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2020 five-star guard Josh Christopher earns Kentucky offer

Photo: Jon Lopez/Nike

Last week at the 2019 Nike Peach Jam, 2020 five-star guard Josh Christopher put on a show, averaging 20.8 points (43.4% shooting), 6.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 0.8 blocks per contest in five games.

And he did it with the Kentucky coaching staff three-deep at every single one of them.

Today, John Calipari made it official by offering the 6-foot-5 guard out of Lakewood, CA.

The top-ten prospect announced the news on his Twitter page this afternoon:

Last week, I asked Christopher what an offer from Kentucky, his “dream school” growing up, would mean to him.

“I mean, shoot, it’s Kentucky. It’s Calipari, he told KSR. “I think any player that’s in high school appreciates what Calipari brings to the table. Of course, being myself, a kid, you always watch Kentucky. You always watch guys like Anthony Davis, John Wall, stuff like that. Of course you appreciate that and take it into consideration [when making a college decision].”

Christopher added that as a kid, he wore Kentucky gear on a regular basis and was a diehard fan of the program. He even added that he’s had to purposely go out of his way to not wear UK logowear because he understands he’s a high-level recruit with interest from plenty other schools.

“I’ve worn Kentucky hoodies and stuff like that since I was in elementary school, early middle school,” he told KSR. “Of course, my recruitment, I have to calm down with the college clothing I put on. But I’m a fan of Kentucky, so we’ll see what happens when it comes to making my decision for college.”

Now, the Kentucky coaching staff has decided to give Christopher that opportunity to officially become a Wildcat and play in Lexington next year.

When could a decision come for the elite five-star prospect? Christopher said now that Peach Jam is over, he’s ready to sit down with his family and figure things out.

Could that include a college decision? He says it’s possible.

“I think after Peach Jam I’ll start to make some kind of decisions, talk to my family, see what they think, what’s good for me and what’s not, just wait on it,” he said. “I don’t know [about when I’d make a decision], whenever I feel the time is right, I’m just going to go with my heart, honestly. That could be the week after Peach Jam, it could be a year after Peach Jam, so whenever I feel it’s the time, I’ll make that decision.”

This is big, big news, BBN…


(Photo: Jon Lopez/Nike)

Kentucky is reportedly an option for 2022 phenom Emoni Bates

(Photo: Jon Lopez/Nike)

Kentucky is reportedly in solid position with the next generational basketball talent in 2022 five-star wing Emoni Bates.

Considered the top overall prospect in all of high school basketball, regardless of class, Bates has mentioned Kentucky and Michigan State as two likely college options if he decides to go to school.

In a recent post on 247 Sports by Evan Daniels, Brian Snow, and Josh Gershon, they reported that the top option for Bates is to go straight to the NBA if the one-and-done rule goes away, but if not, it could come down to the Wildcats and Spartans.

“The Kevin Durant comparisons aren’t far off, as their body types and the way they score their points are similar,” they said in the report. “His ability to create space off the bounce, pull up on a dime and pour in jumper after jumper left coaches salivating, despite the fact that they likely will never coach him. He’s a special talent. If the NBA allows high prospects to enter the Draft, that’s likely what Bates will do. The schools he has mentioned if the rule doesn’t change are Michigan State and Kentucky.

His father, Elgin Bates, told CBS Sports that it is a bad idea for college coaches to brush off his recruitment because they assume he’s going straight to the NBA when the league changes the rule in 2022, as expected.

According to the phenom’s father, not only is Emoni strongly considering college regardless of anticipated rule change, there’s a chance that official change falls through or becomes delayed, meaning he’ll have to explore the college route anyway.

“I believe the deterrent for most of the colleges is they probably feel he won’t ever step foot on a college campus,” he said. “I think it’s a wrongful assumption, especially for a kid who works as hard as he works and for a kid who’s proven that he’s worthy of getting scholarship offers. I definitely don’t think that’s fair to him, just due to the fact that, being a kid who anticipates getting offers because he sees guys in his class — not a knock on them — but guys in his class that might be lesser players that are getting offers and high-major offers. It would make him feel some type of way. But I always tell him to continue to remain humble, and at the end of the day, if they offer you too late and you don’t want to go, that’s their fault.”

