LEXINGTON, Ky. — The fall recruiting period for college basketball coaches is only a couple of weeks away, and Kentucky coach John Calipari made it clear Thursday that he’s already planning another one of his whirlwind trips as the 2017 cycle enters the next stage.
“We go out to recruit on (Sept.) the 9th. I’ll be gone for at least five straight days,” he said. “Probably in five straight days hit 12 different states, get done what I gotta get done, because if I’m not in the first week, what do you think these other schools are saying? ‘Well, if you were important to him, he’d have been here already.’ So I gotta go and just hit three states in one day. We’re not recruiting that many kids. I think it’s eight or nine kids. But I gotta hit ’em all within the first four or five days.”
Calipari is exactly right about the optics of these fall recruiting visits. If he really likes a player and doesn’t get in his home or high school right away, other college coaches who do will start the “you’re not a really a priority for Kentucky” line of negative recruiting.
That happens every year, and — with the near certainty that Calipari will have more spots than usual to fill in this cycle — he must be proactive in making his top guys feel like, well, top guys.
So who are those top guys?
There are 14 players in the Class of 2017 who have received confirmed scholarship offers over the course of this cycle. Calipari basically said Thursday that he’s locked in on eight or nine of those players.
Here’s a look at who’s probably a priority and who’s probably not.
Tier 1: The must takes
Mohamed Bamba is the highest-ranked player Kentucky is probably “all in” on at this point. The 7-footer from Harlem, N.Y., has often praised Calipari and his system. The Kentucky coach has compared him to Anthony Davis (the loftiest of UK comparisons) and Bamba still seems to be pretty wide open in his recruitment, despite repeated buzz from some that Duke is the clear frontrunner.
Hamidou Diallo is perhaps the most dynamic prospect in the class. Calipari has prioritized the high-flying shooting guard this summer, and Diallo has long seemed like a UK lean (though UConn and others will put up a fight).
Quade Green joined Trae Young in the top tier of UK point guard targets earlier this summer, and he has the type of make-everyone-around-me-better game that would translate perfectly to UK’s perennial cast of superstars. Young is still at the top of the list, but if Green called up Calipari tomorrow and said he wanted to be a Wildcat, the UK coach would take that commitment.
Kevin Knox — like Bamba — has long been viewed as a Duke lean but seems intent on playing out the recruiting process and holding off on a decision until the spring. The longer it goes, the better chance Kentucky has.
Lonnie Walker emerged over the summer as a big-time wing target for the Wildcats, and the interest on UK’s end has picked up in recent weeks. He’s another prospect who might not be favoring the Cats at the moment but definitely would have a spot in the 2017 class if he wants it.
P.J. Washington had a tremendous summer with Team Penny (and Team USA). His do-what-it-takes-for-the-team approach fits Calipari’s program perfectly. Washington and his family are big fans of the Kentucky coaching staff, and that feeling is mutual.
Young, simply put, remains the most likely point guard in the 2017 class to become a Wildcat. If Calipari’s first stop Sept. 9 is Norman, Okla., it won’t be a surprise.
Tier 2: Questions remain
Calipari said he’s targeting “eight or nine” guys the hardest, and we only listed seven in Tier 1. So that means there are probably one or two on this list that belong with others, but all have questions surrounding their UK recruitments: DeAndre Ayton, John Petty, Nick Richards and Jarred Vanderbilt.
By most accounts, Ayton is the No. 1 player in the Class of 2017, but there are lingering questions whether he’ll try to play pro ball after this season and whether his eligibility will be a concern if he goes to college. UK’s coaches are obviously aware of both concerns, and they’ve been taking Ayton’s recruitment slow as a result. If he’s eligible to play college ball, Ayton would be a monster talent for whichever school lands him. And he’s a big fan of Calipari’s program.
Petty was the first 2017 prospect to receive a UK scholarship offer and might have hosted Calipari more than any other recruit in the class at this stage, but the narrative has changed in the past few months. Some sources are saying UK has backed off Petty to prioritize other wings (like Diallo and Walker), while Alabama’s coaches are going all-in on their home-state star. It’ll be interesting to see how early Calipari touches down in Huntsville next month.
Richards had a great close to the summer and remains one of the best rebounders and defensive big men in the class. He’s also taking his recruitment very slowly. There was some trustworthy buzz earlier this summer that while many had UK as Richards’ leader, the Wildcats actually were prioritizing some other big men.
Vanderbilt has never really tipped his hand on frontrunners in his recruitment, but the talk behind the scenes during his high school season was that UK was the early team to beat (and his father was a big fan of the Wildcats). That said, it’s pretty clear UK hasn’t been in contact with him as much as some others. There’s also been an increased belief that Texas Christian could be a real player after recently hiring Vanderbilt’s cousin, Corey Barker, as an assistant coach.
Tier 3: Seems unlikely
Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr. are expected by many to be Duke bound, and UK’s coaches haven’t shown much interest in humoring their overtures toward the Wildcats’ program. (Though it’s worth noting that Trent is now high school teammates with major UK target P.J. Washington, and a cursory visit with the 5-star shooting guard could be arranged easily if Calipari sees Washington at Findlay Prep.)
Tremont Waters is currently a backup option at point guard, behind Green and Young.