LEXINGTON, Ky. — R.J. Barrett is officially reclassifying from 2019 to 2018, where he could rise to No. 1 overall in the class rankings, and Kentucky basketball will make a major push to land the 6-foot-7 Canadian sensation.
“I know that they’re very interested. I talk to Kentucky quite a bit about him. Some of the schools I don’t talk to as much, but I can definitely attest that they’ve been on him, with [John] Calipari and [assistant coach] Joel Justus leading the charge,” Barrett’s AAU coach, Dwayne Washington, told SEC Country on Monday. “They’re trying to see what the kid is looking for and see if that place can be a fit and get him better. It’s a feeling-out period, but they’re definitely high on his talent and his competitiveness and his ability play multiple positions.
“They like the fact that you can put him with excellent players and he’ll stand out as part of the group — or if you need him to take over a game, he can do that, too.”
Calipari recently got a front-row seat to Barrett’s most impressive example of taking over a game. He went off for 38 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists in Canada’s stunning upset of a Calipari-coached Team USA at the FIBA U19 World Cup in early July. Barrett had been the top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2019 and, if Marvin Bagley III reclassifies to 2017, could take the No. 1 spot in 2018.
Kentucky has always had Barrett on its radar and spent significant time letting him know the Cats want him, but that pursuit is about to intensify now that he’ll be eligible to sign with a college as early as November.
“They were waiting to see if he was really going to reclassify. They said, ‘Once you do, things will pick up,’ ” Washington said. “They were taking a more reserved role, but now that he’s reclassified, I expect them to go really hard at him, for sure.”
And what of Barrett’s interest in Kentucky? He told SEC Country this spring that he’s friends with fellow Canadian and former Wildcats star Jamal Murray, who speaks glowingly to him about his time in Lexington and how it prepared him for the NBA.
On his blog for USA Today, where Barrett announced the move to 2018, he wrote that Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Oregon, Texas and UCLA have shown him the most interest.
“He doesn’t have a lot of thoughts on Kentucky right now,” Washington said. “He just wants to get to know the coaches. Outside of it being a blue blood and one of the top programs, he doesn’t know much about the situation and how he would fit.”
You can expect Calipari and Co. to answer all of those questions for Barrett very soon and deliver the hard sell that has closed eight consecutive No. 1 or No. 2-ranked recruiting classes.
“If they really want him and they evaluated him the correct way on how he would fit, and if he’s already mentioned them, that’s a good thing,” Washington said. “If he’s mentioned them this early, Kentucky has the cache to make it very attractive in terms of preparing him for that next level.”