At 6-foot-9, 200 pounds, Bates has already shown off an NBA-ready game, despite the fact that he still has three more years of high school and potentially one year of college.

You can see some of that on display below:


KSR

N’Faly Dante on potential reclassification: “If I can go (to 2019), I’ll go”

KSR

While the Kentucky coaching staff turns their attention to the top prospects in 2020 and 2021, one potential option for 2019 remains on the board.

2020 five-star center N’Faly Dante has flirted with a jump to 2019 for several months now, going through the proper academic avenues to make a reclassification possible, just in case the perfect opportunity presents itself.

Physically, he knows he’s ready to make the jump. Going into day three of the 2019 Nike Peach Jam, Dante has averaged 18.7 points (74% shooting and 67% from the free throw line), 13.0 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game in North Augusta, SC. This comes immediately after averaging 14.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game during the 2019 Nike EYBL regular season.

Needless to say, the 6-foot-11 center has been a dominant force on both ends of the floor against some of the best high school competition in the nation.

Academically, though, the hoops he still has to jump through to make a reclassification possible and the clock ticking louder and louder as time moves forward makes the situation an admittedly tough one for him.

“I feel like I can play [in college right now], but it’s all about school, you know?” he said. “But I don’t even think about [my reclassification] right now.”

Personally, he’s not dying to make the jump by any means. In fact, he said himself he’d actually prefer to stay in 2020 to avoid the stress of finishing things up over the next several weeks.

“Nah, [I don’t want to reclassify] really,” he said. “I don’t really know. Not really, though.”

That being said, he understands that he doesn’t have much left to prove at the high school level from a productivity standpoint and it might be best for his basketball future to make the jump now.

That’s why he’s planning on moving forward with it if he can get his academic situation in order.

“I mean, I don’t even think about [reclassifying]. I really don’t,” he told KSR. “I’m just focused on the work we are doing now. Maybe (I make the jump), I don’t really know. It’s not like I’m trying to go, but if I can go, I’ll go.”

But what’s left for Dante academically before he is able to move from 2020 to 2019? There was some speculation that it’s a specific test score his camp waiting on, namely the SAT, before he can even entertain the possibility.

While the five-star center didn’t say anything about a specific score, he did say he has some online coursework he needs to complete before anything else can happen.

“I have some [schoolwork] left,” Dante said. “I have an online class to finish up before I’m done with my junior and senior classes.”

With the “when” cleared up at least a little bit, now comes the “where.”

Kentucky, Oregon, and LSU have been seen as the three strongest contenders to land the 6-foot-11 center over the last several weeks, with the Wildcats picking up a bit of momentum when he decided to take an official visit to UK from June 27-29.

When asked about his trip to Lexington, Dante said he really enjoyed his time and learned a lot from the UK coaching staff.

“It was good,” he told KSR. “It was really good. We talked about a lot of stuff, the stuff I’m trying to know [about Kentucky and playing college basketball.]”

According to Dante, Kentucky says they have reserved a spot for him on the roster no matter when he wants to come. If he can get his academic situation in order and wants to join the 2019 class, they’d love to have him now. If not, they’d be more than happy to see him join the fold for the 2020-21 season.

“It doesn’t matter [when I come], they say whenever I want, whenever I want to come, they’d like to have me,” he said.

Outside of Kentucky, Dante said he likes Oregon because of the team’s chemistry both on and off the floor.

“It’s a school, they’re all good schools to me,” he said. “[But with Oregon], they all play together, work together. Whenever you see them, they are always together.”

He had similar thoughts about the Tigers.

“Same thing [as Oregon], anytime I go there for a visit, it’s always the same, they’re always together every time,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s just because I was taking a visit, but I always saw them together. They all play together and work hard.”

Are there any schools on his mind outside of Kentucky, Oregon, and LSU? Dante says there is one more program he is considering.

“I would say Tennessee,” he said. “I might visit Tennessee, I don’t know when, but I might.”

Do any schools or coaching staffs stand out from the rest?

“Not really, they’re all similar,” he said. “They all try and recruit me hard.”

When asked what was next for Dante after the AAU basketball season, the five-star joked that it’ll be time to go back to school, he just doesn’t know which one or what level it will be.

“I might go back to high school, I don’t really know yet, but I might,” Dante said with a laugh.


Top-ranked PG recruit Daishen Nix discusses visits, Kentucky interest

Top-ranked PG recruit Daishen Nix discusses visits, Kentucky interest

While most of the high school and college basketball world is centered at Peach Jam this week, one of the top players in America – and one of Kentucky’s top targets – was playing in a small high school gym, in front of a small contingent of big-time college coaches Thursday night right outside Los Angeles.

His name is Daishen Nix, a player believed – by most major recruiting services – to be the top-ranked point guard in America. Rivals.com and 247 Sports both have Nix ranked as a Top 15 player nationally as well.

And the 6’4 Nix was the center of attention at the Pangos Elite 80 event on Thursday, with a handful of college basketball’s biggest name coaches standing courtside for his game. Among them were UCLA’s Mick Cronin, Alabama’s Nate Oats and Washington’s Mike Hopkins, as well an assistant coach from Maryland. The University of Kentucky, a school which Nix has spoken highly of in the past, was not represented, although they are actively recruiting Nix as one of their top point guard targets in the 2020 class.

If you’re not totally familiar with Nix’s name it’s completely understandable, as to date, his recruitment has been relatively quiet. As previously documented by KSR, Nix’s recruitment has blown up over the last year or so after a big summer in 2018, and Kentucky first reached out to express interest in April when they visited him in his new home of Las Vegas (he is originally from Alaska). To date, he has yet to take an official visit, and has only taken two unofficial visits, to West Coast schools UCLA and Arizona State.

That will likely change though in the coming months, as Nix said that the plan is to ramp up the visit schedule around the start of the school year. The expectation is that Lexington will be one of the stops on the 6’4 guard’s itinerary.

“I plan on visiting the four schools that were here tonight [UCLA, Alabama, Washington and Maryland],” Nix said Thursday. “Plus, Kentucky and maybe Kansas.”

Yet even with the visit, don’t expect an announcement from Nix any time soon. Like so many elite high school players these days, Nix plans to wait until the spring (or possibly even the end of his senior year) to announce his college decision, to see what everyone’s roster looks like heading into his freshman season. In other words, the success of Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey could play a role in whether Nix ends up in Lexington or not. If it looks like both could be gone from Lexington in 2020-2021, that could be advantage Kentucky. If one (or in a shocking turn of events, both) look like they’ll be back, it could be a hinderance.

So that could be a disadvantage, but there two things working in Kentucky’s favor when it comes to Nix’s recruitment.

The first, is that he said that one of the keys in his decision (beyond what the roster looks like) is how the school develops point guards, and it’s something he’s certainly noticed at Kentucky. “There are a lot of guards coming from there,” Nix said of Kentucky and John Calipari’s program.

The other thing which could be advantage Kentucky (or Alabama or Maryland): Nix said that the location of a school won’t be a factor. Despite growing up in Alaska and moving to Las Vegas, he isn’t limiting his choices to only West Coast schools. But instead, what’s the best fit.

“My mom just wants me to play wherever it’s going to make me happy,” Nix said.

That could be a good sign for Kentucky as they pursue the top-ranked point guard in the 2020 recruiting class.


2019 Peach Jam Preview: Kentucky Edition

2019 Peach Jam Preview: Kentucky Edition

The 2019 Nike EYBL Finals are officially underway, as the highly-anticipated Peach Jam saw its first round of games in North Augusta, SC on Wednesday evening.

24 teams on the EYBL circuit are set to compete in the annual event, featuring several key Kentucky targets ranging from the class of 2019 (potentially) all the way through 2022.

With games running from Wednesday evening through Sunday afternoon, there will be a lot to keep track of and plenty of updates to be had, all of which can be found right here on KSR. I have my feet on the ground here in North Augusta and will be in attendance all the way through the weekend.

Let’s dive right in

What will N’Faly Dante do?

Arguably the biggest aspect of Peach Jam to keep track of is the status of 2020 five-star center N’Faly Dante and his potential reclassification to 2019.

As I wrote in Pilgrim’s Insider Notes last week, while Kentucky remains in a great spot to land the 6-foot-11 big man, there are a few academic hurdles – specifically a test score – he has to clear before a jump is even possible.

Dante wasn’t available for interviews last night, which wasn’t necessarily a surprise, as his media opportunities have been very hit-and-miss throughout the AAU season. The EYBL staff told me they’d do whatever they can to make sure he’s available today at some point, so hopefully I can have an update for you all available soon.

In terms of Dante’s on-court ability is concerned, it’s very apparent that he is capable of playing at the college level right now. While his competition in the frontcourt wasn’t phenomenal last night when his MoKan Elite squad took on MeanStreets, he was easily the most physically dominant player on the floor. At 6-foot-11, 235-pounds, Dante was able to out-muscle opponents in the post and use his ridiculous length to make plays on both ends of the floor.

Finishing with 19 points (9-13 shooting) and 12 rebounds in his Peach Jam debut, the Kentucky target looked like a man amongst boys.

If he can get his academic situation in order – and he’s certainly trying – Dante has no business playing another year of high school basketball.

Familiar faces mixed with fresh targets

In the past, Kentucky has had some of their top recruiting targets spread out throughout multiple different AAU circuits and events, forcing the UK coaching staff to divide and conquer when NCAA Evaluation Periods came around. With the class of 2020, though, the vast majority of Kentucky’s key guys are all on the EYBL circuit and have been for the majority of their travel ball careers.

Now, most of those guys are in attendance for Peach Jam this year, giving John Calipari and company a massive opportunity to dive in even further on their prime targets.

Guys like Dante, Sharife Cooper, B.J. Boston, Scottie Barnes, and Jalen Green, some of the very first prospects to land Kentucky offers, got things started on Wednesday evening. Newer offers such as Isaiah Todd (2020), Cade Cunningham (2020), Jonathan Kuminga (2021), Paolo Banchero (2021), and Terrence Clarke (2021) also made their debuts.

Here are some of the total numbers from the top UK targets:

  • N’Faly Dante (2019 or 2020, Mokan Elite): 19 points (9-13 shooting) and 12 rebounds (80-62 victory over MeanStreets)
  • Cade Cunningham (2020, Texas Titans): 31 points (14-20 shooting), 7 rebounds, 6 assists (101-86 victory over Seattle Rotary)
  • Isaiah Todd (2020, Nightrydas Elite): 22 points (10-13 FT), 10 rebounds (100-90 victory over MacIrvinFire)
  • Scottie Barnes (2020, Nightrydas Elite): 28 PTS (11-14 shooting), 6 rebounds, 5 assists. (100-90 victory over Mac Irvin Fire)
  • Sharife Cooper (2020, AOT): 28 points (10-16 shooting), (2-5 3-pt), 9 assists, 8 rebounds (84-81 victory over Woodz Elite)
  • B.J. Boston (2020, AOT): 26 points (10-20 shooting) and 9 rebounds (84-81 victory over Woodz Elite)
  • Jalen Green (2020, Team WhyNot): Statistics for Green unavailable right now…
  • Josh Christopher (2020, Vegas Elite): 29 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists (84-94 loss to Indy Elite)
  • Paolo Banchero (2021, Seattle Rotary):  28 points, (10-12 FT), 10 rebounds (86-101 loss to Titans)
  • Terrence Clarke (2021, Expressions Elite): 21 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds (63-86 loss to The Family)
  • Jonathan Kuminga (2021, NY Renaissance): 23 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists (70-89 loss to Boo Williams)

After the opening round, I caught up with Todd, Boston, Green, and Banchero about their recruitments, with all four having extremely positive things to say about John Calipari and the Kentucky program.

