With the McDonald’s All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic, and Allen Iverson Roundball Classic all canceled this year, Kentucky fans weren’t granted the opportunity to see the latest recruiting class in action this spring. As great as the group is as a whole – they are the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation, after all – there is a bit of unfamiliarity with who these talented prospects are and what they bring to the table on the court.
As we closed the book on the 2019-20 campaign, we’ve published complete player profiles on the 2020 recruiting class, along with numerous scouting reports on the UK newcomers to help fans get a bit more comfortable with the team that will take the Rupp Arena floor this winter.
To keep the breakdowns going, KSR’s Jack Pilgrim and Zack Geoghegan decided to do a player-by-player comparison of the Kentucky freshmen, comparing the six signees with past UK standouts and familiar names in the NBA to help you get a better feel for their playing styles and what they may bring to the table in Lexington.
We’ll separate each comparison into three categories:
- Realistic player comparisons: A fair measuring stick based on potential, play style, and size.
- Former Kentucky player comparison: A player from the John Calipari era at Kentucky with similar traits.
- Unfair player comparisons: A best-case scenario, likely comparing to an NBA superstar – past or current – or sure-fire lottery-level talent.
Mind you, all players are unique and no comparisons are “perfect,” but hopefully you can use this as a simple measuring tool when preparing your notes for the upcoming season.
Realistic player comparison: Kevin Martin, Kelly Oubre Jr.
Former Kentucky player comparison: Tyler Herro, Kevin Knox
Unfair player comparison: Kevin Durant
Brandon Ingram is the player comparison player many analysts and fans have used for BJ Boston, and it’s easy to see why. Albeit longer, Ingram is a professional bucket-getter at 6-foot-7, a description the UK freshman would love to carry this year in Lexington and beyond. I’m going to go a bit off the beaten path, however, with former NBA guard Kevin Martin.
Over the course of 12 seasons in the NBA, Kevin Martin had six seasons averaging 20 points per game or more, including a 2008-09 campaign where he averaged 24.6 points per contest and 41.5% shooting from three. While it might not be the sexiest comp for a potential top-five draft pick in 2021, Martin was known for his quick scoring bursts and underrated athleticism that led to plenty explosive posters over the course of his career. Kelly Oubre Jr.’s size and length is eerily similar to Boston, as well, though the former Kansas star is a touch more explosive, while the future Wildcat projects as a better shot creator and pure scorer.
Realistic player comparison: Brandon Ingram
Former Kentucky player comparison: Jamal Murray
Unfair player comparison: Vince Carter
The current version of Brandon Ingram–the one who can shoot–gives me plenty of BJ Boston vibes. While Boston isn’t nearly as long as Ingram, they both possess an innate scoring ability combined with a slender frame used to slice through defenses. But it’s how they go about putting up points that are reminiscent of each other. At 6-foot-7, they have unusually impressive dribbling skills and can keep the ball on a string when attacking on offense. Ingram grew into an All-Star during the 2019-20 season and shades of Boston can be seen tailing behind him.
Realistic player comparison: Will Barton, Caris LeVert
Former Kentucky player comparison: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Archie Goodwin
Unfair player comparison: Tracy McGrady
Like Boston, you could go several different directions with Clarke’s comparison due to his elite versatility at 6-foot-7, 190 pounds. The five-star prospect is a natural fit at either position on the wing, drawing comparisons to the likes of Will Barton and Caris LeVert. Coming out of college, both Barton and LeVert were praised for their long, wiry frames, and the same can be said for Clarke’s unique body. While his shot continues to improve, the Kentucky newcomer’s ability to attack the rim with explosiveness and control is something both Barton and LeVert have thrived at in the league.
While he’s not a pure point guard – the UK coaching staff is, however, planning to use him as a situational lead guard as the year progresses – Clarke has a patient slither to his game, along with elite finishing abilities at the rim, that will remind fans of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Realistic player comparison: DeMar DeRozan, Victor Oladipo, Josh Richardson
Former Kentucky player comparison: Malik Monk
Unfair player comparison: Kobe Bryant
Terrence Clarke could go a few different directions with a player comparison. While Boston and Ingram mirror each other’s game, Clarke is pieced together like a puzzle of a wide array of hoopers. The way he scores the ball reminds me of DeMar DeRozan. His athleticism is equatable to Victor Oladipo. His body movements and style of play are straight out of a Josh Richardson highlight package. That being said, Malik Monk’s ability to explode during a moment’s notice lines up more directly with what I’ve seen from Clarke. Their athleticism is more undeniable than their desire to attack the basket.
Realistic player comparison: Kyle Lowry, Andre Miller, Jalen Brunson, Tyus Jones
Former Kentucky player comparison: Andrew Harrison
Unfair player comparison: Deron Williams, Steve Nash
Player comparisons for Devin Askew are a bit difficult, as the 6-foot-3, 210-pound point guard is known best as a pure shooter, but he boasts a strong base and isn’t afraid of muscling through defenders for finishes at the rim. Where the UK signee falls a bit short in lateral quickness and dribble separation, he makes up for it with competitive fire, leadership, and court vision.
When tasked with finding proper comparisons, the best I could do was pick and choose various traits from different players. Kyle Lowry is a smart, balanced guard who, like Askew, knows how to use his weight to his advantage when driving to the rim and can flat-out score the basketball. Jalen Brunson and Tyus Jones, two of college basketball’s best point guards over the last decade, are fierce competitors with a knack for winning. Oddly enough, I’m slightly intrigued by an Andrew Harrison comparison. While the 6-foot-6, 210-pound guard shot 38.3% from three as a sophomore – a rate Askew very well could match as a Wildcat – Harrison was a smart passer and strong finisher at the rim. Most importantly, the former Wildcat point guard helped lead Kentucky to two Final Fours and one national title appearance in his two years in Lexington, a resume Askew would certainly love to have by the time he leaves campus.
