Welcome back for another edition of Pilgrim’s Insider Notes, where we’ll be breaking down all of the chaos we’ve seen in the world of Kentucky basketball and recruiting over the last week or so. We’ve got some new graduate transfer options to take a close look at, NBA Draft decision updates, and a big announcement coming up on Friday.
Let’s dive right in.
The most significant development we have over the last 24 hours is Kentucky’s interest in Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. Reports surfaced late last night that the UK coaching staff had serious interest in the Hokie power forward, with KSR confirming those reports.
Blackshear, a 6-foot-10 junior out of Orlando, FL, averaged 15 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists for Virginia Tech last season. He also finished in double figures in 28 of his 35 total games, including nine double-doubles on the year. Two of his biggest performances actually came against Duke, when the Hokie forward finished with 23 points and ten rebounds in their regular season matchup, and 18 points and 16 rebounds in their NCAA Tournament matchup.
While I don’t believe a commitment is imminent in the slightest, I can confirm that there is mutual interest and the expectation is that Kentucky will receive a visit. There is also a chance Blackshear tests the NBA Draft waters, though the expectation is that he will not receive the feedback he’s hoping for and will transfer elsewhere to play next season.
This morning, Kyle Tucker of The Athletic tweeted that Blackshear’s father had not heard specifically from John Calipari or the Kentucky coaching staff, which may certainly be the case. The Virginia Tech forward only put his name in the transfer portal just a day ago, so we’re still extremely early in the process. That being said, sources tell KSR that Kentucky has absolutely sent out feelers to Blackshear’s camp and has let them know they are interested. That interest was returned.
Outside of the Blackshear news, I reported last night that Kentucky also reached out to another prominent name on the transfer market. While I can’t reveal who that player is quite yet (it’s a name you guys would know), sources tell KSR that this would be in ADDITION to Blackshear joining the fold. When I am allowed to reveal the name, you guys will be the first to know.
Source tells KSR that Kentucky has reached out to not only Blackshear, but another very interesting available player on the transfer market. In fact, UK is interested in bringing in BOTH. https://t.co/CoVj1dm56T
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) April 17, 2019
While I can’t say who the mystery transfer is quite yet, I can tell you that it is not VMI guard and Rupp Arena legend Bubba Parham. I talked with Bubba’s mother last night, and she said that while he would likely have interest in the Cats if the opportunity presented itself, Kentucky has not reached out yet.
Parham is only a junior and will have to sit out a year no matter where he goes. While they certainly have respect for Parham’s game and believe he’s a solid player, Kentucky isn’t certain what the guard rotation will look like a year from now. They feel very confident about their position with several elite backcourt prospects in the class of 2020, and using another scholarship in this situation would be a bit of a risk.
Blackshear is the name to watch out for in the immediate future, while the other player in question is expected to take a little bit longer before narrowing down schools officially and taking visits. Whenever that may be, Kentucky will be in the conversation.
NBA Draft Decisions
This morning, Kentucky forward Keldon Johnson announced he would be keeping his name in the NBA Draft, following in the footsteps of both Tyler Herro (yesterday) and PJ Washington (last week).
When they both announced they were going to go through the process last week, they each specifically added in their press releases that they intended to keep their names in the draft if they liked the feedback they received. In fact, Johnson said specifically that he was hoping to become a lottery pick, giving fans some hope that he would slip outside that range and return to school for a sophomore season.
After realizing how much people were dissecting every word of the release, Herro was a bit more vague with his announcement, saying he was just hoping to be a “high draft pick.”
Over the weekend, they spent their time communicating with NBA teams and figuring out what pick range they would likely be falling in. Herro said this morning on KSR that teams told him he would fall in the 10-25 range, while Johnson said teams said he had a great chance of landing in the lottery.
They always wanted to leave for the NBA, and once they both got solid first round grades, it was a guarantee. As a reward, they went out and purchased an Audi RS 5 (Johnson) and a Maserati (Herro) and said goodbye to the Big Blue Nation.
Now, the only players left to decide are EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards, and Jemarl Baker (transfer).
While I do find it odd that we haven’t heard anything on those three quite yet, I do believe the most likely scenario is that all three return next year. I still think it’s possible one or both of Montgomery and Richards declare for the NBA Draft and see what they need to improve next year, but I just don’t anticipate them keeping it in there. As for a transfer, there have been rumblings about Montgomery looking at his options, but I don’t see him sitting out a year before playing elsewhere. He wants to get to the NBA as soon as possible, so I believe his two options right now are returning to school and improving with hopes of entering the draft next year, or taking a chance on himself and going the G-League league route. I like Kentucky’s chances of getting Richards back regardless.
With Baker, I heard last week that transferring to be closer to home wasn’t on his radar and that he enjoyed Lexington, but the fact that we haven’t heard a definitive announcement as of yet makes me think he’s definitely keeping his options open. If the roster stays at it is in the backcourt and he feels he can carve out a role as the go-to shooter off the bench, I think there’s a decent chance he returns. If Kentucky adds another guard via reclassification or transfer and it looks like the playing time he’s hoping for won’t be available, then I think a transfer is on the table.
According to several reports this afternoon, Baker has put his name in the transfer portal and will look to play basketball somewhere closer to home moving forward.
He said on multiple occasions throughout the season that as a California native, he’s homesick, and that certainly played a big part in his decision. Like I said above, I have heard that he genuinely enjoyed his time in Lexington and would’ve loved to stick around if his role on the team was more clear/significant going into next season. With Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, and Immanuel Quickley all set to play significant minutes, along with Kentucky also being interested in five-star combo guard RJ Hampton for 2019 (or if another solid graduate transfer opportunity presented itself), Baker saw the writing on the wall for next season. Combine that with the distance factor, and it makes sense.
Last week on the Insider Notes, I said that I felt pretty confident that Kentucky was out for 2019 five-star forward Matthew Hurt and that Duke was the likely landing spot. Then, Evan Daniels of 247 Sports came on KSR a few days later and said that while he felt good about the Blue Devils coming out on top, the Wildcats were likely No. 2 on his list and could make a push.
I have to be honest, that threw me off a bit. Admittedly, Daniels is the best in the business and his track record proves that. For him to say Kentucky still had a shot was significant to me.
After doing some more digging, I was told that Kentucky was working to put together one final visit before the decision and that they felt they could make up some ground. That visit did come together and was scheduled for Sunday, but was eventually cancelled because Hurt’s father, Rich, said they couldn’t fit in visits from all the schools trying to get one last shot at talking to his son. Instead, Hurt shut down his recruitment and will be making a decision on Friday based on what he already knows about all schools involved.
Some people have compared this situation to Kevin Knox’s recruitment a few years back. Knox was a quiet player and truly didn’t tell anyone where he was leaning, but analysts went with the buzz around Duke and North Carolina and assumed it was down to those two schools. The former five-star small forward shocked the world and chose Kentucky, telling people that no one had any idea where he was leaning and the rumors out there were false the entire time.
With this situation, though, I don’t think we’ll see a similar situation play out. In fact, I’d be shocked if Hurt’s decision is anything other than Duke. I’m told that Kansas – a longtime leader for the five-star forward – does not believe they will be the choice. North Carolina has some confidence and there has been a bit of growing buzz about the Tar Heels, but that decision would shock me, as well. Daniels thinks Kentucky is sitting at No. 2, but without them getting that final visit on Sunday, I just don’t see them jumping the consensus favorite.
I’m holding firm on my Duke pick.
Jordan Brand Classic
I will be flying out to Las Vegas tomorrow morning to see future Kentucky Wildcats Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney, and Keion Brooks Jr. in action at the Jordan Brand Classic. The big practice is scheduled for Friday morning, with Media Day festivities coming right after. If you have any questions you want me to ask them or specific recruiting updates you’re looking for while I’m out there, leave them in the comment section and I’ll make sure to get them addressed in the coming days.
While you’re at it, give me a follow on Twitter at @JackPilgrimKSR and feel free to reach out to me there about whatever questions you may have.
See you then.