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Mom of basketball recruit loves Kentucky

Mom of basketball recruit loves Kentucky

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Billy Preston, one of the top basketball recruits in the class of 2017, visited Kentucky on Saturday morning before playing at the Thoroughbred Classic in Somerset.

Preston spent the morning in Lexington visiting campus and watching the team go through their morning shoot-around. Along with Preston, was teammate Trevon Duval, the No. 1 point guard in th country.

Preston met Coach Cal for the first time at the team’s morning practice.

“It was great,” he told the Herald-Leader. “At the end of it all, when he’s done coaching, he’s definitely going to go down as one of the greatest coaches in college basketball. So it was an honor for me to meet him and exchange a few words with him.”

Preston’s mother, who accompanied her son to Kentucky, sat in the stands at Pulaski County High School telling people that she would love to see her son play for Kentucky one day.

“She definitely is a Kentucky fan,” Preston said. “We keep up with Kentucky. We’ve been watching the whole season so far. A player in this era, you can’t make a final decision without having Kentucky in there, if you have an offer from them. It’s just one of those type of schools.”

@vaughtsviews

@vaughtsviews

Preston is currently ranked No. 5 overall prospect by 247Sports and is considered a top-10 player nationally by most recruiting websites. The 6-foot-9 power forward finished with 22 points and the most valuable player award when his Advanced Prep International (Texas) team defeated Thon Maker’s Athlete Institute (Ont.) squad.

Preston does not have an offer from Kentucky yet, but coach Kenny Payne has been in regular contact with Preston’s mom regarding his recruitment.

“Like I said, no player is going to cut it down without Kentucky being on the list,” he said. “When I get that offer, I’m definitely going to consider them heavily.”

 

 


Sacha Killeya-Jones' view of practice last night.

UK Fans of the Day Want Some Basketball Recruiting Notes

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The state is hosting a ton of talent this weekend, with elite prep games in Lexington last night, and in Somerset today and tomorrow, Cal is taking advantage by inviting many of them to campus.

—  According to Jeff Borzello, 2017 studs Billy Preston and Trevon Duval are on campus today.  The API teammates beat Prolific Prep, 111-81 in Lexington last night.  Preston, the 6’10 6th-ranked player in the nation, had 24 points and 15 rebounds while Duval, the #1 point guard in ’17, scored 23 points and dished out 8 assists.  They’ll travel South to Somerset later today, taking on Athlete Institute tonight at 7:30.

—  Sacha Killeya-Jones and his Virginia Episcopal School teammates hung out at last night’s practice before they take on Josh Jackson’s squad this evening at Pulaski County High School.

SKJ’s fellow 2016 signee, De’Aaron Fox, was stupid good last night.  He dropped 50 points, sunk ten 3-pointers, and had this disgusting windmill dunk.

The other signees weren’t quite as electric, but still solid.  Bam Adebayo had 19 points on Senior Night, while Malik Monk scored 18.


Watch Malik Monk’s Newest Mixtape

Watch Malik Monk’s Newest Mixtape

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Malik Monk is a walking highlight reel, and this production from Courtside Films is here to prove it.  Don’t get too jealous that Mrs. Tyler Thompson got to see stuff like this in person (make sure you look closely, you might just be able to find her).


Kentucky makes the final four for Marques Bolden

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Good news! According to Courtside Films, five-star 2016 center Marques Bolden is down to four teams: Kentucky, Duke, Oklahoma, and TCU. Kentucky is presumed to be the favorite for the 6’11” Texas native. The Cats currently lead his 247 Sports Crystal Ball with 48% of the votes to Duke’s 19%.

I think that calls for a mixtape of Bolden’s latest highlights, don’t you? Good thing Courtside Films released one this afternoon…


JohnWall | IG

John Wall Visits De’Aaron Fox

JohnWall | IG

JohnWall | IG

Calipari’s first five-star point guard, with UK’s next five-star point guard.

Before the Wizards take on the Rockets tonight, John Wall spent his Friday night in Houston watching De’Aaron Fox.  Kentucky’s next point guard dropped 36 points in front of Wall, his 10th 30-point performance of the year.

Fox’s team may have lost, but the NBA All-Star still left impressed:

Lil bra @swipethefox5 & I … he up nxt watch out #BBN !!


Evan Daniels checks in on UK’s 2016 class

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Last night, I posted the first of our “Next Five” profiles on Malik Monk, which featured some great commentary from Scout.com’s Evan Daniels, KSR’s favorite recruiting expert. Today, Daniels posted a breakdown of how UK’s signees are doing in their senior seasons, and it’s definitely worth a few minutes of your time. Here’s a little bit of what he has to say on Wenyen Gabriel:

Perhaps the player in Kentucky’s class that has surprised us the most during the high school season was 6-foot-9, pushing 6-10, forward Wenyen Gabriel. But when you consider his rapid rise to five-star status over the summer, seeing him progress further shouldn’t be all that startling.

Over the summer we evaluated Gabriel as a face up forward that had impressive skills for the position. Colleague Josh Gershon noted at adidas Nations that he may be making the move to the wing full time and it turns out he was right. At the National Prep Showcase early in the season and then again at the Hoop Hall Classic, Gabriel showed he could defend wings and play the position offensively. This is key and raised his profile as a prospect. Not only does he have very good size for a perimeter player, he’s also versatile enough to slide to the four at times and play a face up four role.

For more of that hard-hitting analysis, head on over to Scout.com


Udoka Azubuike commits to Kansas and that’s good news for us

Last night, Udoka Azubuike committed to Kansas, and while the 2016 big man was once a Kentucky target, the news is actually very good for the Cats. Why? Kansas now has two big men for 2016 in Azubuike and four-star power forward Mitchell Lightfood, which means they’re most likely out of the running for Marques Bolden.

The Jayhawks were considered the favorite for the 6’10” 254 lbs. Bolden until a month or so ago, when momentum began to swing in Kentucky’s favor. Duke is now Kentucky’s main competition for the 2016 big man, with the Cats holding a 48% edge in Bolden’s 247 Sports Crystal Ball. If you really want to peer into the Crystal Ball (sometimes not a very wise move), the last ten picks have been in Kentucky’s favor, including recruiting guru Jerry Meyer, who stuck by his prediction last night:

ESPN’s Jeff Borzello and staff of scouts also have Bolden going to Kentucky. Think Kentucky’s 2016 class is already too loaded for Bolden?

Ehhh, I think we can make some room.


NEXT FIVE: Malik Monk glimpses future under the spotlight

NEXT FIVE: Malik Monk glimpses future under the spotlight

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Over the next month, KSR is traveling across the country to interview the “Next Five,” UK’s five signees in the 2016 class: Malik Monk, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Wenyen Gabriel, Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, and De’Aaron Fox. While in Arkansas last week to cover Kentucky’s game, I made a side trip to Bentonville to check out Malik Monk’s game vs. El Dorado.


It’s Friday night in Bentonville, Arkansas, and ESPN is in town. In a packed gym under lights brought in specially for the broadcast, Malik Monk waits on the bench during Bentonville’s introductions, wiping his palms on his shorts while his teammates run out onto the court. Malik is the last to be announced, and, as the crowd stirs in anticipation, he gives one of his coaches an embarrassed look before bouncing out of his seat. As the announcer draws out his name, the fans roar. At the end of the intro line, Malik “dabs” with one of his teammates, another reminder that, even though the lights are shining bright on the nation’s fifth best player, he’s just a kid.

For Malik, this is the end of a crazy week and a glimpse into an even crazier future.


Five days prior to his game on ESPN, Malik was selected for the McDonald’s All-American Game, one of four future Kentucky Wildcats to receive the honor. He found out the news while in Springfield, Massachusetts at the Hoophall Classic, and, although his team lost their only game in the showcase, Malik couldn’t hide his excitement in an interview with ESPN’s Phil Murphy.

“I’m just excited because I’ve been watching the game for a long time,” Malik said of the 39th annual All-American Game, the most prestigious of the high school all-star games. “There are a lot of greats that have come through there and I’m just trying to be one of them, and I have my opportunity to do it now.”

Interestingly, Malik says the same of attending Kentucky. After putting up 29 points and 15 rebounds in Bentonville’s win over El Dorado last Friday, he compares the stage at the McDonald’s All-American Game to the stage in Lexington.

“It’s Kentucky. There’s a bunch of greats going there. I’m just trying to be one of the greats.”


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Back in his high school gym, Malik takes a while to get going. His jump shot’s not falling, but he’s doing his best to create for his teammates. He’s a shooting guard first, but his passing is extraordinary.

“If you’re open, he’ll find you. Nothing more than that. I’ve just gotta move off the ball and he’ll find me,” Malik’s teammate Asa Hutchinson (#30) says. “It’s awesome, he’s super unselfish. If you’re hot, he’ll get you the ball.”

When his jumpers still don’t connect, Malik drives the line, blowing by his defenders and laying the ball in the bucket with ease. His brother Marcus, always present, pumps his fist quickly before standing up to give advice.

“Weak side! Better be on him in the lane!” Marcus shouts, pointing to an El Dorado defender.

Malik is on him in the lane. Whereas some elite high school prospects don’t bother with defense, Malik thrives on it, probably another reason John Calipari likes him so much.

“Defensively, Malik has a chance to be great,” Scout.com’s Evan Daniels says. “He really excels defensively. He has all the tools to be an elite on-the-ball defender.”

At the end of the first half, Malik only has six points, but Bentonville is leading El Dorado by five. Marcus jumps up to go talk to his younger brother.


Marcus Monk is a big man. During his days playing football and basketball at Arkansas, he was listed at 6’4” 212 lbs., but at age 29, he seems even bigger, his presence filling the 1,700-seat gymnasium. After being selected in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL draft, Marcus spent a few years in the league before playing basketball professionally in Europe. Two years later, he returned to Arkansas to get his MBA, and while in business school, served as a graduate assistant under Mike Anderson. Now, he’s getting into the business world, managing high school basketball tournaments and hosting a local sports talk show.

Mostly, Marcus is focused on his younger brother; he’s a constant on the Bentonville sideline, taking stats for the team and tracking Malik’s every move. If Malik messes up, Marcus lets him know. If Malik does well, Marcus quietly thumps his fist. Malik looks to Marcus when things happen, anticipating feedback. Marcus isn’t just a brother; he’s a mentor.

Because of Marcus’ ties to Arkansas, it was widely assumed Malik would stay home and play for the Razorbacks; so, when Malik committed to Kentucky on November 18, there was inevitably some backlash from Arkansas fans. Interestingly, most of the ire was directed at Marcus after a report came out that Malik wanted to commit to Arkansas, but Marcus “wouldn’t let him because of distractions.” Whether that’s true or not, Marcus is very protective of his little brother. To get to Malik, you have to go through him.

Although Arkansas fans still “hate” on Malik on Twitter, he handles it well.

“They’re really not hating, they’re just being loyal to Arkansas,” Malik says when asked about Razorback fans sending him messages on social media. “I expected that. They’re real loyal Arkansas fans, and I’m just fine with it.”

Besides, Kentucky is Kentucky, and even though Malik probably chose not to attend the Cats’ game in Fayetteville for the reasons listed above, when I ask him what he thought of their performance, he glows.

“It was fun having them home in Fayetteville,” Malik smiles. “They played good.”


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When Malik’s first three falls at the four minute mark in the third quarter, the Bentonville gym erupts. Malik bounces on his feet and he’s off. With each shot that falls, the momentum builds and he barrels down the court like a train. On one play, he freakishly flies at the basket over two defenders, and, even though his layup misses the mark, you can’t help but marvel at his athleticism. Now that he’s rolling, he showcases a wide variety of shots: jumpers, floaters, layups, and, of course, dunks.

“Malik is very gifted offensively,” Evan Daniels says. “He’s got a good basketball frame, at 6’4” 180 lbs. He’s a very good athlete that excels in transition.”

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The floater is a new addition to Malik’s arsenal, one he says came about after long hours in the gym with — who else — his brother.

“Me and my brother are in the gym every day, we work on — not even full speed — we just work on shooting touch shots around the rim,” Malik tells ESPN after the game.

Malik’s final two points are the ones everyone’s been waiting for; the reason why ESPN came to town. Malik gets the ball on a high pass on a fast break, and lets it bounce while the crowd revs up. With the stage to himself, he dribbles once before launching into the air and throwing down a windmill dunk:

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Malik finishes with 29 points and 15 rebounds, 23 of those points in the second half. At one point, he scored 14 straight. He tells ESPN that when he’s in the zone, “it feels like nobody’s in the gym.”


Once the ESPN cameras are gone and it’s just a pack of parents waiting for their kids outside of a locker room, it’s hard to believe that an exceptional night at the end of an exceptional week will soon be the norm for Malik; however, he claims he’s ready.

“You’ve gotta get used to it if you’re a basketball player,” Malik says. “I mean, this gym is not as big as Kentucky’s arena, but it gave me a taste.”

Given his explosiveness on the court, Monk is a soft spoken guy off it, humble and laid back. His teammates say he’s a really funny guy who’s always ready with a joke or to celebrate a big shot. Asa Hutchinson says he’s confident Malik can handle the big stage at Kentucky because he’s already the one who keeps them calm when the lights go up.

His best quality? Leadership, definitely. Playing in front of TV, ESPN, he stays calm, keeps everyone calm. He’s a great, great teammate,” Hutchinson says. “I think he’ll be ready for sure. He’s very mature. He’s been around basketball for a long time.”

Once he gets to Lexington, Malik will have a hell of a supporting cast. He grins when asked about his fellow 2016 signees De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones. He says they have a group text in which they talk every day, especially during games. Fox started the text and keeps it going “nonstop.” (By the way, Malik’s favorite emoji, according to Hutchinson? “All of the ones that are blue.”)

Some players flourish when surrounded by such great talent; others flounder. Evan Daniels is confident Malik will be the former.

“It’s not like this will be the first time he’s played alongside big talent,” Daniels said, bringing up how Malik and De’Aaron Fox played with each other in the EYBL Select Team Training Camp in the Bahamas last August. Fox actively recruited Malik to Kentucky, going as far to tell Ben Roberts that he thinks the two could be an even better backcourt tandem than John Wall and Eric Bledsoe.

“Fox and Monk will be the most athletic backcourt in the country,” Daniels said. “They may also be the best defensive backcourt in the country.”

Until then, Malik will be in the gym with his brother, getting ready.


Malik Monk Started Slow, Finished Strong in a Win on ESPNU

Malik Monk Started Slow, Finished Strong in a Win on ESPNU

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It wasn’t the best shooting night for Malik Monk, but he kept grinding until they finally started falling.  He scored 14 straight points for Bentonville in the fourth quarter23 in the second half, finishing with 29 points and 15 rebounds in a blowout 80-59 victory over El Dorado and Top 100 forward, Daniel Gafford.

Monk is known for his shooting and athletic ability, but when shots were’t falling, he was getting his teammates open shots with great passes.

He eventually willed a 3-pointer through the net from the top of the key in the third quarter.

And of course, he managed to get a highlight reel dunk.

But that putback slam wasn’t as impressive as this dunk on the fast break.


You Should Watch Malik Monk on ESPNU

You Should Watch Malik Monk on ESPNU

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I’m sure you’re getting plenty of cabin fever inside on this snowy day.  After five episodes of Law and Order SVU, I can’t blame you.  Solve your snow day blues by watching Kentucky signee Malik Monk at 5:30 on ESPNU.

Monk’s Bentonville is taking on El Dorado, home of 4-star post player and Arkansas commit, Daniel Gafford.

You could catch a glimpse of Mrs. Tyler Thompson in the stands.  That’s unlikely, but it’s very likely you’ll see Monk do stuff like this:

It should certainly be an exciting game. The gym is already ecstatic.


Malik Monk’s game will be on ESPNU Friday evening

(H/T 247 Sports)

Photo via 247 Sports

It looks like the weather is going to keep most of us inside on Friday, so why not acquaint yourself with a future Cat while you’re hibernating? ESPNU will televise Malik Monk and Bentonville’s game vs. El Dorado Friday at 5:30 p.m. ET. I’ll actually be in attendance to see Malik after watching the Cats play in Fayetteville the previous night, so if there’s wifi, I’ll check in and give you guy some behind-the-scenes scoop.

Last night, Monk scored 45 points in Bentonville’s overtime win over Springdale. He was 14-27 from the floor and an impressive 15-17 from the free throw line, leading Bentonville back from 13 down in the third quarter. Last weekend, he talked to ESPN’s Phil Murphy about his game and what he’s doing to get ready for Kentucky:

See you Friday, Malik.


Arkansas is having a White Out tomorrow night because of course they are

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a team’s pulling out all the stops for Kentucky’s trip to town. Arkansas is calling for a White-Out for tomorrow’s game against Kentucky:

Yesterday, Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said he’s expecting an “unreal atmosphere” on Thursday. Of course, the last time Kentucky went to Fayetteville, they fell to the Razorbacks in overtime in a loss that may most be remembered for Aaron Harrison’s postgame exchange with Arkansas fan Rod Winkler, as captured by the Herald-Leader’s Mark Cornelison:

Mark Cornelison | The Herald-Leader

Will Winkler be in the stands tomorrow night? I’m a man like you a man like he a man… 


Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox, and Malik Monk in ESPN’s Top 8 player rankings

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ESPN just released its new player rankings for the 2016 class, and, to no surprise, most of UK’s 2016 class is near the top. Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox, and Malik Monk are in the top eight, while Wenyen Gabriel rounded out the top fifteen:

1. Harry Giles (Duke)
2. Jayson Tatum (Duke)
3. Josh Jackson
4. Bam Adebayo (Kentucky)
5. Lonzo Ball (UCLA)
6. Miles Bridges (Michigan State)
7. De’Aaron Fox (Kentucky)
8. Malik Monk (Kentucky)
9. TJ Leaf (UCLA)
10. Markelle Fultz (Washington)
11. Frank Jackson (Duke)
12. Jonathan Isaac (Florida State)
13. Terrance Ferguson (Alabama)
14. Josh Langford (Michigan State)
15. Wenyen Gabriel (Kentucky)

27. Sacha Killeya-Jones (Kentucky)

Adebayo was previously ranked 6th, Fox 7th, Monk 5th, Gabriel 23rd, and Killeya-Jones 31st. Gabriel’s jump is the most significant, and ESPN Insider’s Adam Finkelstein listed him first among the 2016 class’ biggest risers:

Wenyen Gabriel, 6-10, PF, Wilbraham & Monson Academy (MA) — No one helped their stock more during last July’s recruiting period than Gabriel, who not only jumped 50 spots in national rankings but also earned his choice of Duke and Kentucky (among others). Following a fall pledge to John Calipari and UK, Gabriel has spent the first two months of his senior season reiterating his July demonstration and jumping eight more spots in the process. He’s grown to a legit 6-foot-10, is very long with a high motor and continuing to expand his attack on the perimeter.

Congrats, boys. Let’s celebrate by watching their recent mixtape:


Shout out to the UK fans sitting behind the announcers during tonight's game.

Observations, Analysis and Highlights from Bam Adebayo’s HoopHall Classic Performance

High Point Enterprise

High Point Enterprise

Bam Adebayo had a tall task in front of him tonight at the HoopHall Classic in Springfield, Massachusetts.  The 5-star forward faced-off against the #1 team in the nation, Chino Hills.

Bam’s High Point Christian lost 100-75 but he still had an impressive stat line, finishing with 13 points and 18 rebounds.  Chino Hills’ up-and-down style of play made it difficult for him to find any rhythm playing the post in the half court offense, yet he still found a way to be effective.

Shout out to the UK fans sitting behind the announcers during tonight's game.

Shout out to the UK fans sitting behind the announcers during tonight’s game.

1.  He is a well-rounded player.  

I had heard it before, but I still didn’t expect him to be such a complete player.  When you see a guy that big dunk that hard, it’s hard to imagine him doing anything outside of the post.  I was wrong.

2.  Awareness and vision make him a great passer.

Even though he’s usually in a crowded lane, he knows where his teammates are and can get it to them even when he’s being surrounded by double and triple teams.  Passing out the post is under-valued.  It’s been absent from this team, taking away easy inside-out shooting opportunities.  The will not be the case with Adebayo in the post for Kentucky.

3.  The man runs the floor like no other.

Chino Hills plays faster than Roy Williams at North Carolina, more comparable to the old Loyola-Marymount teams that were running and gunning in the early 90’s.  Even though Bam looks the part of “athletic freak,” I didn’t expect him to keep up.  Yet, he never slowed down.  Not only was he keeping up, he was a threat on the fast break.  He showed a next-level type of motor.  Even after multiple trips down the court, he was still fighting off multiple defenders for rebounds.  Which brings me to my next point…

4.  He does everything right rebounding the ball.

It’s not just because he’s jumping over guys for the ball, he is fundamental, boxing out how coaches teach you to box out.  Bam puts himself in great position to rebound on the defensive end, and hustles toward the rim on the offensive end.

5.  Bam is a brute, with touch. 

Nothing is more difficult than taking contact, yet still having enough touch to finish.  Bam didn’t have a ton of opportunities, but every single shot he put up was with purpose and had enough finesse to fall in.  Hopefully this won’t be the last chance we have to watch him on National TV, because I have a feeling tonight only scratched the surface.

Here’s just a few highlights I compiled during this evening’s game.

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Under Armour

Watch Bam Adebayo on ESPNU

Under Armour

Under Armour

The Hoop Hall Classic has hosted most of UK’s Class of 2016, and will finish up this evening with Bam Adebayo’s High Point Christian taking on Chino Hills, California, the #1 team in the nation.

After seeing an absent frontcourt for most of the year, it will be encouraging to see somebody with size and skill on the way.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bam do something like what Nerlens did earlier today.

“Bam” – the only caption I can come up with.