Good afternoon, BBN! Welcome back to another edition of Pilgrim’s Insider Notes.
With this weekend being so massive Kentucky’s class of 2019 with five-star forward Keion Brooks Jr. making the trip to Lexington for the highly-anticipated UK/UT matchup, the main focus of this post will be to walk through the visit, see where things stand now, and break down the finalists.
Let’s dive right in.
Keion Brooks Jr.
Forward | 6-8 | 185 lbs.
Fort Wayne, IN | North Side
AAU: Spiece Indy Heat
|ESPN||No. 30 | 9 PF||Top247||No. 16 | 5 SF|
|Rivals||No. 35 | 13 PF||247 Comp.||No. 22 | 6 SF|
Late Friday evening, word leaked out that 2019 five-star forward Keion Brooks Jr. would be making a surprise trip down to Lexington to see Kentucky take on No. 1 Tennessee.
Getting a top prospect on campus is always helpful, but given the timing of Brooks’ recruitment and his desire to make a decision sooner rather than later, this news was absolutely massive for Kentucky’s chances. We’ve heard of visits go poorly in the past (specifically with Brooks’ La Lumiere teammate, Isaiah Stewart), but that’s a rarity, especially at Kentucky. This visit continued to prove that as the case.
Once they got Brooks on campus, sources tell KSR the Kentucky basketball staff absolutely knocked it out of the park and really shook things up at the top of his leaderboard. In fact, I have flipped my prediction from Indiana to Kentucky.
Covering the game for KSR, I was able to see Brooks behind the bench and keep tabs on his reactions to the gameplay, crowd, etc., and it seemed like he had a genuinely good time. Interestingly enough, the individual with Brooks (haven’t confirmed who this was, as neither of his parents made the trip) was standing up, clapping and cheering during some of the biggest moments of the game. The narrative has been that those around the five-star forward are pulling at his heartstrings to play at home, so if those closest to him are starting to back off that a bit, that’s certainly good news.
As for his parents, though they have been open to the recruiting process and obviously wouldn’t force their son to make any particular decision, they have been big fans of IU’s “hometown hero” pitch for quite some time and ultimately hoped Brooks Jr. would end up playing in Bloomington so they could attend every game with their tight-knit family and friends. It’s a common theme for top prospects.
While that has been the case for a while, I’m told the novelty of that go-to pitch is wearing off at a fast rate given the poor state of the program and how fans are reacting to it. Just taking a quick stroll through social media searching for keywords such as “Archie Miller,” “Indiana basketball,” or “#IUBB,” you’ll find a plethora of fans with a ‘sky is falling’ mentality, begging the school to fire the second-year head coach and clean house.
Here is just one gem I stumbled across:
If I were them, I’d ask for a release of scholarship. Their parents should demand it. They will waste time at IU. They will play on another dumpster fire ? next year. pic.twitter.com/9005SDir5C
— Grizz Wright (@WrightGrizz) February 10, 2019
Indiana has lost ten of their last 11 games (13-12 on the year) with a current Big Ten record of 4-10 (No. 12 overall out of 14), including a 21-point loss at Minnesota while Kentucky was trouncing No. 1 Tennessee. With the dumpster fire of a season that is currently taking place and fans jumping off the bandwagon faster than they hopped on to start the Archie Miller era, I have heard whispers that the entire situation is rubbing the Brooks family the wrong way and it has opened their mind even more to Brooks attending school elsewhere.
Indiana insider Sam Story went as far as to say he was told “all is bad around the program” and he “no longer (has) any realistic reason to believe” Indiana will land Brooks Jr.
– I no longer have any realistic reason to believe #IUBB is landing KB Jr.
– The texts that came through last night and this morning from people of importance regarding IU's leadership were… interesting.
– "All is bad around the program."
– Me = Sad. Pissed.
— Sam Story (@Samueltstory) February 17, 2019
It’s the perfect storm of Indiana drowning in mediocrity and Kentucky looking like the national powerhouse they were advertised as being before the year started.
As far as the visit situation is concerned, Brooks’ visit to Lexington exceeded all expectations, and the following morning news leaked out that the five-star forward would be cancelling his unofficial visit to East Lansing on Sunday. There were whispers that the cancellation was weather related, which I can confirm is not the case. There were also rumors that it was because he was ready to pull the trigger on a commitment to Kentucky, which is also (unfortunately) not the case.
The cancellation, though still great news for Kentucky (Brooks now had the entire weekend to soak in his trip and think about how much he enjoyed it instead of juggling trips to two different locations), had more to do with the logistics of everything and the turnaround just being too much for the 6-foot-8 top-30 prospect. Kentucky’s game against No. 1 Tennessee tipped off at 8:00 p.m. and concluded well after 10, while Michigan State tipped off against Ohio State the following day at 1:00 p.m. The trip could have been made, but he wouldn’t have been able to get as much out of his time at MSU as he had hoped for.
