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Aaron Torres’ Take

The college basketball programs with the most to gain (or lose) with players testing the NBA Draft process

For those of us who love college basketball (which is pretty much everyone reading this post) this past Sunday, April 22nd was one of the biggest days on the college hoops calendar. Why’s that? It was the final day for underclassmen to declare for the NBA Draft.

Therefore, at this point, we know who will enter the draft. In total, there are a staggering 180 players who entered the draft, including well over 100 who declared without an agent (that obviously includes three players from Kentucky). It also means that, as of right now, all 100 can return to college basketball next year, just as long as they don’t sign with an agent. All of them won’t, but will at least have the option between now and the deadline to withdraw on May 30th.

So with that deadline a month away, which college programs (including Kentucky) have the most to gain or lose nearly the NBA Draft deadline? Here they are:

9) Kansas

Graduating seniors: Devonte Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk
Declared with an agent, won’t return: Malik Newman
Testing the Waters (Could Return): Udoka Azibuke, LaGerald Vick

This is a weird one, and let me explain why. Vick has declared without an agent but it seems like (based on the statement he made when he declared) that he’s as good as gone. And if Vick does leave, it would mean that Azibuke is the only projected starter to return to Lawrence next year. In theory, it’s probably not a good thing for a team that just made the Final Four to lose all five starters. That’s especially true when you remember that their best back-up big man this past season, Silvio de Souza, was recently named in the FBI probe. His future in Lawrence remains uncertain.

So that’s the bad, but let me explain why this is weird: I’m not sure that Azibuke’s return has all that much impact on the Jayhawks next year. Azibuke was good but not great this year, and the Jayhawks two best big guys might have actually been Dedric and KJ Lawson, two brothers who sat out last season after transferring from Memphis. Dedric Lawson is already being projected as the next star of the Jayhawks after averaging 19 points and nine rebounds as a sophomore at Memphis two years ago.

So again, this is all in theory, but the reality is that even if Azibuke comes back he might not have a huge impact next year. Still, we’ll put Kansas on the list, because no program anywhere in college basketball, wants to lose all five starters.

8) North Carolina

Graduating seniors: Joel Berry, Theo Pinson
Declared with an agent, won’t return: N/A
Testing the Waters (Could Return): Luke Maye

This one is really pretty simple, so we won’t spend a lot of time on it. If Maye returns, than I believe North Carolina is a legit ACC title contender. Maye was sneaky good last year, averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds per game, and if you add him in with Cameron Johnson, Kenny Williams and a loaded freshman class (headlined by Top 5 prospect Nassir Little) that feels like a team that can compete with anyone in the league.

But if you remove Maye? Then all of a sudden it gets dicey. Not only is there no leader at point guard (after Joel Berry graduated this past year) but also, your best low post threat is gone too. All of a sudden you’re trying to patch together a roster full of role players and freshmen and turn them into a legitimate team.

The good news for North Carolina is that if you read Maye’s announcement carefully, it feels like he is only testing the waters to get feedback, and plans to return to school. That’s a good thing for Carolina… just as long as Maye sticks with that plan.

7) Syracuse

Graduating seniors: N/A
Declared with an agent, won’t return: Darius Bazley (straight from high school to the G-League)
Testing the Waters (Could Return): Tyus Battle

Ultimately, this one is basically the same as North Carolina. The Orange could survive the loss of Bazley (the famed high school player who will bypass college to go to the G-League next year), but they can’t afford to lose Battle, who averaged nearly 20 points per game this past season.

With Battle, they’re likely a Top 15 team and dark horse ACC title contender. Without him, they have a gaping hole at point guard and will, for roughly the 28th year in a row, likely end up as a bubble team come Selection Sunday.

6) West Virginia

Graduating seniors: Jevon Carter
Declared with an agent, won’t return: N/A
Testing the Waters (Could Return): Esa Ahmad, Sagaba Konate

The Mountaineers (who Kentucky could very well face in the Big 12-SEC Challenge) will already lose Jevon Carter, one of the most feared perimeter defenders in recent college basketball history. That’s bad enough. But if they lose Ahmad and Konate? They will be more or less starting over from scratch next season.

That’s because for all the toughness that Carter provided on the perimeter, Konate (and to a smaller degree Ahmad, who was suspended for half the season) provided the same physicality on the interior. Over the course of last season, Konate evolved into one of the most feared shot blockers in the sport, where he averaged over three blocks per game, to go along with 11 points and seven rebounds. If you need visual reminder of how good Konate was last year, just watch the video below.

With Konate and Ahmad back, West Virginia would be West Virginia again, that mean, tough, feared team, that plays hard, defends like hell and takes crap from no one. They’re also probably the second or third best team in the Big 12. But without them? They’re just a shell of themselves and probably not a Top 25 team entering the season.


Graduating seniors: Thomas Welsh
Declared with an agent, won’t return: Aaron Holiday
Testing the Waters (Could Return): Jaylen Hands, Kris Wilkes

From the time he decided to return for his junior season, it was a foregone conclusion that Holiday would go pro after the 2017-2018 campaign. And considering he was the second best player in the Pac-12 this year (behind only DeAndre Ayton), it should be no surprise that Holiday not only entered the draft but will stay in. He will almost certainly be a first round pick and has a bright NBA future.

So yeah, the Holiday decision was expected. And you could have made the case before the season started that both Wilkes and Hands could go pro after this year – but after the seasons they actually had on the court, no one expected it. Neither were “bad” per se, but neither were difference-makers as well, and both would risk going undrafted if they don’t remove their names before the deadline. Wilkes, who averaged 13 points per game this past season, might go somewhere in the second round.

Therefore, these next two weeks really turn into a zero-sum game for Steve Alford. The Bruins will already be young, but will be young and talented with the return of Wilkes and Hands. But if they don’t return? UCLA will need a starting point guard and a new go-to scorer, and will rely almost exclusively on freshmen entering the season.

That’s bad news for Alford, as he enters a make-or-break season in Westwood.

4) Mississippi State

Graduating seniors: N/A
Declared with an agent, won’t return: N/A
Testing the Waters (Could Return): Aric Holman, Lamar Peters, Quinndary Weathersppon

If we’re being total honest here, Mississippi State was probably one of the 68 best teams in college basketball last year even if they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. They went 9-9 within the SEC with some very solid wins, and had it not been for an at-large resume that fell somewhere between “pathetic” and “grotesque” they very well could have been a tourney team. The good news however is that as they entered the off-season, every key was projected to return.

Of course then NBA Draft decisions rolled in and three of their four leading scorers – Weatherspoon, Holman and Peters – declared for the draft. It also creates a very contentious few weeks for Ben Howland in Starkville.

The simple truth is that with these three, Mississippi State is not only an NCAA Tournament team, but also realistically, a sneaky SEC title contender. Without them however, it would be a fourth-straight year where the Bulldogs missed the NCAA Tourney – and it might be time to start asking if Howland is the right man for the job.

3) Nevada

Graduating seniors: Kendall Stephens
Declared with an agent, won’t return: N/A
Testing the Waters (Could Return): Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline

You all remember Nevada, right? That fun, bubbly team, who mounted those wild comebacks against Texas and Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament (take that, Mick Cronin!) and then saw its coach rip his shirt off after their games? Well yeah, here’s the crazy thing: In theory, they could bring back most of their roster off a 29-win team that made the Sweet 16. And if they do, the Wolf Pack will almost certainly start the year in the Top 10 with true Final Four aspirations.

Now the question is this: Will they actually return all their key players? It’s not as simple as it seems. That’s because while none of their three best players (Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline and Cody Martin) are expected to be drafted, they also might not have a ton of reason to come back to college next year either. All three were fourth-year seniors this past year, and all will be 23 by the end of next season. Will any of them really improve their draft position by this time next year?

It’s a fair question and one that all three of these guys need to ask themselves. If all three do leave and decide to just start their professional futures no one could blame them. But it would knock Nevada down quite a few pegs next year as well.

2) Kentucky

Graduating seniors: N/A
Declared with an agent, won’t return: Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Testing the Waters (Could Return): Wenyen Gabriel, P.J. Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt

Ultimately I believe Villanova and Kentucky are basically the same: Two teams that, if all their pieces return can be No. 1 in the country to enter the season. They could also be in big trouble if they don’t get everyone back. But let’s start with Kentucky (and I’ll explain later why I have Nova at No. 1).

As I mentioned, with the Wildcats, I really do believe that if they get everyone back they will have all the pieces to be a title contender. With Quade Green’s return they will have a steadying hand at point guard, with the addition of Keldon Johnson they have wing scoring, and Tyler Herro and Jemarl Baker they’ll have much needed shooting as well. And if everyone returns, or even two out of three players who’ve declared, Kentucky is again stacked in the front court as well.

The problem becomes if the players don’t return. We’re hearing increased rumblings that P.J. Washington may simply bolt for the pros regardless of where he’ll be drafted, and at 21-years-old, it’d be hard to blame Wenyen Gabriel decided to start his professional career, wherever it may be. Jarred Vanderbilt has no real draft prospects, but what if he decides that he is too injury-prone to risk coming back to campus?

If that were to happen, then all of a sudden, Kentucky has some gaping holes in the front court. Now they can off-set it some by a wealth of talent in the back-court (Green, Immanuel Quickley, maybe Ashton Hagans) but the front-court would be E.J. Montgomery, Nick Richards and… well, that’s basically it.

Therefore, these next couple weeks in Lexington will be massive. It could be the difference between a true national championship contender and just another good, but not great team.

1) Villanova

Graduating seniors: N/A
Declared with an agent, won’t return: Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges
Testing the Waters (Could Return): Donte DiVencenzio, Omari Spellman

Villanova almost certainly knew they were going to lose both Bridges and Brunson following the season. Bridges is projected as a lottery pick and Brunson is a National Player of the Year, won two national championships and earned his degree. There was really nothing left for him to come back for in college basketball.

However, if there was a downside to winning a national championship this year (something I’m not totally sure exists) it’s that now DiVencenzio and Spellman are on everyone’s radar, including the folks in the NBA. We all know that DiVencenzio went for 31 points in the title game. But don’t forget about Spellman, who at 6’10 was not only Villanova’s leading rebounder but a great three-point shooter. His ability to space the floor and give Nova five legitimate shooters on the court at all times is what made them so dangerous.

Looking ahead, the good news for the Wildcats is that while both of these guys were relatively unknowns to non-Villanova fans, the truth is that NBA people have known about each for a while now. One good game (no matter how big the stage) isn’t likely going to sway NBA folks, who have been scouting and evaluating these guys for years.

But if both guys leave…. that’s bad news for Nova. First off, it upsets the entire structure that their program has been built on, where one star leaves and the next one steps up in his place. If both leave, it also means that the Wildcats will likely be forced to have freshmen play key roles next year, especially at the point guard position. That’s simply not how Nova’s program is supposed to run.

And that’s the ultimate reason why I have Villanova No. 1 on this list. While I believe Kentucky could still have some semblance of a Top 10 team even if all three of their guys go pro, I think Villanova drops from “national championship contender” all the way to “fringe Top 25” if DiVencenzio and Spellman leave. Basically, their ceiling is just as high as Kentucky, but their basement is much lower.

That’s also why the Wildcats will be worth watching these next few weeks.

The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast E39: Sam Vecenie

The deadline to enter the NBA Draft is fast approaching, and that is the focus of the latest episode of the Aaron Torres Sports podcast, as The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie joins the show to break it all down. But first up, it’s a visit from Nick Coffey. Highlights:
New Draft Rule: Do we really like the new rule that allows players to enter without an agent when 100+ players have declared? Does everyone really need to enter the draft to get feedback or can they simply ask their college coaches?
Jarred VanderbiltAaron and Nick discuss Jarred Vanderbilt’s decision to “test the waters.” Can he actually test them if he can’t play? And why Vanderbilt has one of the toughest decisions of anyone in the draft.
The Quade Green SagaWill Quade stay or go, and is it even fair to him for Kentucky to be recruiting all these point guards? Aaron explains why he’d be pissed if he was Green.
Should more Return? Aaron opens the conversation with Sam by asking about the 2019 draft. Is Sam surprised that more players didn’t decide to come back to college, knowing how bad next year’s draft will be?
Rising StockSam shares a few names that he believes he can impress scouts and improve their draft stock over the next couple weeks.
Brian Bowen: Aaron asks Sam about Brian Bowen, and the tough decision he faces with his NCAA future uncertain.

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.

Sponsorship Note:

Sign on to sponsor the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast by May 31st to take advantage of a special discount. Contact to learn more.

Which undecided player is most important to Kentucky’s 2018-2019 season?

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Those stressful few weeks where everyone tries to sit back and figure out who will leave Kentucky’s basketball program, who will stay and what the next roster will look like. Every year there is drama. Every year there is intrigue. And every year there are a few surprises.

Yet despite this process always being wacky, doesn’t it feel like this year is especially bonkers?

Rarely have we entered the home-stretch of the declaration period with this much uncertainty at what the roster will look like. We know that Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will be going pro and not looking back, and we also know that Nick Richards and Jemarl Baker will definitely be returning.

What we don’t know however is what the heck the future holds for P.J. Washington, Wenyen Gabriel, Quade Green and Jarred Vanderbilt. The first two have declared for the draft but haven’t hired an agent, Vanderbilt is still pondering his decision, and Green, well, he’s got one of the most confusing futures of anyone in college basketball. Although Green hasn’t said anything publicly, there continues to be rampant, RAMPANT speculation that he will transfer at some point this off-season, with the latest news coming that LaSalle could be a potential landing spot (REALLY!?!??!) if he decides to leave. The rumors simply don’t stop, even as Green remains quiet.

But in looking at these four players, it’s time to ask: Which player is the most important for Kentucky’s success next season? Here is this writer’s list:


Why You Shouldn’t Expect James Wiseman to Reclassify into the Class of 2018

USA Basketball

There are no shortage of topics which interest Kentucky fans right now – be it what players are going pro, what players are returning for the 2019 season, and overall just what the heck the roster will look like by tip-off of the first game next year. Yet there might not be a topic more intriguing than the future of James Wiseman. The Kentucky staff met with him yesterday and everyone wants to know where the Wildcats stand, and when he will make his college choice.

Oh and there’s one other question too – will Wiseman, the top ranked player in the class of 2019, actually stay in the 2019 class at all? For months there have been all sorts of rumors that Wiseman is seriously considering a move to the class of 2018, to try and get eligible for next season.

Yet while that’s been the talk for months among fans, it isn’t something that most media members are taking seriously… yet. At least not 247 Sports’ recruiting guru and FS1 college basketball analyst Evan Daniels.

Daniels joined KSR’s “Aaron Torres Sports Podcast” earlier this week, and when Aaron asked Wiseman, and why everyone keeps bringing up a possible reclassification, Daniels shared his thoughts.

“I get why people keep asking,” Daniels said. “But he keeps answering it the same way. So until James Wiseman says something differently you have to take him at his word.”

Daniels explained that while sometimes reclassification rumors are legit, on this one, he hasn’t actually heard from anyone credible that it is a serious conversation.

Instead, it’s mostly fans that are stirring the pot and creating the narrative.

“Sometimes you hear things in the background,” Daniels said. “Sources and people recruiting the kid will say that the kid is going to do something; whether it’s commit [or] reclassify. I haven’t heard any of that with him. There’s just been speculation among fans. At this point he says he’s not reclassifying, he’s staying in the 2019 class. I’ll start to take another stance seriously when he makes a public statement saying otherwise.”

Ultimately while the potential reclassification of a star like Wiseman is exciting, there is plenty of reason to pump the breaks here a bit. There is Wiseman repeatedly denying the rumor, something that his mom did as well on Wednesday. Also, keep in mind that Wiseman is young for his age. While players like Marvin Bagley and Ashton Hags (who is trying to reclassify for next year) were a year old, and tried to get back into their proper age group, Wiseman is the age of a normal high school junior. He just turned 17 a few weeks ago and won’t be 18 for another, full, calendar year. If he stays in his class, he will enter college at the normal age for most of his peers.

So while the Wiseman/reclassification buzz is exciting, it’s probably too early to take things seriously. At least according to the biggest name in the recruiting game.

Also, to hear the rest of Evan Daniels’ entire interview with Aaron Torres, including conversation about the 2019 recruiting class as a whole, how Jeff Capel’s departure impacts Duke and more Wiseman talk, be sure to download the show by clicking here.

Was R.J. Barrett closer to committing to Kentucky than he led on?

It seems like since the day that R.J. Barrett first burst onto the national college basketball scene back last summer, it was inevitable that he was headed to Duke. The Canadian wing, who dropped 38 points on a John Calipari-led Team USA club at last summer’s FIBA U-19 World Cup grew up a Duke fan, and once he reclassified to the Class of 2018 (he was originally a 2019 recruit) it seemed to be a matter of “when” not “if” he’d end up a Blue Devil.

That “when” came in early November when Barrett officially declared for Duke, picking the Blue Devils over Kentucky and Oregon on decision day. But what if “Barrett to Duke” wasn’t nearly as done of a deal as everyone made it out to be?

It sounds crazy, but that’s what Barrett claims. Earlier this week at the Nike Hoops Summit, KSR asked Barrett about the recruiting process and he dropped a shocking note: “Barrett to Duke” wasn’t nearly as much of a lock as everyone made it out to be.

“I mean, I’ve always liked Duke,” he said following practice at the Nike Hoops Summit on Thursday. “Kentucky and Oregon were high on the list too. So I really had no idea until the day before. It was tough.”

He continued.

“I had no idea what I wanted to do.”

Maybe Barrett is playing nice, or maybe, just maybe he really did consider other schools. It’s not as though Coach Cal didn’t make a strong sell to Barrett, essentially telling him that the 38-point performance against Team USA was just a preview of things to come if he were to commit to Kentucky. And Barrett’s own AAU coach confessed to spending quite a bit of time speaking with the UK coaching staff once Barrett officially decided to reclassify over the summer, according to SEC Country’s Kyle Tucker.

Again, Barrett’s ultimate choice was Duke, but if his decision really did come down to the wire, could it have possibly been Kentucky had he not chosen Duke?

Barrett with coy when asked that question.

“I wouldn’t know that either,” Barrett said when asked where he would have gone if he didn’t chose Duke. “Kentucky and Oregon were right beside each other.”

It’s no surprise that all these months later that Barrett is playing nice, and claiming that he had no leader behind Duke.

Still, watch the video closely and you can see a glimmer in Barrett’s eye when he talks about those other schools.

Doesn’t it look like he’s thinking “Kentucky” even if he didn’t say it?

Courtesy: USA Basketball

Ten Things I Learned at the 2018 Nike Hoops Summit

It was a busy week in Oregon, where for the 21st time the Nike Hoops Summit took place on Friday. The event is annually one of the best All-Star games on the late season circuit, drawing the best players from across the world and across high school basketball here in the United States. And this year was no different. Virtually every big name player in the age group was at the Hoops Summit, ranging from R.J. Barrett and Bol Bol, to Kentucky commits Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro.

And even though the game turned into a bit of a dud (which I wrote about here) there was still plenty to take away from the week itself. In addition to the game, I was able to sit in on three total practices (two for Team USA and one for the World Team) which gave me great insight into not just the players who are headed to Kentucky, but really, all of the players who were here, including many who will play in college basketball next season.

So what did I learn from both the Nike Hoops Summit game and practices? Here are 10 things:

1) There’s no other way to put it: Tyler Herro got screwed on Friday night – but that shouldn’t take away from a good week here

I hate to be this blunt right off the top, but there’s really no other way to put it: Tyler Herro got screwed on Friday night. Look, I get that this is a competitive event where both coaches are trying to win. But the fact that he only got seven minutes of play when other Team USA guards like Tre Jones and Darius Garland got 30+ is absolutely inexcusable. If they weren’t going to play him, they just shouldn’t have brought him out. And to be clear, there was no injury or anything. I asked the Team USA coach and he simply said that playing Herro limited minutes was just how the game worked out.

Still, to Herro’s credit he took the high road after the game – and it really is important to note that a quiet night on Friday shouldn’t take away from what was an otherwise successful week for him in Portland overall. It also shouldn’t take away from the fact that over the last two weeks (including the Jordan Brand Game) he proved that he deserves more respect on the national level.

If anything, this week showed me exactly what I expected when I first came up to Portland: Not only can Herro contribute next year at Kentucky, but Kentucky needs him to contribute for this team to be successful. In the scrimmages behind closed doors Herro proved to be the true offensive threat that he’s been advertised as. The shots didn’t always fall, but he was able to get to his spots on the court, and showed a good savvy around the rim. In his limited time on the court Friday he also showed nice moves, including a sweet step back jumper.

Don’t let the disappointing night fool you: Herro will be an important piece for Kentucky next year. And a problem for the rest of the SEC.

Tyler Herro snubbed in forgettable Nike Hoops Summit game

Kelly Kline/Under Armour

There’s no real nice way to put it… but let’s just say that you won’t be telling your grandkids about the 2018 Nike Hoops Summit game. A matchup between the best high school players in the United States squaring off with the best from across the world turned into a largely forgettable dud, as the World Team beat Team USA by a score of 89-76.

Yes, it was that bad, especially when you consider last week’s Jordan Brand Classic finished with a 146-136 final score. The McDonald’s All-American game final was 131-128. After two straight weeks where the losing team broke 120, the winning team on Friday night couldn’t even break 90. You could be forgiven if you turned this one off early. Or more likely, if you fell asleep mid-game.

It was also an especially forgettable night for any Kentucky fan that was battling sleep deprivation to try and watch future Wildcats Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson in Portland. Johnson sat out for the second straight weekend with an ankle injury, Herro was limited to 7:18 minutes of play, the fewest of any healthy Team USA member. Team USA coach Mike Jones said that it was nothing personal after the game. To his credit, Herro took the high road when asked if he believed he should have played more.

“I think so,” he told KSR. “But it’s all good.”

That’s especially disappointing considering that Herro proved what he can do on a national stage last week with a solid, 13-point effort at the Jordan Brand Classic, an effort that led Zion Williamson to tell KSR’s Jack Pilgrim that Herro is “The most underrated player in the entire 2018 recruiting class.” What made the look even worse for Team USA, is that on his very first possession in the game, Herro hit a beautiful step-back jumper that appeared to be a solid sign of things to come on the evening for the Kentucky commit.

Plenty in Big Blue Nation were not happy about the snub.

at the game outside the UK lens, there were a handful of interesting developments. Future Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland paced the USA team with 16 points off the bench, including four of six shooting from beyond the arc. Former Kentucky recruit (turned Oregon commit) Bol Bol played as well as this writer has ever seen him with 12 points and six blocks. Duke commit R.J. Barrett was probably the best player overall in the game, leading Team World with 20 points. It was his second straight year in this game.

There was also one interesting development that’s worth keeping an eye for Kentucky fans as well: The continued emergence of 2019 prospect Josh Green. The 6’6 wing who is originally Australia and who now plays at IMG Academy in Florida was a revelation all week for the World Team, and showed just how talented he is on game-night with 11 points off the bench. It’s all the more impressive when you consider at just 17-years-old, he was one of the youngest players in the event.

Green is currently ranked as the No. 27 player in the class of 2019, but after a strong showing here and at the “Basketball Without Borders” event at NBA All-Star weekend, he should move up in the rankings.

He currently holds offers from most major programs in college basketball, including Kansas, UCLA, Arizona and Virginia. This is simply an educated guess, but I’d be stunned if he didn’t hold an offer from everyone in college basketball, including UK, by the end of this summer.

For those who were disappointed by Herro’s lack of playing time on Friday night, there’s a chance you’ll see him on the court again soon. He’s slated to play in next week’s Allen Iverson Classic in Philadelphia, although Herro admitted that he’s unsure if he’ll be there.

Even Zion Williamson’s future Duke teammates were shocked when he picked the Blue Devils

It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say that Zion Williamson had one of the most memorable college commitments in years. Considering that he is arguably the most hyped high school prospect since LeBron James and considering that even the most plugged-in recruiting experts were in the dark on what college he was going to pick, everyone knew that Williamson’s commitment decision was going to be bonkers.

And that was before he shocked the world, pulled out a Duke hat and announced he’d be headed to Durham to play for Coach K (sorry for the reminder). Not only was Williamson a heavy Clemson lean with Kentucky lurking in the background, but it also meant that Duke had wrapped up a stunning recruiting haul that included the top three players in the country. In addition to Williamson, No. 1 prospect R.J. Barrett and No. 2 prospect Cam Reddish were headed to Duke (as well as point guard Tre Jones), giving the Blue Devils a clean sweep of the top three players in America.

Again, sorry for the reminder, but for any fan that felt deceived by Williamson’s decision don’t be – he shocked everyone. Including one of his future teammates.

That’s because on Thursday, KSR spoke to Reddish about Williamson’s commitment at the Nike Hoops Summit. And while Reddish – the first of those top three players to commit – always believed that Barrett would be a Blue Devil, he was in the dark on Williamson. Just like everyone else.

“R.J. was easy,” Reddish said of selling his future teammates to come to Duke. “It was Zion. Zion was the pain. R.J. was pretty simple. I think R.J. wanted to come in the first place, it wasn’t that difficult, he was like ‘alright, let’s do it.’ And then after we got R.J., we went and got Zion. Zion was a different beast.”

As Barrett explains it, the three players (Williamson, Reddish and Barrett) were all in a group snap chat with Jones and corresponded regularly. But as Williamson’s decision date grew near he stopped responding.

It led Reddish to believe that Williamson was going somewhere else.

“We had been snapchatting the entire time, and he hadn’t replied,” Reddish said, with Jones nearby nodding in agreement. “He didn’t open it and stuff and we’re like ‘Oh, snap, he’s not coming.’”

Therefore by the time that Williamson’s decision came, Reddish had lost hope. He said that he had actually played a high school game of his own that evening, and on a whim decided to pull up Williamson’s announcement in the car on the way home from his game. He didn’t expect Williamson to commit to Duke but wanted to see where he was going anyway.

“I was watching it on the way home from my game on my cell phone,” Reddish said. “I just started screaming. I was like ‘Oh, snap.’ I was surprised. I didn’t think he was going to come.”

In the end, it remains to be seen how Williamson, Reddish and Barrett will all co-exist together next year at Duke.

But at the same time, don’t feel deceived: Zion’s future teammates were just as shocked by his commitment as you were.

Nike Hoops Summit Preview: Five Things to Watch For

College basketball season may have ended a few weeks ago, but for the diehards out there (meaning, “everyone reading this post”) you’ll be in for a treat if you’re willing to stay up late Friday night (or at least willing to set your DVR). That’s because Friday marks the 21st Nike Hoops Summit, an annual All-Star game featuring the top high school players in college basketball against the best players from across the world. The game tips off at 10:00 p.m. ET, with Kentucky signees (Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson) slated to play in the game.

As KSR’s on-the-ground reporter here in Portland at the game, here is what you need to know heading into tonight’s action:

1. All eyes will be on Tyler Herro

For Kentucky fans, most of the intrigue here lies with Herro. The Wisconsin native and future Wildcat was snubbed by the McDonald’s All-American game, but showed just how badly those voters got things wrong with a monster game at the Jordan Brand Classic. He finished with 13 points and showed off a complete, all-around game that left just about everyone impressed. That included Zion Williamson, who told KSR’s Jack Pilgrim that Herro is “the most underrated player” in the entire 2018 class.

In terms of this week in Portland, well, things have been a little slow for Herro. His shot wasn’t quite falling in practice on Thursday, although in his defense, the practice was more defensive-oriented and there really weren’t many players at all who did look good.

So that’s the good news, and the other good news is that it’s clear that even though the shots aren’t falling, Herro has all the tools to be successful offensively at the next level. In watching him in practice on Thursday he seemed to be able to just about anything he wanted on offense, mainly get into the lane and get anywhere he wanted to on the court. Again, the shots simply weren’t falling.

But when those shots do fall, watch out. He’ll be a problem for a lot of teams in the SEC next season.

And it’ll be interesting to see if he’s a problem for the World Team on Friday night.

2. Don’t expect to see Keldon Johnson play Friday night

Johnson was kept out of action at the Jordan Brand Classic last week with an ankle injury and it has limited him again this week in Portland. On Thursday he worked out on his own, testing the ankle with a series of drills on a side basket. He later told KSR that he didn’t feel as though the ankle was necessarily “injured.” But more that it was weak from inactivity these past few weeks.

Still, even though Johnson later said Thursday that he was “50/50” for tonight’s game, it seems much more likely that he will sit out altogether. NBA scouts know enough about him and so too do fans, and to be blunt, in a meaningless exhibition game there really isn’t all that much to play for.

Johnson will do big things in Lexington next year. It would be shocking if he did anything in Portland on Friday however.

3. Johnson won’t be the only one sitting

One of the more disappointing things at Hoops Summit this week is that in addition to Johnson, quite a few stars are out with injuries. Zion Williamson sat out of practice on Thursday and isn’t expected to play on Friday night. It’s the same with the top uncommitted player in the country, Romeo Langford, who has dealt with a concussion. Louis King, an Oregon commit who played for John Calipari with Team USA isn’t expected to play either.

Like Johnson, it makes no sense for any of these players to try to rush themselves back and risk further injury. Still, in a game that is supposed to feature the top players in the country, it’s disappointing that three of the Top 10 players in the country won’t be in action.

4.Know who will be in action though? The Duke guys

One of the more fascinating elements of this week to me is to take a closer look at all the superstars Duke is bringing in and try to figure out how they’ll all fit together next year. Williamson is obviously out, but watching R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones there are two things that are immediately clear:

One, all three (plus Williamson) are INSANELY talented players.

Two, as I’ve said from the day Williamson committed to Duke, I’m not sure how they’ll all play together.

Putting aside Jones for a second, Barrett and Reddish (as well as Williamson) have both shown the exact same skill-set this week in Portland that they’ve shown their entire high school careers: They are big, physical, powerful wings that… essentially have the exact same game. Both can get to the hole at will and both are crazy athletic. But neither is a particularly skilled three-point shooter. Williamson is a very similar player as well.

(For what it’s worth, the most impressive future Duke player to me has actually been their point guard Jones, who is a stud floor general, that controls the pace of the game and gets everyone else involved)

Therefore despite all the hype coming into next year I’m selling my Duke stock. If anything, this feels a lot like two years ago, when the Blue Devils were the overwhelming favorites going into the year and totally fizzled out with a lineup that had a bunch of guys like Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen who all played the same way.

Barrett, Reddish and Williamson are all insane talents. I’d never take that away from them. But I’m just not sure how they fit together.

5. Keep an eye on a couple 2019 recruits that Kentucky could get in the mix with

Here is something to keep an eye on tonight: How about a couple 2019 kids who could eventually come onto Kentucky’s radar. The first, Charles Bassey seems unlikely. Despite playing down the road at Aspire Academy in Louisville, the Wildcats don’t seem to be interested.

But the second guy? Well, I’m going to give you a name to watch out for. He hasn’t been linked to Kentucky yet, but my guess is that he will be by the end of the summer. And since we’re friends, I’m going to let you know before anyone else does.

His name is Josh Green, and he is a 6’6 wing player from Australia who is playing for the World Team this week. He is currently ranked somewhere in the Top 20 prospects nationally (he played at IMG last year) but I’m telling you, give it until the end of the summer and he will be one of the Top 10 prospects in America. He has been absolutely fantastic in two showcase events (Basketball Without Borders in February and this event) and is about to take the summer circuit by storm. He plays for a local AAU team out in Los Angeles where I live, and believe me, the kid is the buzz of the West Coast right now.

Looking ahead, he’s a kid that already has some big-time offers, including UCLA, Kansas and Arizona and I would expect that Kentucky gets involved before the end of the summer. To Green’s credit when I asked him about it specifically, he played it cool, said that he’s grateful for all the schools that are into him right now.

But I’m telling you, look out. You’ll be hearing more about this kid all summer long.

In the meantime, enjoy the hype video of Green above.

And enjoy the game, and I’ll be back with a recap and post-game coverage tonight!

Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro share their thoughts on Tyrese Maxey’s potential reclassification to 2018

Jon Lopez | Nike

This was a recruiting week for the ages at Kentucky – and as we learned on Wednesday afternoon it might not be over just yet.

