Aaron Torres’ Take
By Aaron Torres on ©April 14th, 2018 @ 4:00pm
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.”
“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?
By Aaron Torres on ©April 14th, 2018 @ 10:00am
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.
By Aaron Torres on ©April 14th, 2018 @ 12:42am
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.
Tyler Herro pure jumper. pic.twitter.com/u8QQR7usHT
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) April 14, 2018
Plenty in Big Blue Nation were not happy about the snub.
Really feel bad for Tyler Herro tonight as he has only played sparingly and when he is in he is not touching the ball
— Dustin Wade Cordell (@DCordell_FA) April 14, 2018
@Aaron_Torres I don’t think the USA coach thinks much of Herro. My man only getting walk on minutes. What’s up with that?
— Andy Combs (@andycombs1) April 14, 2018
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.
By Aaron Torres on ©April 13th, 2018 @ 4:30pm
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.
By Aaron Torres on ©April 13th, 2018 @ 3:00pm
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.
— SLAM HS Hoops (@SLAM_HS) April 9, 2018
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
By Aaron Torres on ©April 12th, 2018 @ 9:00pm
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.”
“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.
By Aaron Torres on ©April 12th, 2018 @ 7:00pm
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.
By Aaron Torres on ©April 12th, 2018 @ 4:30pm
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.”
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?
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.
By KSR on ©April 09th, 2018 @ 9:30pm
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.