Back to Kentucky’s side.
After the visit, Brooks caught up with Brian Snow of 247 Sports to break down everything from his time in Lexington.
“It was crazy,” he said. “I’ve never been to a game where it was that loud. The atmosphere was really lit, and I loved how Coach (John) Calipari could control the crowd.”
With this being his first visit to Lexington for an actual game, Brooks said he was amazed at the Rupp Arena game day experience.
“It was different because it was my first time witnessing a game at Rupp Arena,” he said. “I didn’t know how seriously Big Blue Nation took the games. Also, I got to see what it is like for a game day at Rupp Arena, so that was a good thing.”
In that same interview, Brooks said he was hoping to make a few more trips before making a final decision. As of today, he’s taking the process “day by day” so he can cover all the bases and make an informed decision when the time comes.
And if you ask his dad, it appears that decision is getting close:
It’s not over but getting close! Recruiting doesn’t start until the parents and player start asking all the hard questions. #noFluff
— Keion Brooks (@keion_brooks) February 18, 2019
While we’re keeping tabs on Brooks Sr.’s Twitter account, he also posted the following image of his son’s Senior Night yesterday and all of his friends and family that came out to support him.
Notice anything interesting?
Taking a quick glance at Brooks’ Crystal Ball over on 247 Sports, Kentucky has received all five of the five-star forward’s most recent predictions, including one from one of the most connected insiders in the game, Andrew Slater of The Devils Den.
And with that, Kentucky has officially matched Indiana for the No. 1 spot for Brooks with 38 percent of total predictions.
This thing isn’t over yet, but you’re going to have a hard time convincing me Brooks isn’t going to end up at Kentucky at this point.
I have been told that the decision could really come at any time, with the earliest being late this week and the latest being the end of February.
Brooks goes on Spring Break next week, so he’ll be able to sit down with his parents and break everything down from this Friday through the following Sunday. That seems to be the sweet spot for our next major update, whether it be more scheduled visits, an official announcement date, or a final decision being made.
Other frontcourt options
If things continue to trend Kentucky’s direction for Brooks and he ends up committing in the near future, it actually makes things interesting for the UK coaching staff in terms of closing out the rest of the class.
While the frontcourt options looked bleak for a while, adding Brooks may actually force Kentucky’s hand (not a bad thing, Brooks is one heck of a talent the UK staff would love to have) to be a bit selective to close things out for 2019. While Brooks has the ability to play either the three or four, he tends to thrive more in transition and roaming/slashing on the perimeter than focusing his efforts as a true four. But with Kahlil Whitney, a true wing, also committed and looking to sign with Kentucky in May, it’s important to address how the rotation will play out.
As of today, Kentucky is expected to return Immanuel Quickley, Nick Richards, EJ Montgomery, and Jemarl Baker as key rotation players. PJ Washington and Keldon Johnson will almost certainly enter the draft, Reid Travis will graduate, and Tyler Herro and Ashton Hagans are the two toss-ups. While both Herro and Hagans aren’t seen in many top mock drafts for 2019, I’m told both are still leaning more toward entering the draft, especially if they get hot to close out the season and the Cats make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Hagans came to Kentucky hoping to be a one-and-done (he has said this), and Herro would like to make the jump if he feels he’s ready, as well.
Beyond those four (and the potential addition of Brooks), that would leave a rotation of:
Tyrese Maxey/Jemarl Baker
Kahlil Whitney/Keion Brooks Jr.
EJ Montgomery/(Matthew Hurt or Jaden McDaniels?)
Nick Richards/(Isaiah Todd?)
(Dontaie Allen is ahead of schedule in his rehab, but the option to redshirt his first year at Kentucky remains on the table. If he can get healthy, he’ll get minutes.)
Isaiah Todd and N’Faly Dante are the two big men that have been rumored reclassification candidates, with sources telling KSR Todd is very serious about making the jump and will likely do it if he can get all of his academics in order this summer. Todd and Kentucky have mutual interest for the 6-foot-10 forward joining the class of 2019, while I’m told UK would prefer Dante for the class of 2020 (unless other options fall through for this upcoming group).
Jaden McDaniels and Matthew Hurt are Kentucky’s top two remaining targets in the class, with McDaniels being seen as the more likely option as of today. There are rumblings that Kansas still maintains a slight lead with Hurt, though I’m told the family may be nervous about the school’s involvement with the major FBI/NCAA scandals sweeping the nation. We’re still a long way to go from hearing anything major on either prospect, making it interesting to see where Kentucky makes their move with the reclassification prospects. Do you make the jump on one of them and risk losing out on your prized prospects for 2019? Or do you wait out on the top targets and miss out on all options if things go south?
We’ll find out eventually, but the first domino to fall will be Brooks.