That’s because after Kentucky received a surprise commitment from five-star forward E.J. Montgomery on Monday and then followed it up with a commitment from 2019 point guard Ashton Hagans on Tuesday, news began to leak Wednesday that John Calipari is still on the hunt for another five-star prospect. That player would be Tyrese Maxey, a guard from Texas in the class of 2019.

Still, the story with Maxey isn’t necessarily that Calipari is interested in bringing him to Lexington, but instead, when he might arrive. That’s because like Hagans, there’s real talk that Maxey – again a 2019 prospect – could reclassify to 2018 and join next year’s Kentucky roster.

Since the Maxey news broke Wednesday it seems like just about everyone has an opinion on it – including two members of the 2018 Kentucky recruiting class.

That would be Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro. Both are in Portland, Oregon for the Nike Hoops Summit, and each shared their thoughts on Maxey and what he could potentially bring to the Wildcats.

“I know Tyrese Maxey pretty well,” Johnson said. “He’s from Texas. I talk to him a lot.”

Johnson continued.

“He’s a dynamic player, really good. We’d love to have him whether it’s this year or next year. I think it’d be a really good fit for him.”

Then there was Herro. He spoke to WLAN’s Curtis Burch on Thursday and admitted that he didn’t know much about Maxey, other than a few games on the Nike EYBL circuit last summer. Still, Herro admitted that he would welcome the challenge if Maxey decided to commit, even if he isn’t totally sure on how all the puzzle pieces would fit.

“Yeah I would [welcome the competition],” Herro said. “But if Ashton [Hagans] reclassified I think we have a lot of guards already, especially if Quade [Green] stays around. If everybody stays around, we have a lot of guards already. That’s between him and Coach Cal.”

In theory, were Maxey to reclassify, Herro is right, it would make for a loaded backcourt in Lexington next season. As of right now Green is expected back as a sophomore, and Jemarl Baker will return after missing all of the 2017-2018 season with an injury. Then there are Herro and Immanuel Quickley coming in with the freshman class, and the very real possibility that Hagans will come with them. Herro said he expects Hagans to know if he’ll be eligible to play in 2018-2019 no later than August.

Adding Maxey would make for six potentially big-time All-American guards in next year’s lineup, a loaded backcourt (and first world problem) if ever there was one.

Still, as fun as the idea of adding Maxey into next year’s backcourt may be for Wildcats, the reality is that it’s a long ways away.

While Maxey has remained optimistic about the possibility, his guardian told SEC Country’s Kyle Tucker that he’s “99 percent sure” Maxey will stay in the class of 2019.

Will Ashton Hagans be eligible in 2018? Tyler Herro thinks he knows when we’ll have an answer

It’s not too often that any school, anywhere in college basketball can get commitments from a pair of five-star prospects in back-to-back days. Only that’s exactly what happened at Kentucky earlier this week.

On Monday, 6’10 forward E.J. Montgomery committed to the Wildcats, choosing Kentucky over Duke and North Carolina, in a move that even surprised one of his future teammates. And then on Tuesday John Calipari and his staff did it again – reeling in another five-star prospect. This one was point guard Ashton Hagans, a dynamic 6’4 playmaker who is also out of Georgia. As things stand, Hagans is actually a part of the class of 2019, although Hagans told 247 Sports’ Evan Daniels that his hope is to reclassify and play at Kentucky next season.

So when will we know for sure whether Hagans is eligible for the 2018-2019 season? It won’t be any time soon. However, KSR spoke to future Kentucky Wildcat – and friend of Hagans – Tyler Herro at the Nike Hoops Summit on Thursday, and Herro may have given a timeframe on when we’ll get an answer.

“We’re just going to have to wait for August,” Herro told KSR, when asked about the possibility of Hagans showing up on campus next season. “He told me he has to take his final test for school and then see if he can reclass(ify).”

That note from Herro is interesting – but ultimately is in line with everything we’ve heard so far.

That’s because earlier this week Hagans’ AAU coach Chris Williams spent some time on radio with KSR’s T.J. Walker and Nick Roush and mentioned that for the time being, Hagans was still a part of the class of 2019. Williams did say that he believes Hagans should know by July, which is a similar time-frame as what Herro provided on Thursday.

Point being, as exciting as the Hagans news was on Tuesday, we’re still a long way away from knowing when exactly the five-star, can’t miss point guard will end up on Kentucky’s campus. That means we’re also potentially months away from knowing exactly what Kentucky’s 2018-2019 roster will look like as well.

Still, if you’re looking for a glimmer of hope that Hagans will be in Lexington this coming fall, Herro might have provided it on Thursday.

“I think we have a pretty good shot,” Herro said, when asked if he thought Hagans would be on campus this fall.

Even Tyler Herro was surprised by E.J. Montgomery’s commitment to Kentucky

It’s no secret that E.J. Montgomery’s commitment to Kentucky took the basketball world by surprise on Monday morning.

Since decommitting from Auburn back in September, the five-star forward from Georgia has had a surprisingly quiet recruitment for a player of his talents, and there was no clear indicator when he would pull the trigger and commit with a new school, or what school that would even be. For weeks, there wasn’t even an obvious front-runner for Montgomery’s services, with Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke all believed to be in the mix.

Only there was Montgomery pulling the trigger on Monday morning and committing to Kentucky, to the surprise of just about everyone – even one of his future Wildcats’ teammates.

