While Kentucky is obviously still focused on wrapping up it’s Class of 2019 recruiting needs, it is never too early to look ahead to the prospects that could eventually make up the 2020 recruiting class. It’s never too early to let the casual fan know who the top players are, what they’re about and what makes them tick.
That’s why over the next few weeks, while Jack gives you the weekly recruiting updates for the 2019 class in his “Insider Recruiting Notes” I will get a jump-start on the class of 2020, by doing short profile pieces on some of these prospects. These aren’t intended to be “Insider” pieces letting you know where Kentucky stands with these prospects (Jack already CRUSHES it with those) but instead more short, introductory pieces. To give you a background on who some of these kids are that you’ll hear so much about over the next year or so.
Today, we start with a profile of R.J. Hampton. Hampton announced his final five schools last Thursday, and Kentucky made the cut. Here’s what you need to know about the 6’4 guard out of Dallas.
And be sure to stay tuned in upcoming weeks for more of these similar profiles, of more 2020 prospects.
It’s early in the evening, around 7 p.m. in Dallas, when Rod Hampton excitedly picks up the phone. The father of R.J. Hampton, one of the top high school guards in the class of 2020, says that you’ve caught him at the perfect time to chat. His son has just gotten home from high school practice, and the pair have a few hours before they will head back to the gym.
There is a game tomorrow after all. And R.J. is always looking for an edge over his competition.
“We’ll probably head over there about 9 o’clock or so,” Hampton says. “The work never stops.”
As it turns out, it will take just 24 hours for everyone to see how much that hard work is paying off. Just 24 hours after the phone call, and 22 hours after he heads back to the gym for a late-night shooting session, Hampton takes the court – and lights up his opponent for 50 points. FIFTY. That included 10 three-pointers made and 10 rebounds, in a stat-sheeting stuffing performance.
And then, as if dropping 50 wasn’t enough, the next day Hampton – the top-rated combo guard in the class of 2020 – announces that he has cut his college list to just five schools. In no order, Hampton will eventually choose from Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Memphis and TCU.
Whether it is in the class of 2019 or 2020 remains to be seen.
If it sounds like a busy week for Hampton it is, capping what has become a whirlwind few years for the 6’4 guard. Over the last 24 or so months, Hampton has established himself as one of the top high school basketball players regardless of class, and a likely future NBA lottery pick. In the process he has won two gold medals for Team USA Basketball and been named a MaxPreps All-American after his freshman and sophomore seasons.
He is also currently ranked as the No. 6 overall prospect in 247 Sports’ Composite recruiting rankings.
In terms of R.J.’s game, Hampton’s dad emphasizes that while his son is listed as a combo guard by all the recruiting websites, he is in fact a true point guard. Yes, R.J. is capable of scoring 50 points if he has to – just like he did last Tuesday for his high school. But is equally as comfortable in running an offense and setting up his teammates when playing with other elite players.
— 14 (@RjHampton14) February 7, 2019
As important, Hampton has also turned himself into an elite defender in recent years. As much as he enjoys helping his team light up the scoreboard on one end of the court, he enjoys shutting down the opponent’s best player on the other end. Just like his favorite player growing up, Kobe Bryant.
“About two, three years ago, I don’t want to say he was slacking on defense,” Hampton says. “But he wasn’t playing defense every possession. And I said, ‘Look, the guys you look up to, the Kobe’s, the LeBron’s, the Kevin Durant’s, those guys, they play D. They play defense.’”
His father continued.
“He’s now a complete player.”
And with Hampton’s final five out, the focus is now slowly shifting to recruiting.
While some publications believe that Duke or Memphis (where Hampton has already taken an official visit) are the favorites, his dad says that’s not the case at all. With the top five now set, everyone is starting from scratch, and all five teams “have a great chance,” according to Hampton.
The elder Hampton then expanded on the factors that will be in play in his son’s recruitment. He said the most important variable will be the relationship that his son and family have with each team’s coaching staff. Of course, it will also be important to see where R.J. fits with the other team’s returning and future players as well.
To be clear however, picking a school isn’t about the easiest path to playing time, but at the very least finding a place where he will have the chance to earn it. While some schools are notorious for bringing along freshmen slowly, Hampton said that his son just wants a place where he will have the chance to earn his playing time.
Without prompting, the elder Hampton actually brought up the current situation at Kentucky as an example.
“As a freshman he wants come in, and hopefully be allowed to play through mistakes,” Hampton said. “You see Ashton Hagans playing [at Kentucky]… Look at where Ashton started and where he is now? That’s a tribute to Kentucky’s staff of just letting him play.”
And when probing further into Kentucky’s role in Hampton’s recruitment, it’s clear that the family likes what the school is selling. Again, every school has an equal shot at this point, but the Hampton’s appreciate John Calipari being so open about the process, that the coach doesn’t promise anything, but again, allows his players the chance to earn what they are given. “Coach Cal keeps it real,” Hampton said. While some families have been turned off by the Calipari pitch, that a player has to come in, sacrifice and earn everything, the Hampton’s like it.
For the elder Hampton who played college ball at SMU, it reminds him of his own coaching style. He coached R.J. as a young kid and threw him into the fire against the other good young players across Dallas, and he’d have no problem if R.J.’s college coach – whoever it is – does the same.
“To be the best you’ve got to play against the best,” Hampton said. “But you also want to play with the best. And going to a Kentucky, a Duke, one of the top schools, they’re going to recruit the best. If you don’t want to play against the best, you might as well not even go there. And a lot of times the guys you practice against are going to be better than the guys who are playing against in the game.”
“I think if the game is harder than practice you’ve got a problem,” Hampton said. “I think practice should be harder than the game.”
Ultimately however, no conversation about Hampton’s recruitment would be complete without discussing the elephant in the room: Reclassification. R.J. turned 18-years-old the day he announced his Top 5, meaning that if he stays in his high school class, he will be 19-years-old by the end of high school, and 20-years-old by the time the 2021 NBA Draft rolls around.
Of course, he could enroll in college next year and move up the entire process by a year.
Hampton’s dad touched on the subject with me and re-iterated what he said in previous interviews. Because R.J. is an excellent student (he is ranked 17th in a class of over 300 according to his dad) the option to move up a year is on the table.
But at this point, the plan is to stay in 2020.
“As of today, he is not going to reclass,” Hampton said. “But, he’s taking an extra class now and to reclass he would have to take two classes this summer which would not be a problem.”
What’s interesting in speaking to Hampton however, is how beneficial either option could be. While it seems like reclassification makes the most sense on paper, there is actually a very compelling case to stay where he is. One, R.J. genuinely enjoys high school, his family and friends, and two, with so much coursework out of the way, he would have extra time to focus on basketball next season. If he were to stay in high school his day would end earlier, meaning he could get into the gym earlier to get extra work in.
That’s in addition to his regular practices, and then of course those late night sessions before games.
In the end, some college basketball program is getting a heck of a college player.
Whether it’s in the class of 2019 or 2020.