It’s official. The Cats have missed out on five-star center James Wiseman as he picked the Memphis Tigers over John Calipari and Kentucky. When UK landed Kahlil Whitney and Dontaie Allen in August it was clear that Kentucky would be fine in the backcourt and on the wing for 2019-2020, but would then turn its attention to the bigs.
Since those commitments in August it’s been nothing but bad news for the Cats on the recruiting trail and it’s time to worry about how UK fills out the frontcourt in 2019-2020.
What happened with Wiseman:
During his time at Kentucky, John Calipari has never recruited a player harder than James Wiseman. Karl-Anthony Towns and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were recruited in a similar fashion. UK first reached out to Wiseman in 2016 and offered him a few months later in 2017. For a 2019 player that was an incredibly early offer for Kentucky standards. After the offer the Cats watched Wiseman any chance they could during the AAU period, UK traveled to watch Wiseman represent Team USA in Argentina and there were a handful of in-home visits and the Tennessee native visited UK a couple times.
The Cats did what they needed to do in this recruitment, but once Memphis hired his AAU/high school coach, Penny Hardaway, it was clear that Wiseman was no longer a lock for UK.
But Calipari and UK’s staff didn’t give up and started recruiting Wiseman even harder. They reached out and landed a commitment from Wiseman’s AAU teammate and friend, D.J. Jeffries. Jeffries would later decommit because he felt he wasn’t receiving enough attention, but the Cats didn’t feel that would hurt them with Wiseman.
For most of the summer it still seemed like the Cats were the team to beat, or at least that’s how people close to the program felt. I believe the cracks started to grow when Wiseman announced he would be staying in Memphis for his senior year instead of attending a prep school. Had Wiseman left Memphis I think he ends up at Kentucky.
But that wasn’t it. Wiseman’s initial plan was to be one of the last 2019 players to commit and announce in the spring. This still pointed towards him picking Kentucky. It was unlikely that Wiseman would commit early to UK and then play his senior season in Memphis with upset Tiger fans harassing him for months. Also, the thought process was if he were to pick Memphis he would want to commit early to help Memphis’ recruiting efforts with other 2019 players.
So, when Wiseman changed his plans from an April or May decision to December or January it became worrisome for Kentucky, and once he announced on Monday that he would be committing on Tuesday it became clear that he wasn’t going to end up at UK.
But the Tigers had momentum for the last month or two. It may have been better had the Cats not received the first official visit way back in early September because Kentucky lost momentum later that month and Memphis never looked back.
I wouldn’t expect Wiseman (or Penny) to trash talk Kentucky. The Cats did everything they could besides hire his former AAU/HS coach. And that’s not a knock at Memphis. Part of the reason they hired Penny was to land Memphis and other great recruits in the area and he delivered. It’s a major blow for Kentucky, but UK did what they needed to do in this recruitment but they were beaten by previous relationships/location. It stinks but it happens, and it’s extra crappy for UK because the Cats put so many eggs in the Wiseman basket and are running out of options for bigs in 2019.
But not all hope is lost:
So, where does UK go from here? Here are the remain big targets in 2019 and the latest with each.
Vernon Carey Jr.: Carey Jr. announced he will be cutting his list to three sometime this week. Michigan State and Duke seem like locks to be two of the three, but can the Cats beat out the hometown Miami Hurricanes or North Carolina to be the final team? If UK does make Carey Jr.’s final three they will battle to the end to land a commitment, but they are behind Duke and MSU at this point. Obviously if the Cats don’t make the final three that will be another crushing blow.
Isaiah Stewart: There hasn’t been much buzz lately between UK and Stewart. After Stewart visited Kentucky the scuttlebutt from the visit had UK as the favorite, but things changed a week or 10 days later. Stewart’s dad seemed to favor UK, but those around him preferred other options. Stewart has officially visited UK, Washington, Syracuse and Michigan State, and will take his final official visit to Duke this weekend. He’s hoping to make his decision shortly after this weekend. The Cats don’t appear to be in a good position here.
Matthew Hurt: Hurt is in no rush and hasn’t taken any official visits. The plan is for UK to bring him in for an official in January (tentatively the Kansas game). I’ve been told UK is in a good position, but if Hurt doesn’t plan on committing until March or April, being in a good position four or five months prior doesn’t mean too much as we learned with Wiseman and Carey. Kentucky will likely make Hurt their top target in 2019.
Jaden McDaniels: McDaniels’ recruitment is as quiet as you can get, but he has taken his five official visits. He’s considering UK, Washington, UCLA, Texas and San Diego State. Supposedly the father prefers UK or Washington, but those close to McDaniels are pushing SDSU, where his brother currently plays. McDaniels said he grew up as a Kentucky fan so we’ll see if UK can get back on track with the Washington native.
Keion Brooks: Brooks seems to be an Indiana lean, but the Cats have built a good relationship with Brooks and his father. Brooks, along with McDaniels, would be more of a wing option than a serious frontcourt piece, but Calipari may have to be creative with how he runs his team next season. It seems like the emphasis will be on offense, so Brooks would be a nice addition.
Kentucky desperately needs to land at least two of the players listed above and if UK can do that then the Cats will be loaded with talent for 2019-2020, although there will still be questions on how everything fits. There will be plenty of time to figure that out and Calipari will have to get creative.
If UK lands zero or one of the players above there is a contingency plan. Here are some of UK’s options:
- 2020 player reclassifies: I don’t love this option because I’m not sure if there’s a player in the class of 2020 that could make the jump and be the big UK would need for 2019-2020. Kentucky has offered Scottie Barnes, N’Faly Dante and Jalen Johnson in 2020. Barnes and Johnson are wings, not bigs, although Barnes could possibly play some four. Dante is a true big and physically looks college ready, but he would need plenty of scoring help on the frontcourt. Kenny Payne is the lead recruiter for Dante.
- Grad-transfer: Kentucky will look to go the Reid Travis route and get a grad-transfer big for the second straight season. I’m told UK is already gathering a list of possible grad-transfer bigs and regardless what happens in 2019, UK will strongly look to add a grad-transfer. My guess is that UK will look to fill a specific need with a grad-transfer, so possibly an elite rebounder or shot blocker. UK will try to fill a hole with a grad-transfer.
- Surprise returnee: Reid Travis is gone. P.J. Washington will leave. But there’s no guarantee that E.J. Montgomery or Nick Richards will bolt out of Lexington this year. If UK only brings in one, or zero bigs, I’m guessing UK may tell Richards/Montgomery that coming back could be in their best interest. My guess is Montgomery ultimately leaves, but he’s currently not wowing NBA executives. If Richards leaves it seems like he will be bolting just to start making a money regardless if it’s NBA, G-League or overseas. Cant’ blame that decision if that happens, but he’s a player that could benefit from another year of college.
- Anthony Edwards: Evan Daniels of 247 Sports broke the news on Tuesday that the five-star shooting guard would be moving to the class of 2019. He’s now the No. 1 player in the 2019 class, but the bad news for UK is that he’s a shooting guard. It’s unclear where UK stands in this recruitment, but if the Cats landed Edwards it would be a clear indication that the Cats would be playing some serious small ball for 2019-2020.
- John Calipari leaves: I don’t think this happens, but with all the recruiting misses and Brad Calipari sitting out this upcoming season, does John Calipari have other plans after this year? I’d be shocked if that happens, but there’s no denying it’s been a strange few months.
Wiseman going to Memphis will sting for UK and Calipari’s staff, but there are other options.