LEXINGTON, Ky. — John Calipari is, by any definition, rich. And the Kentucky basketball coach is about to get richer.
He already has landed the nation’s No. 1-ranked recruiting haul (again), with pledges from six of the top 50 players in the Class of 2017, but he’s still not finished. The Wildcats would like to add one more shooter and an elite big man to the incoming crop, and chances are good they’ll succeed at both.
“If I was going to make a prediction, I would say Kentucky for Mohamed Bamba,” said Evan Daniels, director of basketball recruiting for Scout.com, whose site ranks the 6-foot-11 Bamba the No. 2 overall prospect in the country. “I think they’re in the best shape right now. He doesn’t have a timeline and I don’t think he’s truly made a decision yet, but just from what I’ve been able to gather and examining the situation, it seems like Kentucky is in great shape.”
Bamba was at the McDonald’s All-American game in Chicago last week, and it just so happens so were four Kentucky pledges, including point guard Quade Green — Bamba’s former AAU teammate. Green and the other future Wildcats made no secret of their efforts to recruit even more talent to Lexington.
“(Bamba) and Quade have a connection,” said Daniels, who kept a close eye on the pair at practices in Chicago. “You could see it at McDonald’s: Quade would drive the lane and find Mo for alley-oops.”
So what if Kentucky does add Bamba to a mix that already includes five 5-star freshmen — Green, shooting guard Hamidou Diallo, forwards P.J. Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt and center Nick Richards — plus 4-star combo guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander?
“It changes who they are defensively,” Daniels said. “(Bamba) is such a good rim protector. His length impacts the game in so many ways. I thought Mohamed was as impressive as anybody at the McDonald’s All-American game and I think he’s going to continue to be a big deal.”
Goodness, Mohamed Bamba meets Michael Porter at the rim and snatches the ball with one hand. pic.twitter.com/KXhWoOjXPY
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 29, 2017
It’s not all good news for Calipari and the Cats. Kentucky’s four burger boys also applied the full-court press to top-10 recruit Kevin Knox last week, even making him UK-themed cookies, but that pitch might’ve fallen on deaf ears.
“I think [North] Carolina and Duke are, in some order, one and two,” said Daniels, who believes a crowded roster could be hurting the Wildcats. “He would deny that if you ask him, but the fact of the matter is they’ve got two combo forwards already. He’s different than those guys, but he fits that type of mold.”
According to 247Sports, Knox’s top three are Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina, with the Blue Devils an overwhelming favorite.
Given the choice, though, Kentucky would likely prefer to have Bamba. Land him and this class is an overwhelming success — one that should give Calipari another Final Four contender despite the fact he is likely losing the top seven scorers from his 2016-17 roster.
There is just one potential hole: The Cats are thin on outside shooters. Considering Calipari’s outspoken stance against pilfering graduate transfers from mid-major college programs, that option is likely out. But Kentucky has other options for solving their shooter problem.
“I think they solve it, potentially, with a guy named Jemarl Baker from California, a top-75 type guy who can really shoot,” Daniels said. “They’re starting to recruit him. I think they’re going to look at some other guys, too. They need a shooter — they know it — and they’re trying to find one late.”
Baker signed with the California but asked for his release after the coaching change there. He’s a 4-star prospect, rated the No. 87 overall player and No. 20 shooting guard in the Class of 2017 by Scout. Another name that has emerged is 4-star guard Mark Smith from Illinois, although Kentucky might not be as heavily involved with him as some reports indicate. Smith appears headed for Michigan State.
Sources tell SEC Country that Calipari and assistant coach Joel Justus will travel to Corona, Calif., on Friday to visit Baker — and there is at least one more mystery shooter Kentucky is interested in pursuing. So yes, the richest is about to get richer.