They say “Kentucky basketball never stops” and when John Calipari is your head coach, recruiting never stops either. At this point it’s pretty clear that the focus is on the 2019 class, and the potential to produce a monster recruiting haul with the likes of James Wiseman and Vernon Carey possibly joining Tyrese Maxey and D.J. Jeffries in Lexington.
However, it’s never too early to look at the 2020 class and it’s never too early to look at a new name that has emerged for the Wildcats. North Carolina point guard Jalen Cone told KSR at the Pangos All-American camp this weekend that he has heard from a number of different programs in recent weeks, including the Kentucky Wildcats.
“Kentucky, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, NC State, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss, Wichita State and North Carolina,” Cone said of which schools he’s heard from recently. He added that he hasn’t received actual scholarship offers from all those schools, although Ole Miss and Virginia Tech were amongst those who have.
New name to keep an eye on for Kentucky fans: North Carolina PG Jalen Cone (@j15cone). Has heard from UK. Planning a visit soon
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) June 3, 2018
The Wildcats still haven’t offered a scholarship and the reality is that it probably won’t be coming any time soon. Because of their stature in the recruiting world the Wildcats don’t need to get offers out early and the reality is, it doesn’t really make sense for them to anyway since Kentucky’s roster is so fluid from year-to-year. Heck, Kentucky is a LONG way from knowing what their 2019 recruiting class will look like, making it next to impossible to try and figure out what their needs will be in 2020. Getting out early offers is something that makes more sense at other schools (like say Ole Miss) where they have more three and four-year players and they have a better idea of what their roster will look like in the bigger picture.
Still, Cone said it would “be a dream come true” to receive an offer from the Wildcats. Like so many other players, Kentucky’s ability to produce NBA players is what intrigues him about the school.
“That’s a program that brings in five-stars,” Cone said. “And the four-stars they bring in are capable of being five-stars. They just produce NBA players, and I feel like Coach Cal and their staff do a great job of producing players that get to the league, especially point guards.”
The staff has even told Cone, who stands at just 5’10, that he reminds them of a certain former Wildcat.
“I know that Tyler Ulis, he’s about my size,” Cone said. “Seeing that is what has me really believing in that program.”
What’s most interesting (at least to me) is what Kentucky’s interest means in the “big picture” here. Cone has been a fast-riser this spring, reaching No. 73 in his current class according to 247 Sports. Still, a kid ranked No. 73 in his class doesn’t generally scream “Kentucky target.” There are a handful of surface-level reasons that Kentucky would get involved early, including the fact that Cone is from Joel Justus’ backyard of North Carolina. Justus always has a beat on what’s going on in North Carolina – as well as all over the country – most notably helping convince Bam Adebayo to come to Kentucky.
Still, UK’s interest does make me think a few different things. One, is this the classic case of UK seeing something in an under-valued recruit that others don’t yet see? For all the success John Calipari and his staff have had through the years landing the “best of the best” (John Wall, Anthony Davis, De’Aaron Fox etc.) they don’t get nearly enough credit for taking undervalued recruits like Willie Cauley-Stein, Devin Booker and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and turning them into pros. As Cone said himself, the staff has a unique ability to turn four-stars into five-stars.
Also, could this be Kentucky casting a wider net than usual in the 2020 recruiting class in anticipation that by then high school players could be allowed to go to the NBA/G-League straight out of high school? Considering that those have been the rumblings for months it seems at least possible. Especially since the Pangos All-American event (the place where Cone spoke with KSR) was officially NBA-sanctioned, allowing NBA scouts and front office personnel to attend for the first time.
Regardless, there is a long way to go with this recruitment. Cone said he plans to visit a bunch of schools throughout June and Kentucky will be one of them.
Whether it ever leads to a scholarship offer, let alone Cone actually becoming a Wildcat, remains to be seen.
In the meantime, enjoy this mix-tape of Cone, compared to another North Carolina point guard – and former Kentucky recruit – Dennis Smith Jr. And remember, Cone just finished his sophomore year of high school – and will only get better from here.