2021 five-star forward and consensus top-five prospect Paolo Banchero is easily one of the most talented and versatile big men in the nation, and his offer sheet certainly proves that. Holding scholarship offers from Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Washington, Tennessee, Gonzaga, and Memphis, among others, the 6-foot-10, 235-pound will have the option of choosing just about anywhere he wants to go when it comes time for making a college decision.
One of the schools desperately hoping to earn his signature, and as a result, has made the No. 3 prospect in the nation according to ESPN and Rivals.com their top priority in the frontcourt for the class of 2021? The Kentucky Wildcats, with Banchero remaining as the school’s lone scholarship offer among all junior big men.
On Wednesday afternoon, Banchero joined the Sources Say Podcast to break down his recruitment, upcoming visit plans, his Kentucky interest, and whether or not there was any wiggle room on his recent decision to stick with his original class of 2021 instead of reclassifying.
Check out the interview in its entirety below.
JP: You made some pretty big headlines recently by first telling people that a reclassification to 2020 was on the table for you and you were strongly considering it. And then after thinking it over for a while, you ultimately decided that you were sticking with 2021. What went into that decision and why did you decide on staying put?
PB: Mostly my parents. We thought about it, but they ended up kind of not being big fans of it. We just agreed on it, like we weren’t butting heads on it or anything. I didn’t really have a problem with it, I could’ve gone either way. So I decided to stay, no problem.
JP: Now say we get to the spring and a guy like Coach Cal or Coach K, maybe Mike Hopkins, they come to you and say, “We are dying to add one more player to the 2020 class and think you’re the missing piece to this championship team.” Is there any wiggle room with that or are you pretty firm on that decision?
PB: Nah, every coach has talked to me about it, they’ve all said they’d take me in either class and that it didn’t matter either way. If they did say that, I don’t know if I’d be able to reclassify as of now because I’ve already started with my junior year and stuff. I don’t know if I’d want to end up doing it.
JP: As far as your recruitment is concerned, you set up official visits to North Carolina for September 27, Kentucky for October 11, Duke for October 17, Tennessee for October 25, and Gonzaga for January 18. What went into your decision to choose those schools in particular?
PB: All five of those schools were pretty much the only five that really made me visiting a priority for them. They have all been on me about it and kept bringing it up. Those are the only five schools that wanted me to visit, well not the only schools, I’m sure other schools want me to visit them. But those [five] were the main schools that kept talking to me about it, asking, “Hey, when are you going to come down here?” and “When can we make it happen?” Stuff like that.
JP: What went into not picking Washington as one of those schools to earn an official visit?
PB: I mean, it’s just 20 minutes away. If I really want to get down there, I can do it. I actually have never been to Washington on an unofficial visit ever. I’ve been on campus a lot and in their gym, but never an actual unofficial. If I ever feel like taking an unofficial, it’s 20 minutes away from my house and I can make that happen. I wanted to [use my officials] on places that were far away instead of staying close.
JP: I know you don’t have an official list or anything, but are those the five or six schools you’re going to be focused on in your recruitment moving forward?
PB: Nah, there are still many other schools I am considering strongly. Memphis, Michigan just called me yesterday, Oregon State, Ohio State, Baylor. There are a bunch of schools, probably some I’m forgetting, but there are a bunch I still talk to a lot and are still recruiting me.
JP: Is there a timeline on when you want to make a list cut or anything like that, or are you going to be relatively open-minded about the proces and make a decision whenever it happens?
PB: I’m not sure when. If it were ideal, I would want [to make a decision] before my senior season for high school, but I don’t know if that will happen. If it were a perfect world, though, I would probably make my decision before my senior year.
JP: The speculation has been there for a long time that Washington is the favorite and that you’re going to end up staying home and signing with them. Lately, though, there’s been a lot of buzz that while they’ve done a great job recruiting you and you’ve built a good relationship with them, that you’re 100% open with all the schools recruiting you and very well could end up leaving the state. How would you address both sides of that speculation?
PB: Yeah, I am. I’m open to everywhere. Obviously Washington is in consideration, but they’re nowhere near the favorite. No one is the favorite, I’m open to every school. Even though both of my parents went there, my mom [Rhonda Banchero-Smith] went through this whole recruiting process [as a coveted women’s basketball recruit in 1991] and she ended up choosing Washington. But that was a different Washington then than it is now. They don’t push me to Washington, but they don’t push me anywhere else, either. I don’t really have a problem leaving, and I don’t really have a problem staying. Whatever I end up doing, I end up doing.
JP: With Kentucky in particular, you told me at Peach Jam that earning an offer from Coach Cal and talking to him for the first time was “surreal.” First talk me through that initial offer and why you felt it was surreal.
PB: Just because I have been watching Kentucky for a while now, since John Wall playing, seeing Coach Cal on TV, on ESPN. Kentucky is always nationally televised, so I always see them a lot. Always in the news, headlines. It was just surreal because there was a time where I really didn’t feel I would ever be recruited by blueblood schools, and then finally hearing Coach Cal’s voice and him saying they had offered me was just kind of surreal. There was a point where I just didn’t think that would be a reality for me.
JP: What has that contact been like since then and just how high are you on Kentucky?
PB: Yeah, I am really high on Kentucky. They are a great school, great program. I’m really looking forward to my visit [for Big Blue Madness on October 11-13]. Coach Cal talks to my mom all the time, they have a great relationship. He talks to me, actually just texted me not too long ago, a couple minutes ago. He wants to talk tonight. He’s keeping in close contact with me and my mom. Coach Barbee, he keeps in close contact, as well.
JP: What is John Calipari’s pitch to you? How does he see you fitting in his system in Lexington?
PB: He’s just telling me that he doesn’t see me as a big man or a center or a power forward or anything like that. He just sees me as a basketball player. After watching me play, he was impressed by not necessarily how I can play one-through-five, but how I can handle the ball, pass the ball, all that stuff. He knows he has the ability to put me all over the floor, just be a basketball player. He’s honest with me about everything, he doesn’t say anything that is too good to be true. He tells me if I do come there it will be a challenge, it will be hard, but he’ll get the best out of me and turn me into a great pro hopefully. That’s his pitch.
JP: Duke is another school you’re very high on and had high praise for after receiving an offer from them. What is their pitch to you?
PB: Just that they want to put the ball in my hands and let me make plays, make plays for my teammates. Get put all over the floor.
JP: There is some buzz that Coach K would like to match you up with Jalen Johnson if you were to reclassify to 2020. Are there any other players you would like to team up with?
PB: There are a few players, not a lot [by name]. Players I’ve talked to in the past hit me up [about playing together]. [2021 five-star guard] Kennedy Chandler is one, we’ve talked about it. He’s the only one I’ve ever really talked [seriously] about it with, yeah.”
JP: Tennessee and Gonzaga are two schools you decided on visiting that no one really knew you were high on. What intrigues you about those two schools?
PB: Gonzaga has been good for a long time, Coach Mark Few has put a bunch of big men and forwards in the league and their player development is really good over there. Tennessee, same thing. Coach [Rick] Barnes has coached Kevin Durant, he developed Grant Williams, who is a two-time SEC Player of the Year. He coached LaMarcus Aldridge, many other pros and developed them. They’ve really preached how they’d put the ball in my hands.
JP: Before we wrap up here, you definitely haven’t been shy in the past on social media and in interviews that becoming the No. 1 prospect in the nation is a goal for you. Do you think you’re the No. 1 player in the country, and if so, what separates your game from everyone else?
PB: I mean obviously I think I’m the best player, but I’m not going to say I’m better than anybody or that anyone is necessarily better than me. But I just feel like I am a versatile teammate, play defense, I score, rebound, kind of just everything. I’m able to do whatever the coach needs me to do. I bring an all-around game, I can play defense, rebound, pass.
JP: To close, what will the school that lands Paolo Banchero be getting both as a player and as a person?
PB: Good teammate, a guy that is always going to play hard. A talented player, a gifted player who is always looking to get his teammates involved first. Unselfish. Off the court, a bright person who is cool with all teammates and coaches.
Following our interview with the five-star forward, Jake Weingarten of Stockrisers.com and Travis Graf of Cats Illustrated joined me on the Sources Say Podcast to break down the recent Terrence Clarke buzz, Jalen Green’s visit plans, Isaiah Jackson’s recent official visit to Lexington, and who the Kentucky coaching staff will look to sign in the frontcourt for 2020.
To listen to the entire podcast on iTunes, you can find it right here. You can also subscribe to the show on Spotify here. If you’re feeling generous and want to leave a five-star review for us, that would certainly be appreciated, as well.
While you wait for next week’s episode, check out some of Banchero’s most recent highlights: