A little over a week ago, it was looking like Kentucky was set to miss out on Matthew Hurt and Jaden McDaniels was trending toward Washington, leaving the UK coaching staff scrambling to find one final piece to close out the frontcourt.
And then on Wednesday morning, Jemarl Baker announced he was entering the transfer portal and leaving the school. Again, Kentucky was left searching for his replacement in the backcourt.
Now, it’s looking like the Wildcats have two legitimate options for next season that we could see join the fold in the coming weeks.
Let’s jump right in.
This afternoon, 2020 five-star small forward Johnny Juzang made headlines after writing on Twitter that he has a “big announcement” ready to make tomorrow evening at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Big announcement tomorrow @ 4:30pm PST !
— Johnny Juzang (@JohnnyJuzang) April 23, 2019
Why is this significant? Because this comes just four days after the Kentucky coaching staff flew out to Studio City, California and offered Juzang a scholarship face-to-face at the conclusion of an in-home visit. To take it a step further, the reclassification rumors we’ve heard with the 6-foot-7 small forward over the last week or so are growing even louder since the weekend, with one report released this afternoon going as far as to say he is “seriously” considering a jump.
Put two and two together, and you’re looking at Juzang being a legitimate option for Kentucky in the class of 2019.
Before we dive into today’s report, let’s break down what happened during John Calipari and Joel Justus’ visit out to California on Friday. From what I understand, Kentucky discussed reclassification options during their visit and offered him a scholarship for both 2019 and 2020, whenever he wanted to find his way to Lexington. While they let it be known that they love his game and would be okay with him playing for Kentucky no matter when he wanted to come, the preference is for him to join UK’s class of 2019.
With Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, and Jemarl Baker all leaving the program, the Kentucky coaches outlined a very specific role for Juzang to fill at the shooting guard and/or small forward spots. They have a need for shooting next season, and with Juzang considered one of the most talented shooters in the class of 2020, the fit is obviously there. He averaged 23 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game as a junior, also shooting 43.4% from three on the Adidas circuit last summer.
Moving on to today’s report, Evan Daniels of 247 Sports broke two big tidbits of news on Juzang, the first being that the silky-smooth forward was strongly considering a jump to the class of 2019, and the next being that he will be officially visiting Kentucky starting on Monday, April 29. He went on to say that he has been told that while nothing is set in stone, Juzang is “honed in on” reclassifying.
After doing some digging since then, I can confirm that the expectation is that he will announce he is beginning the process of putting everything in order (academic credits, etc.) to make the jump to 2019. It is my understanding that Harvard-Westlake, Juzang’s high school, does not have an early graduation program for students, though his family believes they have a path in place that will allow him to make the jump happen.
As for a timeline on a decision beyond that, while I don’t think Juzang will be committing to a school tomorrow night, I do believe Kentucky feels they can wrap things up and secure a commitment next week when the five-star wing officially visits. There is significant chatter that he will be looking to wrap his recruitment up shortly, which certainly bodes well for the Cats. The mutual interest is there, and I genuinely wouldn’t trade Kentucky’s position with anybody else’s right now.
I’m going to be writing an in-depth feature/analysis of Juzang’s game and what he would bring to the table for Kentucky sometime tomorrow. Be on the lookout for that, as well.
Kerry Blackshear Jr.
While Juzang is emerging as a serious possibility for Kentucky next year, things are getting weird with Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr.
A week ago today, sources confirmed to KSR that Kentucky was in contact with the 6-foot-10 redshirt junior out of Orlando, FL. The very next day, Blackshear’s father told Kyle Tucker of The Athletic that he hadn’t spoken with anyone from UK.
And then last night, Corey Evans of Rivals.com reported that John Calipari completed an in-home visit with Blackshear Jr.
— Corey Evans (@coreyevans_10) April 22, 2019
Once again, Blackshear’s father refuted the report not long after, telling Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog that the meeting did not happen, though he is in the process of setting one up with the Kentucky coaching staff.
FWIW, Kerry Blackshear Sr. told me just now he did not meet with John Calipari today. "That wasn't the case."
He said they're working on a date. "We're trying to figure that out right now as we speak.'
— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) April 23, 2019
While it’s tough to cut through who specifically visited with and/or made contact with those in Blackshear’s camp, KSR can confirm that the Kentucky coaching staff has been in consistent contact as a group and there is mutual interest between both parties. While I believe Zagoria is a reliable reporter and don’t doubt that Blackshear’s father gave him that quote, everything I’ve been told also indicates that the UK coaching staff did, in fact, make the trip down to Florida to make a visit.
Before he dives into the recruiting process, though, he will test the NBA Draft waters over the next few weeks, his main priority right now.
Like Reid Travis did last offseason, Blackshear will go through the draft process to receive feedback, though it is likely teams tell him he needs to return to school for one final season. He’s a tremendous college basketball player, but his stock just isn’t high right now, as he isn’t featured on any major draft boards or mocks. The expectation is that while he is hoping to impress teams enough to take a shot on him in the 2019 draft and that is the preferred scenario, he will come back and transfer to another school after the deadline passes on May 29.
As of today, Texas A&M, Florida, and Kentucky are likely the top three schools on Blackshear’s (very loose) list. For A&M, there are obvious ties with head coach Buzz Williams, who has been with Blackshear throughout his tenure at Virginia Tech. With the Gators, they are the hometown school and he could play one final year close to his friends and family back home. And with Kentucky, he saw what Reid Travis was able to do for the Wildcats, and Blackshear feels he could fit that role perfectly, which is what the UK coaching staff is pitching.
Kentucky has made it clear to Blackshear’s camp that he is likely their top priority and a need to close out their class of 2019. A gifted offensive player with tremendous rebounding skills, Blackshear would be able to step in from day one and provide a similar skillset to both Travis and PJ Washington. While the novelty of playing close to home and playing for the coach he’s extremely familiar with are there, the combination of need and fit for a perennial powerhouse in Lexington is extremely intriguing for the 6-foot-10 forward.
We’re still early in the process here, and there is certainly some strong competition, but I like Kentucky’s chances.
Both EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards announced this past week that they would be testing the NBA Draft waters, a move that makes complete sense for both individuals. In fact, I think it’s in the best interest of all players to capitalize on the resources available to them while in college to prepare them for when that official jump to the league does happen.
That being said, it’s clear that neither player is remotely close to being ready to play in the NBA, and I think they understand that. There were some rumblings late last week that a transfer may have been possible for one of them, but now, I think that’s not on the table.
Kentucky is operating under the assumption that both players will eventually return to school after receiving feedback from NBA teams over the next few weeks.
Beyond those two, the NBA Draft process is over for the rest of the Wildcats. Washington, Tyler Herro, and Keldon Johnson are keeping their names in the draft, while Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley are both returning to school.
Now, we will wait to hear final decisions from Montgomery and Richards, which are expected to be favorable ones for Kentucky fans.
Closing out the 2019 class
As mentioned above, if I were a betting man, I’d say Kentucky closes out the 2019 class with both Juzang and Blackshear Jr.
From there, though, things get tricky. They technically would have an open scholarship spot, but as for playing time? Not so much.
If you assume both Montgomery and Richards return with both Juzang and Blackshear Jr. joining the fold, you are looking at scholarships from:
Ashton Hagans/Immanuel Quickley
Tyrese Maxey/Johnny Juzang
Kahlil Whitney/Keion Brooks Jr./Dontaie Allen
Kerry Blackshear Jr./Nate Sestina
EJ Montgomery/Nick Richards
That’s as legitimate of a two-deep roster you’ll find in the nation next season.
After Nate Sestina committed to Kentucky, I was told that the UK coaching staff was looking to add two more pieces to close things out, with a third being a tight squeeze, but manageable if the right situation came about.
As for who those candidates might be, we brought up Nevada transfer Jordan Brown last week, and five-star forward Jaden McDaniels is also still on the table. I was told before that Kentucky would be open to accepting commitments from both Blackshear Jr. and Brown, as the latter would be forced to sit out a season due to NCAA transfer rules. He’d fill up an available scholarship – Division I schools are allowed 13 – but wouldn’t take up playing time. He’d simply provide an extra body in practice and work against other talented frontcourt prospects to better his game for the 2020-21 season.
As for McDaniels, I would bet at this point that he ends up committing to Washington. He told me several times, both at the McDonald’s All-American Game and at the Jordan Brand Classic, that there is “nothing like playing close to home,” and there have always been rumblings that he’d prefer to shy away from the spotlight and play a bit off the radar for one of the west coast schools. With the deadline to sign a National Letter of Intent being on May 15, one would think his decision will come in the next three weeks. He could end up just signing scholarship papers and dragging this process out even further, but I believe he’ll head home after the Iverson Classic this week and move toward a decision before the deadline.
Nonetheless, Kentucky is left with two significant options for the 2019-20 season, with that looking even more likely if Juzang announces he is reclassifying, as expected, tomorrow evening.