Pilgrim’s Insider Notes: Kentucky’s top targets for 2020 and 2021
Good evening and welcome back to another edition of Pilgrim’s Insider Notes!
After focusing on the craziness of Kerry Blackshear Jr.’s recruitment last week, I promised to update you all on the class of 2020 and take an early look at some of the top prospects in 2021 this week. On top of Kentucky basketball recruiting for the future, I’ll also touch on the recent news of 2020 five-star center N’Faly Dante visiting Kentucky starting today and what that means going forward.
Let’s dive right in.
BJ Boston/Daishen Nix/Sharife Cooper
I touched on this a bit last week, but Kentucky has significant momentum with 2020 five-star shooting guard Brandon Boston Jr., and I actually believe he will be the first to pull the trigger for the Wildcats in the coming months.
The only question, in my eyes, will be who pairs up with Boston in the backcourt.
As I said following the NBPA Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville, VA, there were strong rumblings that Boston was looking to team up with 2020 five-star point guard Daishen Nix in college. When I asked them about the possibility at the event, they both confirmed that the rumors were legit and their interest in playing at the same school was mutual.
In a one-on-one interview with KSR, Nix specifically added that UK’s communication and overall interest was ramping up and that he expected to receive an offer sooner rather than later. Sources then told KSR that one Kentucky assistant flew to Phoenix, AZ this past weekend to watch the No. 1 point guard in action at the Section 7 D1 Camp. Simply connecting the dots, I’m under the impression that it’s not if, but when for the elite passer in receiving a scholarship. And when that time comes, based on conversations I’ve had with those familiar with his recruitment and in the conversations I’ve had with Nix himself, Kentucky will be legitimate player.
As for 2020 five-star prospect Sharife Cooper, the other contender at the point guard position for Kentucky, momentum continues to shift toward Auburn in his recruitment. One source told KSR at the Nike EYBL event in Atlanta back in April that despite the general consensus being that Cooper was leaning toward the Tigers, they felt Kentucky was in much better position than people thought and may actually be the favorite.
Since then, that same source has backed off that stance and now believes Cooper will ultimately end up playing for Bruce Pearl at Auburn.
While I don’t think it’s a done deal quite yet, Cooper is in love with Pearl’s system at Auburn and envisions himself playing like Jared Harper and Bryce Brown did this past season. Pearl has essentially told the five-star point guard that he will be able to play that same role and he’ll build the offense around his unique skillset.
Cooper and Nix are Kentucky’s top two point guard targets to pair with Boston in Lexington, and I’m now strongly leaning more toward the latter.
On Tuesday, Corey Evans of Rivals.com reported that Kentucky was the current leader for 2020 top-five prospect Jalen Green, a note that is pretty substantial when you factor in UK’s standing with the players listed above.
While Kentucky has always been involved and offered the elite prospect back in October of last year, the news came as a bit of a surprise considering there have been significant rumblings that Memphis has always been the team to beat.
Memphis currently holds 80% of predictions in his Crystal Ball on 247Sports, though out of the four pro-Tiger picks, three of them came in 2018, while the fourth came in April of this year from a guy with a 67% success rate. Memphis was the trendy pick in Green’s recruitment because of his prior relationship with former Tiger assistant Sam Mitchell, who left Penny Hardaway’s staff in May.
On the flip side, Kentucky assistant Joel Justus has been involved from the minute Green’s recruitment first began, with John Calipari also making sure he knows he is a top priority for 2020. Justus is actually out in Greece right now watching Green compete in the FIBA U19 World Cup.
While I don’t think I’m ready to name UK as the firm favorite in this recruitment like Evans, I do think the Cats are serious contenders when it comes time for a decision…eventually. Green has told KSR on two separate occasions now that while he’s a big fan of John Calipari and the Wildcats, his recruitment is just getting started and he won’t be ready to officially choose a school for a while.
In another interesting note that certainly favors Kentucky, sources tell KSR that while both Green and Boston are technically ball-dominant shooting guards, they would be open to sharing the floor with one another, leaving the door open for a 1-2-3 punch of Nix, Green, and Boston in the starting lineup.
Again, we’re still very early, but I think this is Kentucky’s tentative recruiting blueprint for 2020 right now.
N’Faly Dante/Cliff Omoruyi
While 2020 four-star center Cliff Omoruyi continues to pick up new offers (Arizona, TCU, Maryland) and take unofficial visits (Maryland, Pittsburgh), I continue to hear that the 6-foot-11 big man is Kentucky’s to-lose if they’ll have him in Lexington.
“He’s 100% Kentucky if they want him,” one source told KSR.
But that “if” is an interesting one.
While they like his energy and potential, and the interest is absolutely mutual, there are other frontcourt targets higher on the list for Kentucky in 2020 right now. Makur Maker and Isaiah Todd will be the top priorities in the frontcourt for UK, and there is almost always another player or two that explodes onto the scene late in the summer and going into their senior seasons. Maybe another major reclassification option from 2021 to 2020 presents itself, as well
Omoruyi said he’d like to make a decision on his birthday in October, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the UK coaching staff pushes for him to wait a bit to see how the upcoming season goes and who separates themselves as likely NBA prospects on the current roster. As of right now, the staff expects EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards, and Nate Sestina to all leave for after the season, leaving Calipari to fill out an entire frontcourt next season.
When you factor in N’Faly Dante’s current situation, it makes things extremely interesting for Omoruyi’s fit with the program. Dante, a consensus top-15 prospect in the class of 2020 and rumored reclassification candidate, is currently on an official visit to Kentucky. When news broke of the visit originally, Tipton Edits said Dante could potentially make a jump to 2019, but followed it up by saying the 6-foot-11 center told him that he would be staying put.
Almost immediately after the report, sources told KSR that not only was a reclassification still on the table for Dante, but that Kentucky was operating under the assumption that this visit was happening with that in mind. The five-star big man is currently dominating for MOKAN Elite on the Nike EYBL circuit and has been outspoken about his desire to participate in Peach Jam, which takes place from July 10-14. By announcing his intentions now, regardless of how his visit to Kentucky goes, he would be ineligible to participate in the prestigious event. In recent memory, we have seen Marvin Bagley III and Kira Lewis Jr. both adamantly deny reclassification rumors, only to make the jump almost immediately after Peach Jam.
Dante could follow in those same footsteps.
The 6-foot-11 center has said he is currently finishing up classes to make a reclassification possible, and if that can be cleared up, I am told that Kentucky will continue to recruit him for the class of 2019 with hopes of getting him on campus as soon as possible.
But what about Dante as a player?
Based on what I have seen from the Sunrise Christian (KS) product in person, he is a likely at least a two-year player in college. While he’s arguably the best shot blocker in all of high school and has NBA-ready size, he’s still very raw and really has some work to do before he’s a high-impact player, at least offensively. With Omoruyi being very similar in that respect and Dante possibly being a multi-year prospect, does Kentucky really need two of those players on the roster during the 2020-21 season? I don’t think so.
There are a lot of moving parts to this, but if Dante decides to commit to Kentucky and reclassify to 2019, I believe the UK coaching staff waits it out on Omoruyi. If Kentucky lands Maker and Todd, a new unknown option presents itself, and Dante ends up sticking around years, the numbers might not work out for the four-star forward to join.
While Terrence Clarke himself told KSR that he was excited to look into the possibility of reclassifying to 2020 “soon,” one source very close to the five-star guard said that they just don’t think it will be a realistic option for the top-five 2021 prospect. While his grades are in great shape, he’s a true rising junior, meaning he would have to complete two full years of academic work in just one.
Even with extra course work, summer classes, and winter academic sessions, the squeeze will likely be too tight.
“Tough to meet graduation and NCAA requirements in three years time,” the source said.
Physically, Clarke is ready to play college basketball right now. At the NBPA Top 100 Camp two weeks ago, he was easily one of the most skilled players at the event, showing off elite scoring ability and versatility at the shooting guard position. If his reclassification came down to pure skill, there is no doubt in my mind that he’d be capable of making that jump. Academically, I just don’t know how Clarke would be able to make it work.
In terms of schools of interest for Clarke, his recruitment just got rolling this spring, meaning we are nowhere near a decision. That being said, I am certain Kentucky will make him a priority and the interest is mutual.
“I’ve talked to a lot of [guys at Kentucky] like Kenny Payne, I talked to Coach Cal before,” he told KSR. “Just having them offering me, it’s fabulous. With them being a blue blood school, a ton of pros going there, I’m just honored, blessed, everything. I definitely talk to them here and there, and I’ll definitely be staying in contact with them.”
While UK is in a solid spot, we could still be anywhere from one to just short of two years away from a decision for Clarke. Patience will be necessary with this one.
Teamed up with consensus top-ten 2020 prospects Jalen Johnson and Makur Maker, 2021 five-star forward Paolo Banchero outplayed them both the entire weekend. The Kentucky coaching staff, who watched every game Banchero played in, offered a scholarship just a few days later.
A Seattle, WA native, there are rumblings that Banchero could stay on the West coast for school, with the Washington Huskies being the rumored early favorite. (Sound familiar?)
While Banchero has the obvious local pull, the 6-foot-9 prospect said that he’d absolutely be open to leaving Washington for college.
“No, not at all. I’m willing to go wherever,” Banchero said. “Not saying I won’t stay on the West coast. But if I was trying to go to an East coast school or down South, distance wouldn’t really affect me too much.”
Like Clarke, while Kentucky will make Banchero a priority, this one could go the distance.
At the NBPA Top 100 event, 2021 Marshall County star Zion Harmon told KSR that while he hadn’t heard from Kentucky quite yet, he was hoping that would change soon.
“Kentucky hasn’t reached out yet, but I’m hoping to hear something from them soon,” he said. “I’m definitely looking forward to getting an offer from Kentucky.”
While the 5-foot-9 star is holding out hope, sources tell KSR the odds of that happening are slim-to-none.
“Zero percent chance,” one source said. “He won’t play a game in college.”
While I can’t dive into specifics, there may be eligibility concerns with the five-star prospect, with one source adding that the overseas route is possible.
A local star might present itself for Kentucky to pounce on in 2021, but it almost certainly won’t be Harmon.
Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR