Looking for some pregame reading prior to Kentucky’s opening-round matchup with Abilene Christian in the NCAA Tournament tonight? I’ve got you covered.
Usually these go up on Monday evenings or Tuesday mornings, but with Keion Brooks Jr.’s announcement this past Friday and my mini post-commitment insider notes going live shortly after, I decided to push these back a little bit to let the dust settle on UK’s newest addition and what’s next for the Wildcats.
Let’s break it down.
Keion Brooks Jr. commits
In the middle of Kentucky’s matchup with Alabama in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals last week, the Wildcats picked up a commitment from 2019 five-star forward Keion Brooks Jr., and it’s one the coaching staff is absolutely giddy over.
To rewind just a bit, I genuinely thought there was zero chance Brooks would end up at Kentucky following Kahlil Whitney’s commitment back in August. They don’t technically play the same position (Whitney is more of a two/three while Brooks is a three/four), but it was close enough to where I figured the UK coaching staff wanted to go all in on the remaining true big men.
When I talked to a source within the program in early January, though, not only was I told that Brooks was still an option for Kentucky, it was made very clear to me that UK was one of the strong favorites to land him.
It’s no secret Brooks grew up dreaming of playing for his hometown Indiana Hoosiers, but that dream slowly faded when he watched Archie Miller’s group, led by Romeo Langford, crumble their way to the NIT this season. Brooks’ relationship with the coaching staff was strong, but reality set in that he likely wouldn’t have progressed the way he hoped for in his one or two seasons in Bloomington. He wanted to make it to the NBA early, but he watched Langford’s draft stock fall in his lone season. He wanted to play for something of substance in college, but he watched the Hoosiers miss the NCAA Tournament. It was the perfect storm for Kentucky to go in for the kill, as they could offer both things. That’s exactly what they pitched to the 6-foot-8 forward out of Fort Wayne.
When it comes to the actual decision process, sources tell KSR that Kentucky and Indiana were the only two schools seriously in contention over the last week and a half or so, with Michigan State having a shot over two weeks ago, and North Carolina also being involved a bit earlier. That’s how the unofficial cut process went down.
I’m told that when it came down to both schools, Brooks wanted to play with his friends at Indiana, but everything changed once his family and inner circle shifted toward Kentucky. When they said they wouldn’t mind driving down to Lexington for home games and felt he would develop better under Calipari, along with his impressive unofficial visit for the Kentucky vs. Tennessee game, his mind changed. It wasn’t a done deal, but it was enough for the Cats to take the lead, and they never fell behind from that point on.
When he announced his decision date, he knew he was favoring Kentucky, but wanted to give him some time to make a final decision. As the week of the decision came around, Brooks visited with both coaching staffs, and we still saw little-to-no movement on his leaderboard, which was good news for Kentucky. Things went quiet from Wednesday evening through late Thursday, and the official decision was made sometime in that timeframe. And then on early Friday morning, word leaked out that Kentucky would be the choice.
At 8:00 p.m., Brooks made it official.
With that, we can finally close the book on Keion Brooks Jr. and turn to Kentucky’s final few remaining targets in the class of 2019.
One of the most important? Five-star forward Jaden McDaniels.
While his final list consists of Kentucky, San Diego State, Texas, UCLA and Washington, most believe the decision will come down to the Wildcats and Huskies.
I’ve said in the past that things have been extremely quiet with him, but I will tell you that there has been a lot of Washington buzz as of late, with several recruiting analysts changing their predictions in favor of the Huskies. Though a lot of that might be educated guesses, there is genuine interest in McDaniels staying out west and playing with his friend Isaiah Stewart, a five-star center out of Fort Wayne, IN.
While I do believe Washington is a serious threat, and very well could win out in the end, I think that we’re still a week or two away from hearing any significant updates on his recruitment. Next week is the McDonald’s All-American Game, and with McDaniels selected to participate in the event, he will certainly be answering questions on his status. I will be there to get as much information on his interest in Kentucky as I can.
Just a few weeks ago, one source I trust flat-out told me Kentucky was not a serious option for the consensus top-ten 2019 prospect. The very next week, Calipari was up in Minnesota visiting Hurt and other recruiting analysts said the Cats were still one of the main contenders. It was admittedly an odd stretch.
We also reported here at KSR that there was worry from Hurt’s camp that Kansas, the perceived leader, was scaring them away a bit with their involvement in FBI rumors. I’m under the strong belief that any serious violations/sanctions found in that scandal will steer him away from the Jayhawks. With Bill Self possibly getting called to testify and more information leaking out of his school’s involvement, that’s looking like a serious possibility.
If that’s the case, Hurt will likely go through an entire second recruitment, where Kentucky will be one of the top options with Duke, North Carolina, and Memphis as the other strong contenders.
Like McDaniels, Hurt was also selected for the McDonald’s All-American Game, so I will be sure to ask about where Kentucky stands and when a decision might come. If you’re playing the odds, I wouldn’t expect a decision until all of the NBA decisions are made and the dust settles a bit on the FBI/college basketball trial. But you’ll have an update this time next week.
Beyond those two, there’s nothing really new on Isaiah Todd, N’Faly Dante, and the other reclassification candidates. I was also told Kentucky will explore the graduate transfer market if need be, but that’s only if the other options fall through and there is a perfect fit a la Reid Travis.
If you’ll remember, EJ Montgomery committed to Kentucky on April 9, while Travis didn’t officially commit until June 20. I’m told that while they do have their top options in place, we could see more opportunities open up once March Madness ends and players go through the draft process.
Kentucky wants at least one more frontcourt signee, and there are plenty of solid options out there to snag. Be patient with this one. After getting Brooks, anything else is icing on the cake.