Pilgrim's Insider Notes: Peach Jam Edition

Pilgrim's Insider Notes: Peach Jam Edition

Jack Pilgrim3 months


Article written by:Jack PilgrimJack Pilgrim
Peach Jam
[caption id="attachment_360592" align="alignnone" width="1098"] KSR[/caption] After being canceled last year due to COVID-19, the 2021 Nike Peach Jam has come and gone, with Team Final taking home the championship on Sunday to wrap up the 13-day event taking place from July 13-25. KSR was in attendance to watch the top EYBL programs compete over the course of the two-week period and fight for a title, talking with parents, coaches - AAU and college - and media members along the way. What's the latest regarding Kentucky's top recruiting targets? Does UK have a dream class in mind at this point? Is anyone on commitment watch? Let's break it all down in the return of Pilgrim's Insider Notes.
Before we get into the specifics on individual players, we've got to first address the rather large elephant in the room that was COVID-19's strong presence inside the Riverview Park Activities Center in North Augusta. While the prestigious recruiting event crowned a champion and saw no game cancellations, the facility was hit by the virus in a major way and created several significant hurdles for participants, with sources telling KSR that the number of confirmed cases pushed triple digits between players, coaches and other guests by the end of the event. Several major head coaches and assistants - Kansas' Bill Self was among the coaches to confirm he had tested positive - contracted the virus the first weekend and were forced to miss the second evaluation period the following weekend. With the UK staff in attendance during both weekends, who did the staff keep a close eye on? And more importantly, what were the biggest takeaways from their evaluations? Five-star guard Shaedon Sharpe sits at the top of Kentucky's priority list in the class, and for good reason. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound prospect averaged 22.6 points per game on 48% shooting overall and 36.4% from three in 12 games, scoring 20 or more points eight times, 25 or more six times and 30 or more points twice. Ranked No. 8 overall by 247Sports and ESPN, along with No. 11 overall by Rivals, there is growing buzz that Sharpe will not only make a jump into the top five, but may contend for the No. 1 overall spot. No matter how high the dynamic scorer climbs in the rankings, UK firmly believes Sharpe is the best guard prospect in the class and may just be the best player overall. Sharpe is not only a foundational piece of Kentucky's recruiting class, but the anchor of what is setting up to be yet another top-rated group under John Calipari. Luckily for the program, UK is the overwhelming favorite going into the home stretch of Sharpe's recruitment, with one prominent source telling KSR at Peach Jam to watch out for a mid-August commitment. The five-star guard fell in love with the staff’s pitch during his official visit in June and momentum has only continued in the Wildcats’ favor since then. Sharpe is planning to cut his list down to ten on Tuesday, but expect this process to move quickly. UK is all in on the Canadian shooting guard, and their efforts are expected to pay off sooner rather than later. Looking for a bit of a post-Peach Jam surprise? Kentucky is making a serious run at Kyle Filipowski, arguably the fastest-rising prospect in the rising senior class and just may be the most skilled big man in the country. Though Duke is seen as the heavy favorite at this point - there are six Crystal Balls and two FutureCasts currently in favor of the Blue Devils - sources tell KSR that UK is infatuated with the 6-foot-11 forward's versatility and believe he's an instant plug-and-play standout at the collegiate level. The staff understands it will be an uphill battle - Filipowski has already taken officials to Syracuse, Ohio State, Indiana, Iowa and Duke and a decision could come during the early signing period - but after seeing the skilled forward in person during Peach Jam, they're prepared to push their chips in and give it a real shot. The first step is getting him on campus for a visit in the coming months, something the program feels confident in. Should that come to fruition as hoped, there's internal optimism that a late upset is on the table in the soon-to-be five-star's recruitment. Sources tell KSR that UK is looking to pair Filipowski with Dereck Lively II or Adem Bona in the frontcourt, the former a 7-foot-1 center with elite defensive tools, athleticism and a growing jumper, and the latter a 6-foot-10 physical workhorse with a second-to-none motor. Lively received an offer from Kentucky during an official visit to Lexington back on June 20, while sources tell KSR that Bona is expected to take an official to UK in August and is on the cusp of a scholarship offer. KSR previously learned of Bona's strong interest in Kentucky back at the Pangos All-American Camp in June, with one individual close to the five-star center's recruitment telling KSR at the time that an offer from UK would immediately push the Wildcats up to the top of his list. He's also close with UK commit Skyy Clark and is interested with teaming up with the five-star guard in Lexington. As for Lively, Kentucky believes he has the highest ceiling of any big in the class and sees similarities to some of the program's best big men in recent program history in Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein and Anthony Davis. In a dream scenario, the team brings him in and develops his post game to become a true inside-out threat on offense, all while putting a spotlight on his elite traits on the defensive end of the floor as a shot-blocker. Expect UK's frontcourt signings to make up two of those three pieces in Filipowski, Lively and Bona. As for the backcourt, Kentucky officially added two new offers this weekend in Cason Wallace and Nick Smith Jr., the former picking up his scholarship on Saturday and the latter on Sunday at the conclusion of Peach Jam. As for Wallace, Tennessee and Texas had previously