On Thursday, KSR caught up with Kentucky commit Tyler Herro at the Nike Hoops Summit in Portland, Oregon. Herro admitted that he knew Kentucky would get a commitment this week – but that it would be from Ashton Hagans.

He had no idea that Montgomery was close to committing, or that he would end up with Kentucky.

“I was surprised,” Herro admitted. “I did not know that E.J. was committing. I talk to Ashton quite a bit so I did know that he was committing. But we’re happy to have both of them. Having E.J., that’s a big get for us.”

Just how big was the get? Well, Kentucky not only added another five-star prospect, but a player that could be at a major position of need. It’s no secret that Kentucky is waiting on the draft decisions of Jared Vanderbilt, P.J. Washington and Wenyen Gabriel, and if two of the three (or all three) end up leaving, Montgomery will be called upon to contribute right away.

The good news is that most think he’ll be ready. Montgomery’s AAU coach told KSR’s T.J. Walker that Montgomery can play “inside and out” and that’s a sentiment that Herro agrees with.

“I think he brings everything,” Herro said of Montgomery. “He can shoot it from 15 feet and out. He’s a presence inside. He’s a big body. Just having another high-caliber five-star like him is going to help us a lot.”

Herro also isn’t worried how Montgomery – or any of the new Wildcats for that matter – will fit in with the rest of the roster. While Hagans’ reclassification to 2018 is still up in the air, Montgomery will be on campus at Kentucky in the next few months.

And Herro believes each of the new Wildcats will bring something different to the table.

“We all bring our own attributes,” he said. “I think I can bring my scoring, Keldon can bring everything that he does. EJ is an inside presence. Immanuel is a great point guard. So I think we’re all going to fit together.”

The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast E37: T.J. Walker

The college basketball news continues on in the off-season, and the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast is here to talk about it all. T.J .Walker is today’s guest, as KSR’s resident recruiting insider gets you caught up with a wild week of Kentucky basketball recruiting. But first, Nick Coffey joins the show to discuss from the FBI’s deep probe into college basketball. The two chat about:
Louisville. Does the new information in the FBI scandal hit the Cards or could it somehow exonerate Rick Pitino and the previous Louisville coaching staff?
Kansas. No one is surprised. They explain how the Kansas coaching staff might be able to survive this week’s mess. However, they could vacate a Final Four banner before even hanging one up.
N.C. State. Again, no one is surprised. Still, how in the hell did Mark Gottfried get another coaching job?
Recruiting.  How the FBI scandal can actually be beneficial on the recruiting front.
Speaking of recruiting, KSR’s T.J. Walker joins the show to chat all things recruiting.

Two new five-star commitments. What Kentucky will get from new signees E.J. Montgomery and Ashton Hagans. Did anything actually change for Kentucky since they lost out on Zion Williamson, or are these just the ebss and flows of recruiting?

Sacha Killeya-Jones’ transfer. Is it worth it for Kentucky to continue to recruit five-star freshmen if it means losing out on experienced veterans?

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.

The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast E36: NBC’s Rob Dauster

College basketball season might be over – but there’s still plenty to talk about, and it’s all happening on the newest edition of the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast. Aaron is joined by his usual co-host Nick Coffey and then later in the show, NBC’s Rob Dauster hops on the phone.
Starting with Nick Coffey, the pair discuss the following:
Sacha Killeya-Jones to Transfer. The role E.J. Montgomery’s commitment had on SKJ’s decision and would you rather have Montgomery in his first year or Killeya-Jones as a junior?
Kevin Knox goes Pro. Aaron explains why he thought Knox might return, but wasn’t surprised by the decision. Who is the next to fall? Can Hamidou Diallo possibly risk returning for another season?
Louisville.  Nick fills everyone in on what Louisville is planning to do with it’s 2019 roster (HINT: grad transfers are in play?).
Next up, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster joins the show. The pair discuss the end of the season and what’s on tap for next year’s with his updated “Way Too Early Top 25.”
Villanova. Where does Jay Wright rank on the pantheon of modern college coaches? Duster talks about how he built Villanova into the premiere program in college basketball. Can you replicate their success?
Rob’s “Way Too Early Top 25.” There is a clear-cut Top Four (even though Aaron disagrees).  It’s a big year for Mississippi State’s cowbell ringers. Some how, some way he still ranked Louisville.

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.

Ranking the Kentucky players most likely to stay or go pro

It’s no secret that when it comes to Kentucky basketball, there really are three seasons. There’s the regular season (duh). Recruiting season, which never really starts or ends; just kind of exists in its own universe. And then there’s draft season. Kentucky deals with the highs and lows of this particular part of the calendar more than any other school in the sport.

And this year specifically, the NBA Draft cycle is unlike any other Kentucky has never seen. This year Kentucky has a uniquely odd group of players. There are more individual players than usual who could (in theory) make the jump to the NBA, but fewer with guarantees on where they’ll land. Outside of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox it really is hard to peg where any player will go if they decide to enter the NBA Draft. Or if they’ll be selected at all.

Which is what will make this NBA Draft cycle at Kentucky especially fascinating. This is a truly different kind of year, where there are few guarantees or givens, and where each individual player has to make the decision that is uniquely best for him. A guy who might be guaranteed to go in the first round might still decide to come back to school. A guy who could go undrafted might decide to leave anyway.

Still, it’s a topic that will make for captivating theatre in Kentucky over the next few weeks and months. And after talking to people all around basketball over the last couple weeks as well as following media reports (such as the one Matt Jones dropped a few days ago) here is my ranking of the players most likely to leave Kentucky in some form or fashion between now and the start of next season.