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Kentucky “right there” for Jalen Duren, all hands on deck at Peach Jam

KSR

KSR

If Kentucky is out of the running for Jalen Duren, you wouldn’t know it by watching the coaching staff in action this weekend at the 2021 EYBL Peach Jam.

With college coaches allowed to attend the prestigious recruiting event starting Friday morning with the opening of the NCAA’s fourth evaluation period of the summer, UK head coach John Calipari was front and center to watch the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect in the class of 2022 take the floor in both of Team Final’s matchups, with assistant coach Orlando Antigua joining him for the first and Jai Lucas watching in the second.

As expected, Kentucky wasn’t alone on the jam-packed sidelines at the Riverview Park Activities Center in North Augusta. Miami (FL) head coach Jim Larrañaga and Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway were both there with their lead assistants, with the former sitting courtside with DJ Irving – Duren’s former high school and grassroots coach – and the latter sitting with basketball legend Larry Brown, who was hired back on July 8.

And that’s just the college coaches. Rod Strickland of the NBA G League was also in attendance for both games, meaning four of Duren’s final five options – Australia’s NBL being the lone holdout – were front and center to see the top frontcourt prospect in all of high school basketball.

To no one’s surprise, Duren – a 6-foot-10, 245-pound monster of a human – dominated in both outings, finishing with 17 points (6-8 FG), 11 rebounds and two blocks in a game one win over Seattle Rotary and 17 points (6-11 FG), 10 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal in a game two victory over Phenom University. Through five games, the five-star center is now averaging 15.2 points (60% FG), 10.0 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 1.6 assists in just 21.8 minutes per contest.

Duren is a man amongst boys at the high school level, and it’s why a reclassification to the class of 2021 is not only rumored, but expected at this point. The five-star center previously told KSR that a decision was expected at the end of the summer, with sources later telling KSR that we could hear an announcement in the coming weeks, potentially as soon as the conclusion of Peach Jam.

We’re coming down the home stretch of his recruitment, with one lucky college or professional organization expected to add Duren to the fold for the upcoming 2021-22 basketball season. Who will that be? Well, it depends on who you ask.

Two prominent national sources told KSR at Peach Jam that Miami holds firm as the current favorite in the back-and-forth battle, both believing Duren’s ties to Irving will win out in the high-profile recruitment. One individual familiar with the five-star’s thinking said he’s heard “nothing but pro” in recent weeks. Another source with direct ties to the 6-foot-10 standout’s recruitment believes Duren himself likes Penny Hardaway and his experience in the NBA as a four-time All-Star, while the family favors Kentucky and its pitch from a development and branding standpoint.

Behind the scenes, there is a belief that Duren can be swayed and the door is not closed for any of his five finalists, Kentucky included. In fact, one source told KSR late Friday evening that UK is “right there” in his recruitment and there is confidence within the program they can pull off the late upset.

Kentucky’s optimism stems from the fact that it is the only option on his list that has proven it can not only put players of Duren’s caliber in the league, but develop them into max contract superstars. You simply can’t say the same about Memphis under Hardaway or Miami under Larrañaga, and the jury is still out regarding player development in the G League — the five-star center previously told KSR development would be the biggest factor in his recruitment. As KSR’s Drew Franklin wrote Thursday, UK is also wildly confident in its name, image and likeness presentation for Duren, with his camp coming away quite impressed with the pitch on his visit and in the weeks since.

What adds to the intrigue is UK’s connection with Illinois center Kofi Cockburn, who announced Friday afternoon he would be returning to Champaign for a junior season. Multiple sources told KSR throughout his two-week recruitment that the second-team All-American heavily favored Kentucky and entered the transfer portal specifically to speak with the UK coaching staff. One well-connected individual told KSR on Thursday that a visit to Lexington was on the table and a decision was expected at the end of the month before the abrupt change of plans. Had things gone as planned on Cockburn’s end, there was a growing expectation that he would have ended up in Lexington, regardless of optimism on Illinois’ side.

