Kentucky is off and running on the recruiting trail after locking up its backcourt for the upcoming 2021-22 season. With the additions of Orlando Antigua and Ron “Chin” Coleman to John Calipari’s staff, the program is trying to regain the momentum they’ve lost from the first half of John Calipari’s tenure as Kentucky’s head coach.
If this past week is any indication, the revamped coaching staff is eager to make Kentucky the premier destination for all of the top high school prospects in the country. Two offers to five-star wings Chris Livingston and Brandon Miller were handed out while two of the top guards from the class of 2022 included Kentucky among their top five finalists. There have also been some rumblings surrounding another highly-rated guard in Nick Smith Jr., along with a potential campus visit for five-star power forward Omaha Biliew.
With so much happening as the recruiting evaluation period is set to open back up, we’ve created a one-stop shop for all the news you need to know about these prospects. Let’s get right into it.
Chris Livingston (class of 2022, SF)
The first theoretical domino to fall was on Tuesday evening when class of 2022 five-star small forward Chris Livingston announced on his Instagram that Kentucky extended him a scholarship offer. According to 247 Sports, Livingston is viewed as the sixth-best player in his class and the second-best at his position. Clocking in with measurables of 6-foot-6, 200 pounds, he has a body built to thrive at the next level with the skillset to complement it all.
Here’s what 247 Sports’ Director of Basketball Scouting, Jerry Meyer, had to say about Livingston:
Tremendous physical build for a wing. Has explosive athleticism and can make plays in traffic. Loves to attack the rim. Has a powerful spin move to finish off drives. Shoots it well enough from deep but an area for improvement. Handles well in space but needs to tighten and refine his handle. Can deliver a pass on the move. Active player who comes up with balls off the glass and the floor. Has great potential as a multi positional defender.
Livingston is quickly picking up steam with his recruitment, as well. Before Kentucky came calling this week, he had already picked up offers from the likes of Duke and North Carolina during the month of May. Memphis is also considered a viable option at this point in his process.
Brandon Miller (class of 2022, SF)
Just a day after Livingston made his offer public, Brandon Miller became the second player in as many days to do the same. Kentucky offered Miller, a 6-foot-7, 200-pound wing from the class of 2022, on Wednesday, making him just the seventh player from that class to receive an offer from the ‘Cats. According to KSR’s Jack Pilgrim, Miller and the Kentucky coaching staff have been in contact for some time now, and Calipari is a big believer in what Miller has to offer.
“The Zoom call went really well, it was actually more of a normal conversation we were having,” Miller’s father, Darrell Miller Sr., told KSR about their meeting with Kentucky. “We were all on there, joking and laughing, cutting up, having a good time. Coach Cal just reiterated things he had touched on when we went there his freshman year. He said that, ‘Hey, I wouldn’t be on this call if I didn’t think you belonged here. You worked hard for this scholarship, you deserve this scholarship, there’s one here for you.'”
A visit to see Kentucky’s campus in June is in the works, Miller’s father told KSR, and he also added that Coach Coleman has been in daily communication with his son.
During his junior season of high school at Cane Ridge down in Tennesse, Miller averaged 23.3 points (47% 3PT), 8.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.6 blocks and 2.3 steals as a junior. It was a standout campaign that pushed him up to No. 11 overall and No. 5 at his position in the latest 247Sports player rankings, with ESPN also listing him at No. 12 overall and Rivals listing him at No. 17 overall.
Dior Johnson (class of 2022, PG)
Catching nearly everyone by surprise, the top point guard from the class of 2022, Dior Johnson, included Kentucky among his list of top five finalists on Thursday. Once a Syracuse commit for roughly nine months, Johnson was widely viewed as a near-lock to head to the professional route, but his top five only listed the NBL (Australia’s pro league) and four other college programs (Alabama, Washington, Oregon, and UK) with no mention of the G League or Overtime Elite options. Even still, rumors indicate that he didn’t even plan to add the Wildcats into his top five, but Johnson ultimately decided to add them in at the last minute.
With Antigua and Coleman now taking over the recruiting reigns, it’s telling that the best point guard in the country went from not considering Kentucky to putting them among his top five in such a seemingly short turnaround. If name, image, and likeness laws are put into place this summer, Johnson could feasibly come to Lexington and make enough money to justify passing up on a route such as the NBL. Standing at 6-foot-3 and weighing 180 pounds, he fits the prototypical mold of a John Calipari point guard and is a sure-fire NBA draft pick down the road.
According to 247 Sports, Johnson is the third-best player from the class of 2022 and the No. 1 overall point guard prospect. At this moment, he does not hold an offer from the ‘Cats, but one could be on the way soon.
Here’s what Jerry Meyer had to say about the Kentucky target.
“Good length and stature for a point guard. Quick athlete with superb body control. Has tremendous instincts as a driver and passer. Delivers the difficult pass. Finishes the difficult shot. High level lay up maker. Has multiple fade away moves to his right shoulder. Shoots the ball well enough to be considered a three-level scorer. Has potential to rebound his position well and be a dangerous versatile defender. ”
Keyonte George (class of 2022, SG)
From the best point guard to the top shooting guard, Keyonte George pulled a similar move to Johnson and dropped his top five finalists on Thursday. But unlike Johnson, George listed all college programs, and they’re mostly from the same area of the country aside from one outlier: Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas, Kansas, and Kentucky. That being said, George is being recruited by Kentucky’s Jai Lucas, who has several ties to Texas, where George currently plays his high school ball.
The 247 Sports’ Composite Score ranks George one spot behind Johnson in the overall rankings, with George landing at No. 6 as the best shooting guard from his class. He’s slightly bigger than Johnson at 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, and doesn’t currently hold an offer from Kentucky, either. But like Johnson, George should expect one to come sooner rather than later, especially after Livingston and Miller picked theirs up this week.
Here’s what 247 Sports‘ Recruiting Analyst, Brandon Jenkins, said in his thoughts on George’s game:
George is a smooth scoring guard who shows a high level of dedication to the game and looks to play the game the right way. He scores within the flow of an offense and can knock down jumpers from all three ranges on the floor. His in-between game is potent as he has the knack of getting to his spots to get his shot off. He uses his handle to wiggle his way into his pullup and has the explosiveness and body control to finish plays in a crowd. His game is built upon skill and length more than elite quickness.
Nick Smith Jr. (class of 2022, CG)
There actually isn’t any news to report on Nick Smith Jr. as of right now, but that could change by the end of the day. He’s set to sit down with Calipari and the rest of the staff on Friday where an offer is expected to come his way. Despite his status as the only four-star prospect in this post, Smith has been a Kentucky target for a while now and the feeling is mutual between both parties. Back in February, he added Kentucky to his top list of schools then picked up a Crystal Ball prediction two days later that had him landing with the ‘Cats. When KSR spoke with Smith during the MADE Hoops event in April, he said that Jai Lucas had been in constant contact with him and that Calipari was also reaching out.
Don’t be discouraged by the four-star ranking, either. Smith is tabbed as the 26th best overall in his class, per 247 Sports, just a few slots below achieving five-star status. Considering how the pandemic has prevented him from taking a leap in popularity across the national scene, he could feasibly earn that fifth-star by the time he has to make a decision. Smith, who clocks in at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds is actually considered the second-best shooting guard in his class behind Keyonte George. He already has a trip to Kansas planned for June and is also considering the likes of Arkansas (home state), Auburn, Baylor, North Carolina, and Texas Tech, among a few others.
Here’s what 247 Sports’ Basketball Analyst, Travis Branham, told KSR about his evaluation of Smith:
“Nick Smith is one of the best scorers in the country with a very confident and aggressive approach to the game. His foot never comes off the gas and he gets after it on both ends of the floor. He’s got size, length, athleticism and can fill it up from all three levels and does an excellent job for a high schooler at getting to the free throw line. He’s got range on his jumper off the catch and bounce, he has floaters, he defends and is excellent in the open floor.
Omaha Biliew (class of 2023, PF)
The final player we’ll talk about is the lone prospect from the class of 2023, but he’s a must-watch name. Omaha Biliew is a five-star power forward from Waukee, Iowa, who 247 Sports has ranked as the fifth-best player in his class. He checks in at 6-foot-8, 200 pounds, and he’s in this post because there is a likelihood he takes a campus visit to Lexington next month. Biliew has long been recruited by Illinois, as well, particularly when Antigua and Coleman were on the staff. Since Antigua and Coleman joined the Kentucky staff, the communication between those two sides has apparently been maintained.
Since Biliew is only a sophomore in high school, he’s in a different situation compared to the high school juniors talked about above. He technically isn’t eligible to take an official visit to Kentucky as recruits must hit January 1 of their junior season before being allowed to do so. This means his trip to Lexington will likely be unofficial, where he and his family will have fit the bill. Regardless, there is mutual interest between Biliew and Kentucky, and getting him on campus will hopefully further that relationship.