Those will be posted on the website throughout the day, along with whatever other recruiting news pops up, as well.

High-profile matchups

After the event got started with a bang on Wednesday evening, fans will be treated to several other elite matchups on the schedule throughout the day on Thursday.

For starters, Sharife Cooper and B.J. Boston’s AOT squad is set to take on N’Faly Dante’s MoKan Elite team at 9:00 a.m. ET. At the exact same time, Jalen Green of Team WhyNot will take on Isaiah Todd and Scottie Barnes of Nightrydas Elite. Cade Cunningham (Texas Titans) will also play at nine this morning.

And then at 10:30 a.m. ET, 2021 consensus top-five prospects Jonathan Kuminga (NY Renaissance) and Terrence Clarke (Expressions Elite) will take on one another in a battle of elite rising juniors (and potential reclassification candidates).

At 12:00 p.m. ET, Paolo Banchero of Seattle Rotary will take on an Alabama Fusion squad that actually features Kentucky football target Reginald Perry, a three-star defensive end out of Fairfield, AL. (Perry played just six minutes and failed to score in his team’s game against Team Durant, but it’s still interesting, nonetheless). 2020 five-star guard Joshua Christopher, who called Kentucky his “dream school” back in June, will also take the floor at noon.

After a long break in the afternoon, Terrence Clarke (Expressions Elite) will get things rolling again at 6:00 p.m. ET against Zion Harmon’s Boo Williams squad, as will Joshua Christopher (Vegas Elite) across the hall against Mac Irvin Fire on Court 6.

Cooper and Boston (AOT) will then take the floor at 7:30 p.m., as will Todd and Barnes (Nightrydas Elite) and Banchero (Rotary).

And then to close out Thursday evening, Dante (MoKan Elite), Cunningham (Texas Titans), Green (Team WhyNot), and Kuminga (NY Renaissance) will all take the floor on separate courts at 9:00 p.m. ET.

Evaluation period

On Wednesday night, Peach Jam participants played in front of packed crowds limited to just media members and fans. But starting on Thursday, the NCAA Evaluation Period for July gets started, meaning college coaches will be able to watch from the stands and on the sideline instead of streaming it live online (you can find that stream here if you’re interested).

One of those coaches? John Calipari, who is expected to be in attendance for the event with as many as three UK assistants with him.

Over the past decade, #CoachCalWatch has been a major aspect of all the major AAU circuits and high school basketball tournaments, specifically here at KSR. While the on-court numbers and highlights are obviously important for Kentucky fans to see, finding out who the coaching staff is making a priority for the future is also right up there for the BBN.

Be prepared for that and more when the coaches trickle in and games start back up again this morning.


Pilgrim’s Insider Notes: N’Faly Dante, Jalen Johnson, and other pre-Peach Jam notes

(Photo: Instagram/@nfaly_dante12)

Good evening and welcome back to another edition of Pilgrim’s Insider Notes. Last week, we discussed some of the top prospects in 2020 and 2021 and where Kentucky stood with each of them.

This time around, we’ll focus on N’Faly Dante’s visit/reclassification talk, Jalen Johnson’s decision, and a few other quick notes, keeping it a bit shorter than usual before going all-in on Peach Jam next week.

Let’s get started.

N’Faly Dante

When Kentucky brought in N’Faly Dante for an official visit last week, it became fairly obvious that signaled that while UK understood they were likely out of the Kerry Blackshear Jr. sweepstakes, they were serious about adding one more piece to the 2019-20 roster.

While there were initial reports that Dante would not be reclassifying, I was informed almost immediately that this was not true and that a decision on that had not been made. In fact, going into the visit, sources tell KSR that the five-star center was still working toward getting his academics in order to see if a jump to 2019 was possible. This remains the case.

As far as the visit to Kentucky is concerned, things went extremely well and I’m confident that they now are one of the co-favorites, if not the favorite, in his recruitment. Going into the trip, Oregon and LSU were seen as the top landing spots, while Kentucky and Kansas were not far behind as the dark horses. Now, I believe Kentucky and Oregon are the top contenders, with the Cats likely having the slight edge. In fact, I think he’s Kentucky’s to-lose if he is able to reclassify to 2019.

Oregon has been involved for quite some time, and I’ve been told that his guardian pushed for the Ducks a bit early on in Dante’s recruitment. Now, though, sources tell KSR that those close to the elite shot blocker are very much open to the idea of him ending up in Lexington. This bodes well for the Cats.

In terms of his reclassification decision, I am told that a jump is still very much on the table if Dante can get his academic situation in order. KSR’s Matt Jones reported on the radio show late last week that the five-star center is still waiting on a test score (among a few other things) before he can even entertain the possibility of reclassifying to 2019. While I’m not sure what that test is, I’m told that there is no update on the status of that as of yet.

Overall, it won’t be easy and there are several moving parts to make it work in a limited amount of time. As long as that window of opportunity is available, though, they’ll continue to make that push.

Regardless, Dante is set to participate at Peach Jam this week, something he has been openly looking forward to since last year. While the academic side of thing is the biggest area of importance right now, he would not have been eligible to participate next week if Dante officially announced his reclassification earlier, which I think has also played a factor in all of this.

Starting on Wednesday, I’ll be able to ask him personally about where things stand and when we should expect a decision either way.

Jalen Johnson

On Thursday evening, 2020 five-star small forward Jalen Johnson chose the Duke Blue Devils over Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Arizona, a decision that really didn’t shock anyone. He turned heads a while back when he said UK was his “dream school” growing up, but even then, nobody took it too seriously. While I think Kentucky was the No. 2 school on his list (I never bought the Wisconsin rumors), most conversations I’ve had with those familiar with his recruitment felt he has always seen himself eventually playing for Coach K in Durham, NC.

While the UK coaching staff will never back down to any program on the recruiting trail, it’s been fairly obvious that they’ve been prioritizing other top prospects over the last few months, likely understanding that Johnson was heavily favoring Duke. The main target of emphasis? 2020 top-five prospect Jalen Green, who the Kentucky coaches have visited all across the country and even overseas in Greece during the FIBA U19 World Cup last week.

Which leads me to my next topic…

Jalen Green

With Johnson headed off to Duke, momentum with Jalen Green is growing heavily in favor of the Wildcats right now.

Last week, I wrote that Kentucky had put themselves in solid position with the 6-foot-5 prospect, and today, that was confirmed by Larry Vaught of VaughtsViews.com.

In an interview with Vaught, Green’s trainer, Marcus Green, said Kentucky has always been one of the elite prospect’s favorite schools and he plans on exploring the Wildcats “in-depth” during his recruitment.

“He grew up following Kentucky,” Marcus Green told Vaught. “Kentucky is one of his dream schools. One thing I told Coach Cal was that it was rough on him because he offered some other players before him and Jalen was ranked No. 1 (in the 2020 class at that time). Calipari broke it down for him and kept it 100 percent truthful. That’s why he has put Kentucky in the spot it is now and that remains his dream school. … One of his priorities is to make sure he explores that in depth.”

Kentucky hasn’t landed a top-five prospect since Skal Labbisiere in 2015, and I think Green just might be that guy to end the streak this season. Seeing just how hard the UK coaching staff is recruiting him, especially over the last few months, I think they realize that too.

I continue to feel good about Kentucky’s chances with Daishen Nix and BJ Boston, as well, pairing those two up with Green to make up the team’s starting backcourt in 2020-21.

Boston recently picked up two predictions in favor of the Blue Devils on his Crystal Ball (from two Duke writers, mind you), though I think that mostly has to do with UK’s momentum with Green and the assumption being that Boston and Green wouldn’t play together in college. As I wrote last week, sources tell KSR that this narrative is false and that they wouldn’t mind sharing the same backcourt. I still believe Boston favors Kentucky.


We’ll have more on Kentucky’s top 2020 and 2021 targets next week at Peach Jam.

See you then.

@JackPilgrimKSR