Today is the big day, Big Blue Nation. Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. is headed to Lexington on an official visit, and if he signs on the dotted line as hoped, Kentucky will likely have the No. 1 team in all of college basketball going into the season.
In this edition of Pilgrim’s Insider Notes, we will dive into the big decision, how other schools feel about this recruitment, Kentucky’s pitch, and a timeline on when we should find out his final destination.
After breaking down Blackshear, I’ll also be touching on the class of 2020 and some of the rumblings I heard at the NBPA Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend.
Let’s dive right in.
Kerry Blackshear Jr.
On Sunday evening, Kentucky fans were treated to news of Kerry Blackshear Jr. visiting Kentucky starting on Tuesday evening, with Jake Weingarten of Stockrisers.com first breaking the story, followed by KSR and recruiting insider Evan Daniels of 247Sports also confirming the report.
And then on Monday, Weingarten followed it up with even more breaking news that left the BBN salivating, saying that there was “major” mutual interest between Blackshear and Kentucky.
More on my Kentucky-KBJ report yesterday: Hearing the major interest between the two sides are mutual, UK is extremely hopeful they could land Blackshear on this visit. Texas A&M still vying for a visit. https://t.co/jNQnKwGqBC
— Jake (@jakeweingarten) June 17, 2019
I wrote in my notes back in April when Blackshear originally put his name in the transfer portal that not only was Kentucky one of the first schools to reach out to the 6-foot-11 big man, they also wanted to make sure they met with their family face-to-face before he got into the grind of the NBA Draft process. Not long after, multiple outlets reported that contact was made and an in-home visit was held at the family’s home in Orlando, FL.
For whatever reason, though, those reports were originally denied by Kerry Blackshear Sr. before he eventually backtracked and admitted both parts of the story were true. Why was he so open about other schools reaching out but wanted to keep Kentucky’s interest hidden? At the time, many assumed it had to do with Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery still being undecided on their futures, but it has always been a bit odd to me that the Blackshear family was willing to keep things quiet for the UK coaching staff.
To take it a step further, I also reported in my notes back in April that one source told KSR that if Blackshear were to withdraw from the NBA Draft, Kentucky would be the likely option. At the time, the original plan for the 6-foot-11 forward was to keep his name in the draft and continue to explore his professional options even if he went undrafted, so this source essentially brushed off the idea. Now that he’s absolutely playing college basketball next season, that conversation lingers with me.
In terms of the visits he has taken – Florida, Arkansas, and Tennessee – there are conflicting reports about each school’s confidence in landing the prized big man. For starters, I’ve seen a few reports that Florida is out of the running completely, but I genuinely don’t believe that is true. I talked to one source down in Gainesville that feels that while they aren’t necessarily the favorite they once thought they were, they definitely feel they still have a shot. They wished they could have sealed the deal during the visit, but they are confident if Blackshear goes home after his visit to Lexington uncommitted, they are still right in the thick of things.
After Florida, Blackshear made a surprise visit to Arkansas, with several recruiting analysts saying they felt the Razorbacks actually had a strong shot to land him. While I trusted some of the individuals who made these reports, I just didn’t buy it then and I don’t buy it now. Eric Musselman has a strong history with graduate transfers and I have also heard there are strong family ties between Blackshear and the Arkansas coaching staff, which could have been a big part of the original rumors. But to spend one final year in Fayetteville before heading off to play professionally? I’ll eat my hat if it happens.
As for Tennessee, I have heard that there is not much confidence in Knoxville right now that Blackshear will end up playing there, especially after he left campus without committing. They felt their pitch was strong during the visit and there is playing time to be had with Grant Williams now headed off to the NBA, but with a visit to Kentucky coming and another potential one to Texas A&M afterward, they aren’t happy they couldn’t lock things up this past weekend. The staff hasn’t shut down the possibility completely – again, the visit did go well – but I am told that they aren’t very optimistic that the talented transfer will be in Knoxville next season.
With the other schools that have been mentioned in this recruitment – Texas A&M, Gonzaga, and Memphis – I don’t see any of them being serious contenders. The latter two likely won’t even get a visit before a decision is made. When it comes to the Aggies, I am told that Blackshear and his family has incredible respect for Buzz Williams and they were hoping to give him a visit out of pure courtesy. Evan Daniels says that still might happen, but I think it all depends on how it goes with Kentucky over the next two days. At first, I thought it was a close race between Kentucky, Florida, and Texas A&M, but after putting together all of the conversations I’ve had over the last week or so, I don’t think they will be the final landing spot. Blackshear wants one final run at a championship while building his NBA Draft stock as much as he can, and he realizes the best two places to make that happen are Kentucky and Florida.
Which brings us to our final topic of conversation: the Kentucky visit.
The Kentucky coaching staff has been up-front from the start about their overall interest and desire to get him on campus at some point. I’m told that Blackshear and his family made it clear that the plan all along was to visit Lexington once the recruiting process got going.
And now that the trip is finally happening, Kentucky is confident they can make it his last.
I’m told that the UK coaching staff feels strongly about their chances and that their pitch is the strongest among all contenders. With PJ Washington off to the NBA, they are set to show him that he can replace his production and consistency in the frontcourt en route to a Final Four run. Blackshear wants one last chance at a national title and to build his draft stock a bit in the process. He’s not going to magically become a lottery pick in just a year, but if any coach can help him become a sure-fire draft selection, it’s Coach Cal. And he knows that.
Take it for what it’s worth, but I’ve also been told from one individual that Blackshear may have already told his family that he wanted to go to Kentucky and has planned on signing on this visit all along, but he wanted to take some of these other trips to keep his options open and make a complete decision. I’m not sure if this was at the request of his family or if it was a joint decision, but I think there is legitimacy to that rumor.
Based on everything I know, I believe Kentucky gets a signature from Blackshear before he leaves campus. And if not, I feel he will go home, talk things over with his family, and still ultimately decide to commit to Kentucky.
If we don’t hear news of a trip to Texas A&M, I believe a decision will come as early as Wednesday in favor of the Wildcats. If he does visit College Station, I expect that to take place this weekend with a decision coming not long after.
Regardless, I expect Blackshear Jr. to join Kentucky’s 2019-20 roster sooner rather than later.
2020 recruiting class
I spent the latter part of last week and into the weekend in Charlottesville, VA at the NBPA Top 100 Camp where I got the chance to talk to several of Kentucky’s top recruiting targets for both 2020 and 2021.
Because I couldn’t get around to a notes post last week while I was covering the event, I’ll be posting a few quick updates today and then posting a bigger recruiting update on Thursday evening.
Makur Maker, the No. 2 prospect in the class of 2020, has seen his stock rise exponentially over the last several months.
As a result, all eyes are on his recruitment to see which college program will land the 7-foot center with elite guard skills.
While just about every school in the nation will be recruiting Maker, sources tell KSR that there is a bit of uncertainty regarding his basketball future. On one point, I have been told that there is definitely a pull for the five-star forward to go professional right out of high school, following in the footsteps of his cousins Thon and Matur.
“Zero percent chance [his guardian] lets Makur play college hoops,” one source said.
On the flip side, I have also heard that those close to Maker want him to play basketball at the college level because they saw the struggles Thon has had adjusting to the NBA and feel he needs to mature a bit physically.
In fact, in an interview with Ben Roberts of the Herald-Leader, Maker’s guardian, Ed Smith, touched on that specifically and said Makur will absolutely be playing college basketball next year.
“Everybody thinks he’s not going to college,” he said. “They’re like, ‘Ah, Ed’s going to send him pro.’ That’s how it is. … But [those schools] are going to be trying to come in late when they figure it out. Then they’ll be behind the game.”
If he goes to college, I think Kentucky has a very good shot to land the skilled center. Maker told KSR that he will be visiting Lexington soon and that he is highly interested in the Wildcats.
BJ Boston/Daishen Nix
Early on in the week at the NBPA Top 100, I was told that two of the top guards in the class of 2020, BJ Boston and Daishen Nix, had genuine interest in playing with one another in college, and that would likely be at Kentucky. They had been developing chemistry together from the moment they arrived on campus together, and sources tell KSR that they had those discussions with one another not long after.
Later on in the week, I asked them both about the rumors, and they said there is definitely truth to the speculation.
“It’s up to him, I don’t know where I want to go right now. I probably won’t be making my decision until later,” Boston said. “But for me, I need a passer to join me where I decide to go to school.”
For Nix, he said he would be happy being that passer Boston is looking for.
“He’s a scorer, he can score from wherever he wants, get wherever he wants on the floor,” he said. “And I like that. If I get him the ball, he can do his thing.”
And he hopes it happens.
“Hopefully,” the No. 1 point guard in America said. “I’m not sure yet, but hopefully.”
After talking to more people this week close to both of their recruitments, I feel that Kentucky is the strong favorite to land Boston right now, and they are definitely trending for Nix. The star point guard told KSR that he feels an offer is coming and that he can’t wait to meet a “legend” like John Calipari. He says he’s nowhere near a decision, but I believe the UK coaching staff is ready to put on the full-court press for the top passing guard in the nation.
If I were a betting man, I’d say Kentucky’s starting backcourt in 2020-21 consists of both Nix and Boston.
I’ll be back with more on Thursday.
Until then, follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR