Pilgrim’s Insider Notes: I answer your questions on the 2019-20 roster and recruiting for 2020

by:Jack Pilgrim06/05/19
[caption id="attachment_262615" align="alignnone" width="2256"] © Jason Getz | USATSI[/caption] Good evening and welcome back to another edition of Pilgrim's Insider Notes! The NBA Draft deadline has come and gone, the 2019-20 roster is nearly set, and summer AAU ball is now in full-swing for all of the top high school prospects in the nation. With the constant stream of news slowing down a bit, I decided to try something a bit different this week. Instead of me picking the topics to discuss, I asked the Big Blue Nation to send me whatever questions they wanted answered on Twitter (if you're not following me yet, you can find me at @JackPilgrimKSR). After getting about 20 questions or so, I narrowed it down to seven topics to discuss this week. Let's jump right in.

"Any news on Kerry Blackshear? And where do you think he ends up?" -@R_Hagerman_11

There were about three questions about Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr., so I definitely wanted to get to this one first. Today, Corey Evans of Rivals.com said in his latest recruiting notebook  that the 6-foot-11 forward will begin scheduling and taking official visits in the coming weeks, with Florida, Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Michigan State all being potential options.
Where his final year of college ball takes place remains to be seen. First-year Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young would love to have him back, but that might be difficult. Instead, Florida, Kentucky and Texas A&M have the best shot. Michigan State is also a dark horse, and while visits have yet to be set look for Blackshear to schedule two or three official visits to be taken in the coming weeks and a decision to be made shortly thereafter.
Sources tell KSR that while the new Virginia Tech coaching staff is going all-in on recruiting the star forward back to Blacksburg, they are slowly starting to believe he ends up elsewhere. I have said on multiple occasions that Kentucky had a serious shot at landing Blackshear, and if they can get him on campus first, I think the UK coaching staff can get him to stay for good, a la Reid Travis last summer. Texas A&M feels confident with Blackshear's former coach Buzz Williams, and they may get a visit out of pure respect alone, but I don't see him playing in College Station for his final year of eligibility. I talked to a few people from down in Florida both in Gainesville and Orlando (Blackshear's hometown), and while they both feel we're still early in the process, they think Florida will have a legitimate shot, as well. I still believe this comes down to the Wildcats and the Gators, with both schools almost certainly getting visits in the coming weeks. Things will start heating up with the 6-foot-11 graduate transfer very soon, but my gut still leans Kentucky.

"Who are we in the best position for in the 2020-21 season as of today?" -@RealAlanClark

As of today, while I don't think they'll land everyone on this list, I believe Kentucky has the best shot right now with the following prospects:
  • Isaiah Todd
  • Cade Cunningham
  • B.J. Boston
  • Sharife Cooper
  • Jalen Johnson
  • Joshua Christopher
  • Cliff Omoruyi
  • JT Thor (will likely reclassify to 2020)
With Todd, I think it will end up being a three-team race between Kentucky, Oklahoma State, and North Carolina. While the Cowboys are feeling sassy about their chances right now with both Todd and Cade Cunningham (we'll touch on that next), I think Coach Cal will do whatever it takes to make sure the five-star big man ends up in UK's recruiting class. With Cunningham, Oklahoma State has been surging in his recruitment lately, and for good reason. They were the first school to offer him a scholarship, he has a fantastic relationship with their coaching staff, and he could go there and be a superstar as the go-to option and primary ball-handler. While they are considered the early favorite, Cunningham also wants to go to a place where he can develop into an NBA star, and he has told KSR on multiple occasions now that he is highly interested in Kentucky for that reason. If a decision was made today, I'd expect it to be Oklahoma State. If it goes the distance, and I expect it will, I think John Calipari can make up ground and eventually come out on top. While they are not considering themselves a package deal, I believe both BJ Boston and Sharife Cooper will either be at Kentucky or Auburn. Oddly enough, I think the Wildcats lead for Boston and the Tigers lead for Cooper. One source told me down at the Nike EYBL event in Atlanta this summer that while there is a ton of smoke in favor of Auburn for Cooper right now, his interest in UK should not be discounted, and actually felt the Cats would eventually land him. The longer his recruitment lasts, the better I feel about Kentucky's chances. I actually believe Boston could be UK's first commitment for 2020, which would certainly help their chances with his AAU teammate. Jalen Johnson will either be at Duke or Kentucky, with the Blue Devils likely being the slight favorite. It's still early in the recruitment of Joshua Christopher, but like Johnson, he once called Kentucky his "dream school," which certainly means something. We'll have to see how that one goes. As of today, I think Omoruyi is a strong Kentucky lean and would be shocked if he didn't end up in Lexington. And finally with Thor, there have been numerous reports over the last 24 hours that the 2021 five-star prospect would reclassify to 2020. The 6-foot-8 big man has already visited Kentucky twice, the only school he has been to on multiple occasions. He doesn't have an offer quite yet, but when he does, I think UK will jump out front.