been seen as the programs with the most momentum as of late, with the Volunteers rumored as the heavy favorite leading up to UK's offer and the serious push the Wildcats are poised to make. Sources tell KSR that the UK coaching staff views Wallace as the top two-way guard in the class of 2022, valuing the 6-foot-4 prospect’s drive for winning, toughness and versatility. Listed as a combo guard, UK believes Wallace is capable of playing one through three on both ends of the floor, fitting seamlessly with the program’s other top guard prospects in the class. Jai Lucas is UK’s lead recruiter for the Texas native, though Calipari, Orlando Antigua and Chin Coleman all spent time watching Wallace at Peach Jam at various points. Kentucky has deep ties to Wallace’s EYBL program, ProSkills, with program founder and CEO Jeff Webster being former UK standout Julius Randle’s godfather and youth basketball coach, among other connections to the staff. While Tennessee remains a serious threat, there is confidence on Kentucky's side of things that the program's prior relationships with those close to Wallace - along with the five-star guard's longtime interest in UK - will be enough to earn a commitment, one that is expected to come well ahead of the early signing period. Wallace, who averaged 14.7 points (47.7% FG, 35% 3PT), 6.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.2 steals per contest and 12 total wins in 13 games at Peach Jam, is currently the No. 18 overall prospect in the latest 247Sports Composite Rankings. As for Smith, things are a bit more complicated. The five-star guard has openly pushed for a Kentucky offer and has made his serious interest in the program clear, but was admittedly frustrated with the lack of contact and offer this spring and early summer. UK has always been intrigued with Smith's game, but after missing two months with a broken wrist, the staff wanted to wait to see how he responded from his injury at Peach Jam. When given that opportunity, the staff was courtside at each of Smith's games and extended an offer at the conclusion of the event after the standout guard averaged 17.6 points (49.2% FG, 37.5% 3PT), 3.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per contest. Smith did his part on the floor, the staff did their part with an offer. Here's where things get tricky, though. Smith has a long list of schools - namely Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Kansas and North Carolina - that are pushing to make him a foundational piece of their respective recruiting classes. He previously told KSR that loyalty and feeling prioritized will be two of the biggest factors in his final decision, and things had slowed down with Kentucky in recent months. As I wrote last week, Smith is extremely high on UK and the Wildcats would be in strong position to land his commitment if the staff makes a strong push in the coming months leading up to his November decision. If the program sees the five-star guard as a backup option in the class, he'll land elsewhere. At this point in time, I'm not sure which category he will fall in, especially knowing how high the staff is on Sharpe and Wallace. How the UK coaches divide their attention over the next few weeks will be telling. Smith's Brad Beal Elite teammate Brandon Miller is another name to keep a close eye on, with Kentucky fascinated with the 6-foot-9 wing's offensive tools and the way his game translates to the next level. UK continues to make a strong push to land his commitment, though there was growing professional buzz at Peach Jam, with Tennessee, Alabama and Memphis looming as secondary options. And last but certainly not least, we'll close out with Jalen Duren, who is now ready to turn his attention to a final decision after taking home the Peach Jam title on Sunday. After dozens of conversations during the regular season portion of Peach Jam, Miami (FL) was discussed by national sources as the likely landing spot for Duren largely in part due to the five-star center's relationship with assistant coach DJ Irving, who previously coached him in high school and with Team Final on the EYBL circuit. Another source close to the situation told KSR that Duren himself likes Memphis’ Penny Hardaway and his experience in the NBA as a four-time All-Star, while his mother likes Kentucky and its pitch from a development and branding standpoint. There was no consensus regarding a heavy favorite and it was made clear that no decision had been made behind the scenes. After returning for the final weekend of Peach Jam, questions regarding Duren's choice remained, with one individual telling KSR that the 6-foot-10 center remains torn and that all five options are still in play. As for Kentucky's chances, the school is still actively recruiting the five-star prospect and believe they have a real shot going down the home stretch of his recruitment. National sources remain skeptical regarding UK's chances, but Calipari and his staff are still making a push. One thing to keep in mind is that Kentucky is not only pleased with its current roster from a skill and production standpoint, but feels the team's chemistry is night and day compared to last season. That positive synergy was the reason Calipari ultimately decided to turn down Illinois star Kofi Cockburn - there was some pushback within the roster about a style of play change and fit in adding a 7-foot, 285-pound center, no matter how talented - and it's why the staff has gone out of their way to ensure there is a consensus on the roster regarding Duren. As things stand, UK believes it has a roster that can compete as currently constructed, no matter how things unfold with the five-star center. Adding Duren would be icing on the cake. When could we hear of a decision? While there is some talk of an imminent announcement from national analysts, sources tell KSR that things very well may drag into next week as Duren weighs his options and makes a final pick. The door is cracked for one final push, but time is running out for all parties involved.

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