Yesterday afternoon, I updated you guys on some of the final remaining targets for the class of 2019 in part one of Pilgrim's Insider Notes. (If you missed that, you can read it here
In part two tonight, I'm going to move on to the class of 2020 and break down where Kentucky stands with some of the top juniors in the nation after spending the weekend in Atlanta at session one of Nike EYBL.
Let's get right to it.
This past weekend, consensus top-three prospect Jalen Johnson made headlines by telling reporters that Kentucky was his "dream school."
“I really like Kentucky a lot, that’s been my dream school growing up,” Johnson said. “I liked watching John Wall when he was there, and that’s kind of when it started. I just had more interest from there throughout the years.”
With most recruiting insiders and analysts listing Duke as the favorite for several months now, his comments certainly came as a surprise to those in attendance.
In the past, the phrase "dream school" has held true with prospects such as Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney, PJ Washington, Tyler Ulis, James Young, and several others. At one point or another in each of their recruitments, they referred to Kentucky as their favorite program growing up and ended up making that dream come true by committing.
For some top prospects such as James Wiseman, Moses Brown, Malik Newman, and Cliff Alexander, among others, that "dream" was temporary, as they ended up going elsewhere for college.
With Johnson, I do believe it is neck-and-neck with Kentucky and Duke, and if the UK coaching staff can continue to build their relationship and chemistry with him, the Wildcats have a serious shot. The five-star small forward also said that he was hoping to visit Lexington for Big Blue Madness for a third consecutive season, which is a good sign considering he said he could decide as soon as Peach Jam (mid-July) and wants to be through with the process by the time his senior year begins.
Kentucky fans have been hoping for John Calipari to get back in the groove with can't-miss/superstar talents, and he's certainly in a good spot for one in 2020.
I came away from EYBL thinking that 2020 five-star forward Isaiah Todd was one of the most impressive players in the class, and luckily for us, Kentucky has a serious shot at landing him for next season.
Todd, a 6-foot-11 prospect out of Richmond, VA, told KSR that while he loves John Calipari and Kentucky, all schools on his list are on an even playing field and he has no favorites.
While that's what he tells the media right now, I have been told on multiple occasions that Kentucky is the heavy favorite in his recruitment and the expectation is that he ends up making it official before his senior season begins. The UK coaching staff is extremely confident in landing the No. 8 prospect in the class, as well.
Watching him in person, it's incredible how comfortable Todd is playing with the ball in his hands on the perimeter. He's a phenomenal shooter from mid range and deep, runs the floor well, can bring the ball up the floor, soft touch inside, rebounds well, great timing on blocked shots, etc. It's really tough to find any holes in his game at this point.
His high school coach told me that he feels he can end up being the No. 1 player in the class, and while I think that might be pushing it, I can understand the confidence in his game and think a jump in ratings is bound to happen.
As of today, not only do I strongly believe that Todd ends up in Lexington, but I also feel that he does it as a top-five prospect in the class when it's all said and done.
As confident as I am in Todd, I feel the exact opposite about his AAU teammate, consensus top-five forward Scottie Barnes.
When it comes to his game, I simply didn't come away feeling that he's worthy of his elite ranking. He's athletic, plays solid defense, and is probably the most college-ready player I saw in Atlanta from a pure physical standpoint, but not once did I watch his game and feel that Kentucky just can't miss on him.
He isn't a strong shooter, he's raw offensively on the inside, gets careless with the ball, sulks a bit when he makes mistakes, etc. The potential is there, but I need to see more from him as the AAU season progresses.
In terms of his recruitment, he told reporters this weekend that he is wide open with his final eight schools and hasn't thought much about it beyond that loose list. That being said, when it does come time for a decision in the distant future, I've been told the Kentucky likely won't be the final destination.
"He’s not gonna be at UK," one source told KSR. "I don't think he’s even that serious about them."
Barnes said he won't make his decision until late, so there's obviously time to make up some ground. I just don't believe he'll end up in Lexington.
Like Todd, five-star small forward Cade Cunningham was one of the most impressive prospects in Atlanta this weekend.
With the ability to play three positions, the 6-foot-6, 215-pound forward out of Montverde, FL did just about everything for his Texas Titans team. He was physical, defended well, outmuscled defenders when driving to the basket, finished over longer defenders, etc.
He's definitely one of my favorite players in the class and believe he would be a great fit at Kentucky.
In terms of his recruitment, he was quick to say the rumors of Kentucky being the runaway favorite were not true, saying that it was actually a surprise to him that people connected him so much with the Cats. That being said, he loves John Calipari and the UK program and said they were one of the schools recruiting him the hardest right now. I definitely feel that they will be in the thick of things through the finish line.
He said he'll dive into the thick of things after his AAU season is over, so we should know more then.
Like just about all of the other top prospects in the nation, 2020 five-star point guard Sharife Cooper told reporters this weekend that he's still open in the process, though just about everyone feels his decision will come down to either Auburn or Kentucky.
There have also been rumblings that he reclassifies to the class of 2019 (likely to play at Auburn), though he strongly denied those rumors this weekend, as well.
With Auburn being his first offer back in 2016, the general consensus among recruiting circles is that Bruce Pearl ends up landing the shifty guard out of Georgia.
While the momentum seems to be with the Tigers, one individual with AOT (Cooper's AAU team) told me with confidence this weekend, "He's definitely going to Kentucky."
This quote came in casual conversation, and I don't even believe this individual knew I worked for a Kentucky media outlet, so I don't believe he was just hyping up the Cats for my benefit.
This is just one individual and I'm not sure if I'm ready to go against the overwhelming consensus, but it's still interesting nonetheless.
BONUS: Jaden McDaniels
Yesterday, I said in the insider notes that after several months of little-to-no movement, 2019 five-star forward Jaden McDaniels was ready to focus on his recruitment and move toward a decision. While I said I felt it would likely come down to Washington, Kentucky, and San Diego State, I added that I felt he would end up committing to his hometown Huskies out of pure comfort in staying close to friends and family and out of the spotlight.
Today, however, there have been some fairly significant rumblings about the 6-foot-11 forward out of Federal Way, WA, and it's been nothing but good news for Kentucky.
For starters, Trevor Trout, a football player at USC and an (oddly) connected individual when it comes to West coast high school basketball recruiting, said on Twitter that "Kentucky got that kid."
And then, another individual connected with recruiting on the West coast that 2019 five-star wing Johnny Juzang also "wants in."
He also flat-out predicted McDaniels and Juzang to Kentucky.
Outside of just a few tweets, there seems to be growing confidence on Kentucky's side of things that they have done enough to pull this off. He has always liked UK, even calling the program his "dream school" at one point, but his tendency to shy away from the spotlight have made most recruiting analysts feel that he would ultimately stay out west.
While I still think Washington is a strong contender and certainly shouldn't be counted out, this is the first time in several weeks that I have felt Kentucky might
actually win out in the end.
With the deadline to sign a National Letter of Intent being May 15, we should hear a decision within the next two weeks regardless. I would be shocked if his decision is anything other than Kentucky or Washington.