy, his father, and his head coach at Coronado High School when Kentucky was out in Las Vegas back in December, I walked away thinking it would take a drastic change of events for the top-ten prospect to end up anywhere other than Lexington in 2021. In the time since, I've only heard more positive things regarding Kentucky's chances and I continue to feel that he will ultimately become a Wildcat. And while I can't confirm the exact timing, as I mentioned before, there are also some slight rumors that Hardy could make a decision sooner rather than later, with the idea being that he could be an early foundational piece set to recruit other elite prospects to Lexington with him. With Hardy being considered one of the top scoring guards in all of high school basketball, you truly couldn't ask for a better start to the 2021 recruiting class.

Brandon Huntley-Hatfield

Though he's technically a member of the class of 2022, top-ten prospect Brandon Huntley-Hatfield is a strong reclassification candidate for 2021. After some conversations in recent weeks, I not only think Huntley-Hatfield will make the jump to 2021, but that he will also make ultimately commit to Kentucky when it comes time for a decision. "He's a lock," one source very familiar to the recruitment told KSR. "Kentucky. Done deal." The top-ten prospect in the class of 2022 has been outspoken about his love for the Kentucky program, calling UK his "dream school" on multiple occasions and regularly posting on social media about his strong interest in playing for Calipari. Huntley-Hatfield, a cousin of former Wildcat Alex Poythress, has full support from his family about ending up at Kentucky if he decides to do so. They are all big fans of Calipari and the UK basketball program and would be extremely comfortable with the five-star forward furthering his basketball career in Lexington. You never want to count your chickens before they hatch, but Kentucky fans should feel pretty darn good about this recruitment.

Skyy Clark

Like Huntley-Hatfield, Skyy Clark is a member of the 2022 class, but the five-star guard prospect is strongly considering a jump to 2021. In fact, Clark came on the Sources Say Podcast last week and said as much, telling KSR that it is something he is expected to talk over with when he sits down with his family and discusses his future plans in the coming months. In terms of pros, Clark said there is obvious value in making a jump to 2020, with the ability to compete against other elite prospects, coaching from a blue-blood coach, and an opportunity to make a jump to the NBA a year earlier being just a few reasons. As for the cons, like Banchero, he also sees the value in being a high schooler one more year for developmental purposes. He also broke down his interest in Kentucky and how they have "always been one of [his] top college choices, ever since [he] started playing basketball." If you missed the interview, I highly encourage you to listen below: Outside of this conversation with Clark, I continue to hear that Kentucky is in phenomenal position with the five-star guard and will likely end up at UK when his scholarship offer is inevitably extended. "He's their guy," one source told KSR, adding that Kentucky will welcome him in either 2021 or 2022. "And [Clark's camp] knows what they want in a college." Like Huntley-Hatfield, it's still early and you don't want to get too confident, but it's not a secret in recruiting circles that the five-star guard is likely to end up in Lexington. He grew up rooting for the Wildcats, regularly watches Kentucky games, and has gotten himself very familiar with Calipari's system and how he'd be used. His unofficial visit to Lexington is set for next weekend, and I wouldn't be shocked if an offer is officially extended then, another significant step forward in his recruitment. If I had the ability to make Crystal Ball picks, I would have them in for all three of Hardy, Huntley-Hatfield, and Clark, with the first two being in the class of 2021 and the latter being a toss-up between 2021 and 2022. And with the five-star guard expected to finish in (or right on the cusp of) the top ten in the recruiting rankings, regardless of class, the Wildcats could find themselves with three top-ten recruits in the names listed above alone. Calipari isn't even done with the class of 2020, but he already has reason to feel fairly confident about the momentum he is already picking up in 2021 and beyond.

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