Contact between UK and Cockburn was ongoing to start the week, but the 7-foot, 285-pound center announced Tuesday morning he would be making his final choice known to the public on Friday. By Wednesday morning, it was leaked to reporters both locally and nationally that a return to Illinois was imminent, with various media members specifically going out of their way to point out John Calipari – and only John Calipari – had not made contact with the prized center. Instead, the UK head coach was all in on Duren, who – despite having a trickier recruitment with more competition across the board – was the better fit for the team’s 2021-22 roster as a versatile big man capable of playing the four or five. Cockburn was an attainable get for the Wildcats, but Duren remains the top prize in the eyes of Calipari, one he has officially pushed all his chips in for.

Nationally, there’s skepticism regarding Kentucky’s chances with Duren. To be frank, it took quite a bit of digging before the first whispers of UK even came to fruition this weekend at Peach Jam. But – albeit ever-so-slightly – it’s there.

While it’s not as simple as Kentucky passing on Cockburn or the coaching staff having little-to-no interest, Calipari – for a multitude of reasons – chose not to push all his chips in on the top returning big man in college basketball. In a ‘one bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ scenario, the UK head coach chose to bet on himself and go with the bush.

Will that bet pay out? Kentucky believes it’s a possibility.

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

28 Comments for Kentucky “right there” for Jalen Duren, all hands on deck at Peach Jam



  1. WatchutalkinboutWillis
    7:11 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

    If development is truly number 1 to this young man the man not only should Kentucky be first but Memphis should be last. James Wiseman quit and Cisse transferee. What high profile big shot has Penny developed? At U.K. duren can make a fortune, develop into NBA elected level talent, play on a team that is loaded with complimentary pieces to his game. Have the opportunity to develop Different levels of his game depending on who is on the court with him.
    If personal connection to one guy for one year is most important pick Miami.
    If if making money without a brand is important pick G League.
    If going as far away as possible to get the least benefit is important, pick Australia.
    If being the next name on the list of Wiseman, Cisse, and now Duren seems appealing go to Memphis.
    If developing into a number 1 draft pick, developing an amazing brand, contending for a National Championship, and developing into a star on and off the court is important pick U.K…it is pretty simple.



    • Tom Bombadil
      8:28 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

      That is a great take TalkinWillis! I totally agree with you. And also most every big man that went to the University of Kentucky are currently flourishing in the NBA.
      Cmon down Mr Duren and develop your game and brand!!
      GO CATS!



  2. JT55
    8:00 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

    I think this was a big gamble and I’m afraid they’ll end up with neither.



    • WatchutalkinboutWillis
      8:03 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

      The team is good regardless. Duren is worth a gamble but Cockburn was too redundant with Tshiebwe.



  3. UKLugo
    8:35 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

    Well you better believe the NCAA will be putting us in Illinois’ bracket come March.



  4. Han
    9:38 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

    Gonna be so disappointed if we miss on him, which sucks because like a month ago we were all pretty much content with the roster we had with hopes Mintz could return. Then the Duren reclass and Cockburn transfer possibilities happened and everyone decided we had to have one of them.



  5. VirginiaCat
    9:40 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

    The “bird in hand” option was the smarter bet. Cockburn would have added redundancy to our front court and enhanced our chances for a title run. I don’t know how you pass-up a proven talent on thin hopes of landing Duren. Perhaps Cal knows something that justifies the gamble. If not, it was a foolish bet on a number of levels.



    • ClutchCargo
      11:33 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

      Total guess on my part here, but I can see how there might have been a line that shouldn’t have been crossed. Take Illinois’ coaching staff, then their best player using the former coaches? Coaches have to sleep at night, too. lol



    • tdub
      4:29 pm July 17, 2021 Permalink

      Clutch, that’s what I’ve been thinking too!



    • friendsofcoal
      10:57 pm July 17, 2021 Permalink

      Commitments in NCAA football don’t mean anything. I wish it was like basketball.



    • Thetruthshallsetbennyfree
      7:17 pm July 17, 2021 Permalink

      If your choices are do your job or be able to sleep at night, you need a new job.



    • ClutchCargo
      10:48 pm July 17, 2021 Permalink

      Benny, I could be way off on this. But there is definitely a code that basketball coaches follow that doesn’t exist in, say, football. For instance, they don’t continue to actively recruit a kid who have verbally committed to another school when the win at all costs approach would be to try to flip them right up until they sign.



    • snoopjdawg
      5:23 pm July 18, 2021 Permalink

      I agree.