Realistic player comparison: Lonzo Ball, CJ McCollum
Former Kentucky player comparison: Marquis Teague
Unfair player comparison: Jason Kidd, Damian Lillard
Devin Askew is another player who reminds of a couple of individuals, mainly Lonzo Ball and Damian Lillard. Askew isn’t as proficient of a passer as Ball but shares a similar desire to keep his head up at all times and protect his dribble. If Askew can find even a tiny crevice, he’s going to try and sneak a pass through–and he’ll likely succeed. And while he’s obviously not the volume scorer that Lillard is (an impossible comparison in the first place), Askew can confidently score from every area of the floor just like the Portland Trail Blazers All-Star, even well-beyond the three-point arc. The incoming freshman’s best trait is as a game-manager.
Realistic player comparison: Thaddeus Young
Former Kentucky player comparison: Reid Travis
Unfair player comparison: Marvin Bagley III
The 6-foot-9 forward is an incredibly fluid and athletic lefty with one of the best motors in all of high school basketball. While he needs to continue to build strength – and he certainly has the frame to do so – Ware possesses a finesse game highlighted by a smooth fadeaway jumper, range out to 12-15 feet, and manageable ball-handling skills. Above all else, he is a tireless rebounder and rim protector.
As Ware continues to extend his range out to the perimeter as more of a versatile stretch four, 13-year NBA veteran Thad Young would be a smart player to attempt to emulate. At 6-foot-8, Young has made a living off of his grit and motor as a two-way player in the post, but possesses a solid 3-point jumper (career 33% shooter from deep) to keep defenders honest. Immediately, though, Ware will bring a tough-minded approach to the game reminiscent of Reid Travis’ style of play.
Realistic player comparison: Taj Gibson
Former Kentucky player comparison: Julius Randle
Unfair player comparison: Al Horford, Zach Randolph
Lance Ware isn’t going to be the most exciting player to watch, but he’ll be incredibly productive. I draw the comparison to Al Horford because of Ware’s quick passing touch and scoring ability around the rim. He’ll need to bulk up if he wants to make a Horford-like impact but the two share impressive basketball minds for big men.
Realistic player comparison: Robert Williams III
Former Kentucky player comparison: Nerlens Noel, Marcus Lee
Unfair player comparison: John Collins
At 6-foot-9, Isaiah Jackson is considered one of the most athletic forwards in the nation that thrives on the defensive end of the floor and on the glass. With solid instincts, timing, and patience, the Pontiac, MI native projects as an elite shot blocker at the college level. The same can be said for Robert Williams III, who averaged 11.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per contest in two years at Texas A&M. Now with the Boston Celtics, Williams is just now starting to extend his range and grow more comfortable taking mid-range jumpers, something Jackson has already begun working into his game. In terms of explosive dunks and natural shot-blocking ability, though, the former Texas A&M forward was tremendous at the college level and solidified his status as a first-round draft pick.
If he can be an efficient defender and make plays as a rim-runner early in year one, Jackson will be able to carve out a role in the rotation.
Realistic player comparison: Jerami Grant, Aaron Gordon, Marquese Chriss
Former Kentucky player comparison: Willie Cauley-Stein
Unfair player comparison: Rasheed Wallace
Isaiah Jackson, in my opinion, has a chance to be a longterm player at the next level. His athletic ability is already freakish and he can reliably knock down shots in and around the paint. Early in his career, most of his damage will come directly at the rim, but he has a soft touch on his release that will only get better with time. Jerami Grant is about as close to an NBA comparison as you can get with Jackson, (albeit without the outside shooting stroke) mainly due to power finishing and shot-blocking instincts.
Realistic player comparison: Charles Matthews
Former Kentucky player comparison: Kahlil Whitney, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Unfair player comparison: Miles Bridges
Known for his raw athleticism and college-ready build, Cam’Ron Fletcher is Kentucky’s biggest boom-or-bust prospect in the recruiting class. On one end, he’s explosive, long, and strong at a solid 6-foot-6, 195 pounds. At worst, he can be a legitimate defensive wing threat with easy corner 3-point shot and lob-catching opportunities. That’s a role Kahlil Whitney was supposed to take before leaving the program mid-year, and it’s the role Charles Matthews did ultimately take after taking his talents to Michigan.
On the other, Whitney and Matthews are perfect examples as to why it’s not easy to accept that role, especially from day one.
If he trusts the process under the UK coaches’ guidance, he absolutely could find himself drafted after two or three years in Lexington, helping Kentucky win plenty of games along the way leading up to that point. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was significantly more skilled than Fletcher at this stage – his status as a top-ranked recruit and No. 2 overall draft pick make that clear – but that style of player could be the “finished” product at UK prior to his jump to the professional ranks. It’ll be a process with the St. Louis native, but the reward will be there if he’s willing to take on the challenge.
Realistic player comparison: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Derrick Jones Jr.
Former Kentucky player comparison: DeAndre Liggins
Unfair player comparison: Paul George
Arguably the rawest player among this group, Cam’Ron Fletcher might have more potential than most. Right now, he shines through superior athleticism and an impressive frame. He projects as a player who can immediately come in and bring the house down with a thunderous dunk. His jump shot is shaky but he’s incredibly shifty on the attack, able to contort his body for tough finishes. The 2020 NBA Dunk champion Derrick Jones Jr. immediately comes to mind.