LEXINGTON, Ky. — The 2017-18 season hasn’t even started and there’s already buzz about Kentucky basketball fielding another “super team” for 2018-19. That’s because the Wildcats don’t have many obvious one-and-dones on the current roster, and they’re in great shape with a few elite recruits in the Class of 2018.
John Calipari likely won’t sign a huge class, numbers-wise, but he should end up with three or four stars who’ll turbo-charge expectations for next season. Who will those stars be? SEC Country spent the spring and summer tracking Kentucky’s top 2018 targets, traveling to Indianapolis, Colorado Springs and all over South Carolina to keep our finger on the pulse of the program.
No we’re ready to make our first predictions for who the Wildcats will sign.
Best guess: point guard Immanuel Quickley, power forward Simi Shittu and at least one (maybe two) of the nation’s top three small forwards — Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish — plus a wildcard whose name has not yet emerged in connection with Kentucky.
Taking that a little further, we’ll list 11 prospects of interest in descending order of our confidence the Cats will sign them:
PG Immanuel Quickley (6-3, 175)
Scout.com’s No. 3 point guard and No. 9 overall prospect has talked openly about Kentucky as his favorite — even before starting for John Calipari’s Under-19 USA Basketball team at the FIBA World Cup this summer. He’ll take official visits to UK, Kansas, Maryland and Miami in September, but it would be a massive upset if he doesn’t ultimately choose the Wildcats.
Confidence he signs: 99.9 percent
SF Zion Williamson (6-7, 230)
Scout.com’s No. 2 small forward and No. 4 overall prospect got Kentucky fans’ hopes up in July when he started talking about a desire to play with Quickley in college. Then 247Sports recruiting insider Andrew Slater let some air out of that balloon by changing his prediction to Kansas for Williamson, which he explained to SEC Country. But the hunch here is that the Quickley relationship, combined with Calipari prioritizing him and the Cats’ reputation as a one-and-done factory, could be enough to fend off the Jayhawks.
Confidence he signs: 70 percent
PF Simi Shittu (6-8, 210)
Scout.com’s No. 2 power forward and No. 10 overall prospect doesn’t even have a scholarship offer from Kentucky. So why the confidence in him ultimately picking the Cats? Calipari recently cranked up his interest in Shittu, reaching out to his AAU and high school coaches — and the prospect directly — and flying to Canada late last month to get a closer look. Shittu’s high school coach said when Kentucky calls “it’s like a notch in a kid’s belt. It’s like, ‘I’ve arrived.’ ” Shittu also comes from the same AAU program as former UK star Jamal Murray, and that program’s director told us, “We know what Cal has done with Canadians.”
Confidence he signs: 60 percent
SF R.J. Barrett (6-6, 180)
Scout.com’s No. 1 small forward and No. 2 overall prospect has been mighty quiet about his recruitment, and SEC Country has gotten conflicting intel about his and his family’s interest in Barrett being part of a star-studded ensemble versus going somewhere to be more of “the man.” But if he welcomes the challenge of sharing the spotlight with other elite players, Kentucky makes the most sense. Barrett told us in the spring that he’s friends with fellow Canadian Shittu and Murray, who raved about his experience at UK. Barrett’s AAU coach told us the day he officially reclassified from 2019 to 2018 that “Kentucky has the cache to make it very attractive in terms of preparing for that next level.”
Confidence he signs: 50 percent
SF Cam Reddish (6-8, 195)
Scout.com’s No. 3 small forward and No. 5 overall prospect was Duke’s to lose before he spent three weeks with Calipari and started for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup. The Blue Devils are still in great position, but Reddish told us his extended summer trip with Kentucky’s coach certainly made up ground. In fact, on a phone call with SEC Country from Egypt, he declared that Duke is “absolutely not” his leader.
Confidence he signs: 50 percent
PG Quentin Grimes (6-4, 175)
Scout.com’s No. 4 point guard and No. 12 overall prospect told SEC Country last month that while it’s probably fair to call Kansas his leader, he wouldn’t count out Kentucky just because of Quickley. He considers himself more of a combo guard, able to play on or off the ball, and talked about Calipari’s reputation for playing multiple talented guards together. The Wildcats have continued to pursue him, and if anyone can pry him from the Jayhawks, it’s Kentucky.
Confidence he signs: 35 percent
C Bol Bol (7-1, 225)
Scout.com’s No. 1 center and No. 3 overall prospect appeared to be forming a nice bond with Calipari during Team USA training camp in June — but then he got cut from the team. That clearly bothered Bol and might’ve been a major blow to the Wildcats’ chances of landing him. The shot-blocking, 3-point-swishing son of Manute Bol, who recently moved from Kansas to California to finish his high school career, seems to be leaning more toward programs such as Arizona and USC these days.
Confidence he signs: 25 percent
PG Darius Garland (6-1, 170)
Scout.com’s No. 2 point guard and No. 8 overall prospect got a sort of surprising Kentucky offer after Peach Jam in July. He’d said this spring that the Wildcats weren’t showing much interest and that made perfect sense to him because of Quickley. But Calipari can never have enough good guards and has played three in the same backcourt before. Still, Duke seems like the frontrunner here with Vanderbilt also in the mix. Of note: several 2018 stars seem eager to play with Garland, and that might be a big part of UK’s increasing interest in him.
Confidence he signs: 15 percent
SG Romeo Langford (6-5, 191)
Scout.com’s No. 1 shooting guard and No. 6 overall prospect plays his high school ball in New Albany, Ind., about a 90-minute drive from Kentucky’s campus. And like Quickley and Reddish, he spent three weeks with Calipari and Team USA. But back problems severely limited his playing time and there is no indication he formed a tight bond with UK’s coach on the trip. Even if he says otherwise publicly, all our intel points to the Wildcats fading in his recruitment, with home-state Indiana and nearby Louisville in the best position to land him.
Confidence he signs: 10 percent
PF Marvin Bagley (6-10, 190)
Scout.com’s No. 1 power forward and No. 1 overall prospect could still reclassify to 2017 and play college basketball this season, in which case he is almost certainly not coming to Kentucky. Even if he stays in the 2018 class, the Wildcats seem like a long shot. He visited Duke immediately after Peach Jam, then visited Southern California, Arizona and UCLA. There’s not a Kentucky visit scheduled. If he doesn’t pick the Blue Devils, Bagley likely stays on the West Coast.
Confidence he signs: 10 percent
SF Louis King (6-8, 195)
Scout.com’s No. 6 small forward and No. 21 overall prospect did everything he could to earn a scholarship offer from Kentucky this summer. He played well off the bench for Calipari’s Team USA in Egypt, then dropped 41 points in front of Calipari in an AAU game last month. He has basically begged for an offer and hasn’t got one, which would seem to indicate the Cats like their chances in the small-forward pool of Williamson, Barrett and Reddish. If Kentucky eventually jumps in here, that changes things, but for now it seems like King will have to look elsewhere.
Confidence he signs: 5 percent