Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but Kentucky might end up with the top-ranked recruiting class in college basketball.
OK, so if that part isn’t novel, the way the Wildcats are assembling this group — and their 2019-20 team is a bit unusual.
Kentucky has had commitments from 5-star guard Tyrese Maxey and 5-star forward Kahlil Whitney for months — even if Whitney’s delay before signing his letter of intent did raise a few eyebrows. In-state forward Dontaie Allen, a 4-star ranked No. 103 overall, is a little below UK’s usual rankings radar screen, but perhaps the realization hit John Calipari that his only 2 four-year signees in a decade in Lexington were in-state prospects. Kentucky then added 5-star wing Keion Brooks, and has cleaned up in the spring with the addition of Bucknell grad transfer Nate Sestina and outside shooter Johnny Juzang, a 4-star who reclassified to 2019.
For many schools, a class of 6 new players would be large, but Kentucky doesn’t appear to be done. The crown prize of Kentucky’s class could end up being mystery 5-star forward Jaden McDaniels, the No. 8 player in the class. A willowy athlete who stands 6-9, McDaniels has been a quiet observer to the recruiting process. A couple of weeks ago, conventional wisdom suggested he would be a Wildcat, but nobody knows what to expect.
While 247sports’s experts lean toward predicting UK, guys like Evan Daniels and Jerry Meyer have expressed a lack of confidence in those picks. Some think McDaniels might stay near home at the University of Washington or choose some other mystery school. It’s far from certain that he’ll sign a letter of intent before Wednesday evening’s deadline.
Regardless of whether UK gets a signed letter of intent from McDaniels (or whether he chooses to simply show up in Lexington in the fall without signing), the Wildcats are also still in the hunt for Virginia Tech grad transfer Kerry Blackshear — if he doesn’t end up staying in the NBA Draft. The 6-10, 250-pound Blackshear is the kind of physical specimen not easily found in college hoops. In 3 seasons at Tech, he scored 1,152 points and grabbed 616 rebounds. This spring, he put his name into the NCAA transfer portal and the NBA Draft, and if he pulls out of the draft, the 22-year old big man may well spend a season in Lexington, a la Reid Travis on last season’s squad.
As with Blackshear, most of Kentucky’s remaining recruiting will be seeing who doesn’t go pro. UK sophomore E.J. Montgomery (3.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game) and junior Nick Richards (4.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game) both put their names in the draft, but neither seems to have much of a chance of being a first-round pick. Of the two, Montgomery would seem more likely to return — and more likely to have a significant impact on next season’s team.
With the 6 signees listed above and returning guards Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley, Kentucky has a solid nucleus to build on. If the Wildcats can go 2-for-4 in the lottery of keeping Montgomery or Richards and nabbing Blackshear or McDaniels, they’d probably start the 2019-20 season as the odds-on favorite to claim the NCAA crown.
While Kentucky seems poised to launch the season on top, it’s been an interesting path, and one that figures to still have a couple of twists or turns remaining.