It’s no doubt been a quiet few weeks in sports, but as we all know, Kentucky basketball never really stops. That’s especially true in the recruiting game, and on Sunday, Kentucky fans learned of a new name to keep an eye on. In a report which first surfaced via Stock Riser’s Jake Weingarten, the Wildcats have connected with California wing Peyton Watson. The connection – based on what I’ve been told – happened over the weekend, with Kenny Payne reaching out to the 6’7 wing who has been one of the most fastest rising players in the entire 2021 class.
So with a new name on the recruiting radar, what do fans need to know? I reached out to a few people around Southern California are familiar with his game, recruitment and more to find out.
Here is what you need to know about Peyton Watson the newest player on Kentucky’s radar.
Watson emerged as essentially a Top 15 prospect essentially overnight
While it’d be unfair to say that Watson has emerged “completely out of no where” over the last year, it isn’t totally untrue either.
For starters, Watson plays at a school named Long Beach Poly which is known more for its football team (the school has produced current Steelers star Juju Smith-Schuster as well as Desean Jackson and others) than basketball. And on top of that, he largely came off the bench as a freshman and sophomore in 2018 and 2019, on what was then a veteran-laden team.
Then last summer happened, and Watson completely blew up. His recruitment hasn’t really stopped taking off since.
Watson began last April evaluation period unranked, but after a strong summer with “The Truth” AAU program on the EYBL circuit, found himself ranked in the Top 40 nationally by the end of the summer. And after a strong fall period and then winter playing for Long Beach Poly, he emerged as one of the truly elite prospects in the country. Watson is currently ranked the No. 1 prospect in the state of California, and is the No. 11 prospect in 247 Sports’ ranking of the top players in the 2021 class.
Considering that one player ranked ahead of him has already announced he will reclassify (point guard Khristian Lander) and at least a few more are expected to at least consider it (Jonathan Kuminga, Paolo Banchero) it doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say that by the end of the summer Watson could and probably will be a consensus Top 10 recruit nationally.
His game is that of a “new age” wing
When asking people who know Watson to describe his game, most agreed he’s what basketball people would call a “new age” or “modern” wing. While he wouldn’t be classified as a “point guard” at 6’7, he is certainly capable of handling the ball and taking opposing defenders off the dribble. As you can see in the highlight tape below, he is also able to stretch the defense with a deep three and – at least at Poly – even went into the post at times and played down low.
When I asked one person close to him to compare Watson’s game to someone, the names that jumped out were Paul George and Jayson Tatum, two versatile wings that again, can handle the ball, create on their own and score in a number of different ways.
The person was quick to clarify the statement after however, adding “I’m not saying he will ever be as good as those guys. That’s just the way he plays.”
His recruitment is mostly West Coast – at least for now
Not surprisingly, Watson’s recruitment really took off after his big summer a year ago. By the time the fall recruiting period rolled around, he had virtually everyone from the Pac-12 involved. He has offers from essentially every Pac-12 school of note, including Arizona, Arizona Staet, Washington, Oregon, UCLA and USC, not to mention fellow West Coast power Gonzaga.
And a number of the biggest names in college hoops were out to see him multiple times this past fall.
Little recruiting nugget: Source tells me that Arizona's Sean Miller, Washington's Mike Hopkins and Arizona State's Bobby Hurley will all be in tomorrow, to see Top 30 2021 prospect Peyton Watson. Visited Arizona a few weeks back, and the plan is to hit Washington this weekend
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) September 24, 2019
In terms of visits, Watson has already taken official visits to three of the power players out West, seeing Arizona in person last September, followed by a trip to Washington a few weeks later. More recently, he took a visit to Gonzaga in the spring.
But after a fantastic junior season…
His recruitment has begun to branch out beyond the West Coast
According to the person I spoke with, in recent weeks Watson’s recruitment has become more national than just regional. Texas Tech made contact for the first time a few weeks ago, as did Arkansas and head coach Eric Musselman and Texas as well.
Then of course, there was Kentucky over the weekend.
From my understanding, the conversation between Watson and assistant coach Kenny Payne was cordial, with Payne simply laying the groundwork and explaining that he is excited to see Watson back in action, whenever it is that actual basketball resumes and coaches are allowed in the gym.
What’s next and could Kentucky be a factor?
Well, like so much else in our larger society, it really is hard to say right now. With so much uncertainty, it makes it pretty hard to project what is next for just about anything.
And seemingly, it’s the same for Watson’s recruitment.
My understanding is that while it’s early, it’s probably fair to call Arizona, Washington and Gonzaga pseudo-leaders if only because they are the schools who’ve been in contact the longest. That doesn’t mean that Watson is unwilling to play college hoops away from the West Coast, just simply that the concept is new to him, beacuse up until a few weeks ago he was almost exclusively only hearing from West Coast schools.
Still, after a big spring and summer last year, expect Watson’s recruitment to continue to make big waves in the high school basketball scene.
He is a player that is certainty worth watching for most of college basketball’s biggest powers, including of course Kentucky.