Good evening and welcome back to another edition of Pilgrim’s Insider Notes!
For the first time since I started doing the notes a few months back, I’ll be splitting it up into two parts. For tonight’s post, I’ll be focusing on closing out the 2019 class, including updates on Johnny Juzang and RJ Hampton, among others.
And then tomorrow, I will be releasing part two, where I will be diving into the class of 2020, discussing everything I heard involving the top junior prospects in the nation down in Atlanta this past weekend at the Nike EYBL event.
Let’s get things started.
2019 five-star wing prospect Johnny Juzang recently finished up an official visit with the University of Kentucky, and as expected, things went extremely well for the Wildcats.
Arriving in Lexington on Sunday night and leaving Tuesday, the five-star sharpshooter got the opportunity to tour downtown, campus, basketball facilities, the Wildcat Coal Lodge, etc., before getting into the nitty-gritty of basketball.
There obviously weren’t any live team practices like we see on visits during the regular season, so the majority of Juzang’s time spent with John Calipari and the Kentucky coaching staff was discussing his potential role on next year’s roster, how he would be used, and watching film.
Outside of basketball-specific discussions, this was an opportunity for the high-level prospect to interact with the coaching staff and develop chemistry with one another, something that was important for Juzang. He knows that Kentucky would be a solid fit from a basketball standpoint, so the next step was making sure he was comfortable with the staff on a personal level. I think they did an excellent job here, showing the family-like atmosphere they have behind closed doors here in Lexington.
At one point, I felt Kentucky was going to go in for the kill during the visit and make an attempt at securing a commitment right then and there. While I think there was a slight push from the UK coaching staff, I’m under the impression that they were more than willing to let Juzang go home and think things over with his family before making his decision official. They’re extremely confident in where they stand.
With the 6-foot-8 sharpshooter’s trip to Lexington now over, I’m told that there are no more visits expected before a decision is made. While he is down to four schools (Kentucky, Virginia, Kansas, and Oregon), this thing will come down to the Wildcats and the Cavaliers, with UK being the odds-on favorite.
I will be shocked if Juzang isn’t a Wildcat by this time next week, if not sooner.
Yesterday afternoon, five-star combo guard RJ Hampton announced what we’ve all been expecting for a few months now, telling the world that he would be making the jump to 2019.
While the timing was a bit of a surprise (the announcement was expected later this summer after Peach Jam), Hampton made it known down in Atlanta at Nike EYBL this weekend that the jump was more likely than not.
“I don’t think I have anything left in high school to prove to anybody,” the five-star guard told reporters.
His father, Rod Hampton, then said that he had been telling the Kentucky coaching staff that he was “over 50%” likely to reclassify and that it was in their best interest to recruit him for the class of 2019.
“We told him that we’re really, really considering reclassifying, so his pitched toned up,” the elder Hampton said. “He had no clue that we were going to do it. I just told him that we’re really considering it. It’s over 50% now that we’re going to reclass, so he’s trying to put the pieces together. It’ll be interesting if Johnny Juzang chooses them after the visit. It’s a good program. I just feel that he can fit in with all the schools we’re looking at.”
When asked about his interest in Kentucky, the five-star guard said that he isn’t scared of anyone in the backcourt and feels he can earn playing time from day one no matter who is already there.
“I’m not scared off of anybody that’s there,” Hampton said. “I’m confident in my game. I know they are too. They’re great players and I don’t know why any other great player wouldn’t want to play with other great players.”
While he’s saying all of the right things about Kentucky remaining in contention, I just don’t see them being the final choice. There have been rumors going back to his sophomore season in high school that he was wanting to be the star of the show in college, and with how loaded the UK backcourt is (especially with Juzang likely joining in the coming days), it’d be tough for him to make that happen in Lexington.
It’s also interesting that Hampton decided to cut Duke from his list and add Texas Tech. I’ve been hearing for the last few weeks that the Blue Devils were essentially out of the running the minute Tre Jones returned to school, but I assumed he would just cut his list to three and move on. His father said that Chris Beard and the Tech coaching staff was the first to contact him when the recent recruiting period opened, so it might be just a courtesy to the local school in including them.
He says he’ll be scheduling visits to Lexington, Memphis, and Lubbock in the coming weeks before sitting down and coming up with a final decision.
While these upcoming visits could change things, I believe his recruitment will come down to Kansas and Memphis, with the Tigers likely having a slight lead right now over the Jayhawks.
For the first time in months, there seems to be some movement in the recruitment of 2019 five-star forward Jaden McDaniels.
While I still don’t think an announcement is imminent, now that the All-Star circuit is over, the 6-foot-11 prospect is starting to think more about the final schools on his list and weigh the pros and cons of each. I don’t think Texas or UCLA will be major contenders, and three main programs of focus will be Washington, Kentucky, and San Diego State.
When the time comes, I have been told that McDaniels will simply be tweeting his decision and nothing more. There’s also a strong chance we don’t even receive an actual announcement date and he’ll just release the news to the public and move on.
While it’s still (somehow) too early to know who is the true favorite to land the athlete out of Federal Way, WA, the whispers right now are still that the hometown Washington Huskies will come out on top. He told KSR at the Jordan Brand Classic that “there is nothing like playing at home,” and considering he has always shied away from the spotlight, it just feels like that’s the likely scenario.
The deadline to sign a national letter of intent is May 15, so we should know more over the next two weeks.
NBA Draft decisions
As mentioned earlier today, neither Nick Richards nor EJ Montgomery reportedly received an invite to the NBA Combine, which obviously means that teams feel they should both return to school for another year.
While I still feel that the expectation is that both players return to Kentucky, there is still some uncertainty surrounding Montgomery’s status. At one point, there were significant rumblings that he was going to either keep his name in the NBA Draft or transfer next season. Since then, though, I have heard some tidbits that made me feel much more confident in him returning, but I still don’t believe it’s set in stone. If I had to make a bet, I’d say that Montgomery returns for one more season in Lexington.
I expect Richards back for a junior season regardless.
As for Kerry Blackshear Jr. and his status, I don’t expect we’ll hear much until the NBA Draft evaluation process is over. As I told you guys last week, the potential Virginia Tech graduate transfer is expected to take the draft process very seriously before focusing on cutting his list, scheduling visits, etc.
That will have to wait a bit longer.
I’ll be back tomorrow for more.