  6. neat1ky
    9:54 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

    If no more additions I still love what we have this yr having added scoring experience and power at center



  7. TheMaxCat
    10:00 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

    He would play the 5 spot at Memphis. At UK he gets to play the 4 and 5, enhancing his stock. Jeffries was another Memphis inside player that went undeveloped and transferred. He has an NBA body, seems to be an unselfish player and has plenty of skills to work with. Miami has to only be an option because of a previous coach of his being there, there’s no other reason. Memphis offers Larry Brown/Penny and 30-35 minutes with a free reign every night in a mediocre conference. Kentucky offers a chance to compete everyday in practice against veteran talents and proven coaches. The national spotlight and a realistic shot at a Final four and the best prep for the next level.



  8. runningunnin.454
    10:03 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

    Oh boy, days (weeks) of articles about how we are a serious option, right there, up there, in there, in the race, and on the short list. About how Cal is going for gold, going for broke, reaching for the pie in the sky.
    Then the final big article about how UK was jilted, left high and dry, left at the altar…but we didn’t want him anyway.



    • TBW3011
      2:33 pm July 17, 2021 Permalink

      Yep. No way I believe we could’ve had Cockburn and just decided we didn’t want him. Not buying that for a second even though I’ve always preferred Duren, but doubt we get either now.



  9. JT55
    10:10 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

    I agree with Jon from CBS sports. As is, UK is top tier SEC team. Problem is there is no separation at the top. Duren would’ve provided that.



    • VirginiaCat
      10:16 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

      Yes, Duren would provide that, but that’s also true to a lesser degree of Cockburn. The latter was our bird in the hand, but UK decided to go for broke.



  10. Wildfelinebeeline
    10:17 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

    Knowing Cal’s track record with recruiting, I’d never completely count UK out. I think I would only be disappointed if we lost Duren to Memphis because there isn’t a logical reason why he would pick them. And while I hope Duren. picks UK, I also believe we already have a team that has all the pieces to win a national championship. I believe that no college basketball team is “unbeatable” even though there are a few teams that have won it all. I also learned a long time ago to not get heartbroken when we did lose one of these high profile recruits. After all, UK has lost its share of them. Again, many factors play into a kid’s decision. Some of which seem absurd to us. Go Cal. Go Cats! #GetDuren



    • runningunnin.454
      10:58 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

      Refresh my memory, when did we last get the No. 1 recruit? True, several of the decisions were influenced by back alley, under the table incentives; but prepare yourself, the bidding wars for the elite talent are just going to get worse…just like Dodge City and Tombstone, Arizona, the wild, wild West.



  11. catfan058
    10:24 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

    I feel like this is one of those recruitments where he ends up going to one of the places he has been rumored to favor (Miami, Memphis) and says yeah Kentucky was really my 4th or 5th option. Which I feel like at the end of the days not only rubs salt in the wound but also for some reason hurts with future recruits.



  12. WKY Cat
    10:34 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

    There are very few surprises with top recruits. At this point in the process there’s usually a heavy trend. I just don’t get that feeling here for UK. Sure hope we land him but I think he goes to Memphis. Just a hunch.



  13. eyebleedblue
    10:55 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

    Well written, Pilgrim.

    But honestly who cares about the other 4’s pitches. Seems simple. Come to Lexington and make 6-7 figures for a year on the biggest available stage for coaches who WILL prepare you and allow you to grow, while winning. NONE of the other 4 can say all those things. There is a reason his family wants UK, they know the mature lowest risk business decision only lands him in Lexington.



    • WKY Cat
      11:12 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

      I haven’t read is family wants him to attend UK. Did I miss that?



    • T-Town Cat
      11:20 am July 17, 2021 Permalink

      Last sentence of Paragraph 8.



  14. 2andToodleLoo
    12:26 pm July 17, 2021 Permalink

    To quote Duren himself – “if it’s not from me or my Mom don’t believe it.” End of story.



  15. jaws2
    10:24 pm July 17, 2021 Permalink

    “Duren is a man amongst boys at the high school level”. I’m not doubting this guys skill level but let’s face it, he’s playing against children now. Next year he’ll be playing against men in a lot of games. I never get to pumped up about any of these recruits and certainly watching them destroy kids that aren’t even competitive doesn’t impress me. I hope he comes here and I hope he’ll be all that, but I’ll wait and see how he does against SEC bigs before I get excited about it.