"Who wins in a game of One-on-One?" -@RoushKSR

Great question, Nick. In the Isaiah Todd vs. N'Faly Dante matchup, I'll take the former all day, every day, and twice on Sunday. With a ridiculous face-up game, great athleticism, and upper-tier instincts defensively, Todd is one of my favorite players in the class of 2020, and I think John Calipari agrees. When I saw Todd down in Atlanta at Nike EYBL Session One, the Kentucky head coach sat and watched every second of every one of the 6-foot-11 power forward's games throughout the weekend. I believe Dante is the best shot blocker in all of high school basketball, and his offensive game has improved tremendously over the past several months, but Todd's ability to scorch the nets on the perimeter and in the mid-range gives him the advantage in a game of one-on-one. When it comes to AOT Running Rebel teammates B.J Boston and Sharife Cooper, this one is very interesting. Boston is the better athlete and he's longer, but Cooper is shiftier and has a better outside jumper. Every time I've seen Cooper play, he has been phenomenal, but he tends to struggle at finishing against taller, stronger players at the basket. Boston has an impressive mid-range game and can finish over the 6-foot (and that's a stretch) guard both outside the paint and at the rim. In a very tight matchup, I'm taking the 6-foot-6 shooting guard based on length and diverse scoring ability alone. As for me vs. Michael Rapaport, the answer is quite easy: ME. In fact, I would put $100 down that not only would I destroy him, but he wouldn't score a single point on me. I mean, look at his jumper and tell me you'd be worried about him: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWonpAExYj8 If you don't know the beef I have with the C-list celebrity, it started back in June of 2017 when Rapaport said on Twitter during the NBA Draft that he’d have to check if he still had his wallet on him if he ever shook hands with Coach Cal. In response, I wrote a post on KSR about it and called him a "not really, but somewhat “famous” actor." After searching his name on Twitter and finding my article, he went off on a profane tirade about me toward the end of his I Am Rapaport podcast. “Jack Pilgrim, KSR, f— you,“ Rapaport said, along with many other NSFW things. “I challenge you to a game of 1-on-1 when I’m in Lexington, you f—.” Oddly enough, Rapaport came to Lexington for the Big 3 Tournament just a few months later, where I reached out to him so we could play. No response. When I covered the Big 3 event at Rupp Arena, I brought clothes and basketball shoes so we could play either before or afterward. When I went to go find him, he wouldn't come out of the locker room until it was time for the event and quickly went to the back when it concluded. To this day, I'm still waiting. But I'll be ready for it whenever the time comes.

"Where is @bradcalipari going?" -@MeganteCalipari

As much as I'd love to know where your brother is going (I could actually make some pretty solid money if I did), I genuinely have no idea, Megan. I genuinely don't think he knows what he wants to do yet, but you probably know that already. Yesterday, John Calipari told the media that Brad was "still walking through it," but it's no secret he wants more playing time. “He’s still walking through it,” he said. “Do you blame him? All the work — he was in here three times yesterday working out. Do you blame him for wanting to play more and knowing who’s here?" In terms of specific schools, Calipari mentioned that he recommended his son take a look at the Division II level. If not, he has plenty of other options, including a potential return to Kentucky. “I even told him, look at Division II. What’s wrong with that?" he said. "Where you’re well-coached, where you get a chance, a good league. Division II basketball, they’re just a little smaller but you’ve got talented guys. He may end up coming back. He’s in the lodge and all the stuff and in classes. He may come back.” While I have no idea where to even begin when it comes to specific schools of interest, sources tell KSR that Calipari was contemplating a transfer as early as the middle of the 2017-18 season, and definitely had that in mind when he made the decision to redshirt this past year. That didn't change as the season progressed. As much as Coach Cal hopes he returns, I definitely feel he'll wind up elsewhere next season.

"What's your prediction for the starting lineup? And what needs to happen for a national championship?" -@PaulWilkerson3

As of right now, I think Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey are the only two locks to start from day one. Outside of that backcourt pairing, I wouldn't be surprised to see John Calipari mix-and-match his lineups by the game out of pure versatility alone. As I mentioned last week, Kentucky has a lineup option for just about every scenario. Traditional lineup (and the one I believe he'll use to start the season)? Hagans, Maxey, Whitney, Montgomery, and Richards. Pure shooting? Quickley, Maxey, Juzang, Brooks, and Sestina. Athletic/versatility lineup? Hagans, Maxey, Whitney, Brooks, and Montgomery. Go down the list, and he has several intriguing lineups to work with. Add Blackshear into the mix, and the options expand even further. We'll know more about the standout players as the pickup games get going in the coming months, which will help in determining who might start. As for what needs to happen to win a championship next year, I think Kentucky needs four players to shoot over 35% from three and at least two to shoot over 40% from deep. One player has to separate themselves as the go-to option on the offense (Maxey is my early favorite), with three or four other players contributing ten or more points per game. If Blackshear ends up elsewhere, one or both of EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards have to make a major step forward on both ends of the floor, preferably with Montgomery on offense and Richards on defense. Also, if Hagans plays like he did on both ends of the floor from late December to mid-January this past year, I'm convinced Kentucky can contend for a title. I felt he was the team's most valuable player during that stretch, and if he can play at that level at a consistent rate again this season, I'm confident with everything else falling into place for a special season.

"Which school is the leader for Nevada transfer Jordan Brown, and why has he fallen off of Kentucky’s radar?" -HuffnPuffn

While things have been a bit quiet regarding Jordan Brown, I actually don't think the former McDonald's All-American and current Nevada transfer has fallen off of Kentucky's radar at all. On UK's end of things, I just don't think they are in any rush to seal the deal with him and get him on campus when they are still worried about closing out the 2019-20 roster. I was told back in mid-April that Kentucky was one of the first schools to get in contact with Brown, but at the time, we were still in the very early stages of his transfer. Since then, sources tell KSR that while the 6-foot-11 big man continues to take visits - he has been to Arizona, Arizona State, and Saint Mary's - and still may take two more to Kentucky and Texas A&M, he is in no rush to make a decision. One source told KSR that Brown is still on campus at Nevada, but the coaching staff still has no idea what is going to happen with the former five-star prospect. There is optimism that they can get him to return to school, but they have been "completely in the dark" on his decision-making process. <p class="p1">A visit to Lexington is still a possibility, but we're still going to have to wait a little while longer before we hear of a final decision.</p> <h3>Is UK a realistic landing spot for Quentin Grimes?" -@NickWheatley23</h3> Former Kansas guard Quentin Grimes is a very interesting situation. Widely considered a 50/50 decision going into the NBA Draft, the 6-foot-5 guard decided to ultimately withdraw his name from consideration, but explore his options on the transfer market. Back in high school, sources told KSR that Grimes loved Kentucky and strongly considered committing to the school, but felt the UK backcourt would end up being too crowded. He seemed interested in playing with Immanuel Quickley, but at the time, it looked like UK would also be returning Quade Green, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Jemarl Baker. Now that he's transferring from Kansas, many assumed that Kentucky would jump back in the picture and there would be mutual interest between both sides. <a href="https://twitter.com/cbbjake/status/1134916750951231489">Some even included the Wildcats in Grimes' initial list of possible destinations.</a> Unfortunately, I just don't see the former five-star ending up in Lexington when it comes time for a decision. I was told that there was a slight chance the Kentucky coaching staff would send out feelers to Grimes to potentially gauge interest, but I don't believe that is the case anymore. I have been told that if the NCAA begins to start handing out notices of allegations (as they said they would) following the FBI scandal, the former Jayhawk could try to get a waiver to play college basketball this season, using Kansas' potential involvement as his reason for immediate eligibility. If that is the case, it would make sense why Kentucky is not seen as a legitimate option for Grimes, as there would be little-to-no playing time available for him this season. In terms of realistic landing spots, I believe he'll end up going home and playing somewhere in Texas. <a href="https://basketballrecruiting.rivals.com/news/twitter-tuesday-quentin-grimes-indiana-houston" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Corey Evans</a> said that Texas, Texas A&M, Houston are three schools to keep an eye on, so I'll take his word for it on those being the likely options. All I know is that it is highly unlikely he winds up in Lexington. [mobile_ad]

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