Good evening, and welcome back to another edition of Pilgrim’s Insider Notes.
While my notes are usually focused on recruiting news and updates, this week will be a little different. With the Kentucky basketball team now back home until school starts back up in three weeks, we will be taking a look at how the summer workouts went and what we should expect when the season begins in the coming months.
Let’s dive right in.
Summer workout notes
Instead of jumping into the big-name guys, I’m going to start by throwing a bit of a curveball. While the attention has been on players such as Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey, one note specifically stood out to me from the rest.
Sources tell KSR that freshman wing Dontaie Allen is currently the best shooter on the team and that the Kentucky coaching staff’s long-term expectations for the 6-foot-6 forward have spiked since he arrived on campus this summer. In fact, despite Kentucky having ridiculous depth on the wing and Allen still recovering from the torn ACL he suffered back in January, sources tell KSR that the staff will have a hard time redshirting him this season.
During the recruiting process, a source close to Allen told KSR that a high-major Division I assistant coach felt the Pendleton County star was going to be the next Kyle Korver. And since then, he has bulked up and looks the part, despite still being slightly limited in what he can do both on the court and in the weight room.
“His body has changed already, and that’s without being able to do leg stuff,” one source said.
Allen is sometimes overlooked in Kentucky’s 2019 recruiting class because of his status as a four-star prospect, his recent spell of injuries, and the fact that he missed a good bit of his senior year, but as a long-term prospect, there is growing confidence within the program that he has a chance to be special.
Outside of Allen, another four-star freshman is also picking up serious buzz as time has gone on. 6-foot-7 guard Johnny Juzang was known as one of the best shooters in his class, and thus far, he has lived up to the hype in early runs at the Joe Craft Center. Matt Jones has talked about some of the whispers on the radio show and Kyle Tucker of The Athletic has touched on it on multiple occasions, including in a recent practice report post of his own, but Juzang’s skill isn’t limited to just perimeter jumpers. He has been able to score on all three levels, create shots for himself, and has been a strong finisher at the rim. He already came in with decent size and has never been afraid to take it to the basket, but one onlooker of several of the scrimmages the team has had throughout the summer was impressed with just how strong Juzang is in the paint.
John Calipari has been a guru when it comes to developing prospects deemed two or three-year players and turning them into one-and-done lottery picks, and there is already some buzz that Juzang very well could join that list.
In terms of the big-name guys, sources tell KSR that Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey have built great chemistry together and look the part of one of the best backcourt pairings in the SEC next season. As you’ve seen in his Instagram posts from basically the time he first got to campus, Maxey has been an absolute workhorse in the gym and has led the team’s “Breakfast Club” sessions in the mornings. In terms of specific on-court abilities, while I’ve heard Allen has been the best shooter on the team, Maxey and Juzang have supposedly been neck-and-neck for the No. 2 spot. I’m also told that the staff is feeling pretty giddy about Maxey’s defensive potential, especially alongside an elite perimeter defender like Hagans. Add in the fact that Immanuel Quickley has taken a major step forward – Kyle Tucker also went in depth on this – and Kentucky is in a great spot at the point guard position.
One note I will add about Hagans is that although he is thriving in getting to the rim and as a stud on the defensive end, as we saw during that elite stretch this past winter, I’m told that his jumper still isn’t where the staff wants it to be and that continues to be a work in progress. Hagans has been working with trainers and has been in the gym constantly trying to tweak it and find the right personal formula for consistency.
Moving on, I’m told that there have been some interesting battles between Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks Jr., with one source adding that either of them could earn a starting position right now. Brooks is more mechanically sound right now, though Whitney has an NBA-ready body. With Calipari interested in experimenting with small ball this season, either of those players would move to the four, likely allowing for Quickley to enter the starting lineup.
“We’re trying to bulk [Brooks] up more, but he’s definitely got the potential [to play the four],” one source said. “[Kahlil has the motor], he just needs to be more consistent. One of those guys is gonna separate themselves.”
We’ve discussed this on several occasions here on the site, but as far as the frontcourt is concerned, depth remains a slight concern for the staff and their pursuit of N’Faly Dante has not slowed down. That being said, they are confident in EJ Montgomery’s growth – he’s looking to take a PJ Washington-esque sophomore jump as a perimeter shooter – and Nate Sestina to provide a physical presence down low the way Reid Travis did. I also got the chance to see Sestina shoot a bit during the John Calipari Draft Academy last week, and he certainly looks the part from the perimeter, as well. He shot 38.0% from three at Bucknell last year, and there’s no reason he can’t provide something in that ballpark for the Wildcats this season.
If Nick Richards can be an 8-and-5 guy in 20 minutes per contest, the staff is confident in everything else falling into place. Add in Dante, things could get scary. If not, Whitney and Brooks will be fine small-ball fours.
All in all, I assure you we will hear “I like my team” comments from John Calipari by the time UK Media Day rolls around.
A few recruiting notes
Earlier this week, I released a 2,500 word Kentucky recruiting blueprint to use as a guide moving forward (I updated that with a section on Greg Brown III, as well), so I won’t be going too in-depth on recruiting in this edition of Pilgrim’s Insider Notes.
Here are just a few quick-hitters in the meantime:
- Corey Evans of Rivals.com recently said with relative certainty that Jalen Green will be heading to Memphis. While I respect Evans and definitely think he does a great job, I do not think he is giving Kentucky’s coaching staff – Joel Justus in particular – for the work they have put in and the relationships they have developed with Green and his family. I also don’t think he is factoring in Green’s relationship with Josh Christopher and their desire to play together in college enough, either. Memphis is still a strong contender, but UK is just as much in it, if not a bit more. If I were a betting man, I would say the odds are roughly 50% Kentucky, 40% Memphis, and 10% overseas.
- Greg Brown‘s decision to include Kentucky in his final five may have been a shock to the Big Blue Nation, but according to sources, this is something that both UK and Brown’s camp have been putting together for several weeks now. I still think Texas is the favorite, and Memphis remains a sneaky threat, but Kentucky has made up a ton of ground. It benefits the Cats that he is planning on waiting until the Spring.
- There has been some worry about four-star forward and Kentucky target Lance Ware scheduling four official visits and the fact that, despite being a rumored heavy UK lean, none of his trips being to Lexington. That being said, sources tell KSR that this is simply a logistics issue and that a visit to Kentucky is still in the works. The same remains for Jalen Green, Josh Christopher, and Isaiah Todd.
Sources Say Podcast
Moving on, we finally have a release date for the very first edition of the Sources Say Podcast. Jake Weingarten and Travis Graf of Cats Illustrated will join me on Wednesday, August 21 to debut the new show.
Our logo, courtesy of the phenomenal Brandon Owen (@75toRupp), is complete, as well:
We are still looking to add one or two sponsors to join us by the time we launch in two weeks. We’ve also added a package deal to the mix, where you now have the option to be the lead sponsor on both the Sources Say Podcast and my weekly Pilgrim’s Insider Notes post.
We’ll have another jam-packed recruiting edition of the notes next week.
See you then.