It’s officially October and if we thought this past weekend was a big recruiting weekend this will be a monster of a month. The Cats will host nearly a dozen targets over the next month, maybe more, and it leads into the early signing period in November when the Cats will hope to sign at least five players. Plus, the premier recruiting event of the year takes place this month- Big Blue Madness. But we’ll have all month to speculate and talk about recruiting happenings in October.
For now we need to discuss Isaiah Stewart and Oscar Tshiebwe’s visit to Lexington this weekend.
Kentucky has more momentum with Stewart than any other player in 2018. For a player that Kentucky started recruiting just a few months ago it appears the Cats lead and it’s somewhat unbelievable. Stewart’s visit to Kentucky went great and it’s because of that visit that you’re starting to see more and more Crystal Ball picks come in for Stewart, including Evan Daniels of 247 Sports who’s just missed on two recruitments in the class of 2019. Two out of nearly 50 he’s made predictions on this year. Plus, Daniels spoke with Stewart after the visit, so he obviously knows what he’s talking about.
People I’ve spoken with close to Kentucky feel solid, but it seems like the “pro-Kentucky” sentiment is coming from those closer to Stewart, and that’s good news. UK generally feels good about recruitments. They’ve finished with the No. 1 or No. 2 class every year since 2009 and they’ve sent dozens of guys to the NBA, I understand why they rarely feel bad about a recruitment. But this piece of information is important. With it being folks close to Stewart that are most confident about UK’s chances that may mean this recruitment is close to being over. People close to Kentucky believe he is announcing in the fall. That’s not saying that people close to UK are definitively saying that Stewart will pick UK in the fall, they’re not, but instead their interpretation is that this recruitment will be over in the fall. Stewart told Daniels he’s undecided on a timetable (fall or spring), which may surprise some. I would be shocked if Stewart waited until the spring to make a decision, but maybe he will decide in December or January and wait until the spring to sign. That’s always a possibility.
Another reason why folks should feel good about UK’s chances with Stewart- he has no other official visits planned. I was told last night that people close to UK expected him to take one other official visit, but Stewart told Daniels that he’s unsure if he will take any other official visits and he’s running out of weekends. He will head to Colorado Springs this weekend for USA Basketball workouts and then mentioned how the season is close to starting and he needs to spend more time with family and his team. I don’t need inside sources to tell me that looks positive for UK. He’s unsure if he will take any other visits coming off a weekend in Lexington when the Cats had plenty of momentum heading into the visit.
People close to UK may be playing coy, but it seems like Stewart will be the first big to pop for UK and that would be a dream way to start the bigs dominoes in 2019.
Oscar Tshiebwe also visited this weekend and this recruitment may be more confusing after the visit. The visit went great. I said last week that I thought UK led for Tshiebwe and I still think that UK leads for Tshiebwe. Supposedly Tshiebwe was blown away by UK’s facilities and he loves the idea of being one of the next great John Calipari bigs. A few months ago Tshiebwe was thrilled with having West Virginia, Baylor and Illinois recruiting him and he was happy thinking he would have a shot at the NBA after a few seasons in college, but now he sees a path to the NBA even earlier and it all started once UK became involved in his recruitment.
Also, he made it in town in time for the football game on Saturday and I’m told he thought the atmosphere was wild. UK recognized the basketball team and I’m sure that was a cool feeling for a high school senior to see well over 60,000 people going nuts for a basketball team. He left Lexington around 1 p.m. on Monday and I can’t say enough how well the visit supposedly went. All great things.
But next weekend Tshiebwe will take his last official visit to West Virginia, the perceived leader in his recruitment. He was basically a lock for WVU until the Cats came into the picture and now it’s turned into a battle. And I hate that I’m about to type this sentence but everything I’ve heard is that there are different people pulling Tshiebwe in different directions. Some folks desperately want him to go to WVU. There are other people close to him that think UK will be the best for his longterm future, but what I was told is that the pro-WVU people in his life are being a lot more aggressive in trying to get him to WVU. I did have one source I trust tell me that Tshiebwe himself prefers UK, but he still hasn’t taken his official visit to WVU and I’m curious to see if that source says the same thing this time next week.
I hate the “well, the kid likes one school but other people are pushing him in another direction” recruitments. They’re not fun to cover and you can’t help but feel for the kid in these situations, especially for a native of the Congo who didn’t grow-up watching college basketball and knowing how these recruitments generally go.
So, I still like UK’s chances but I think this visit to WVU this weekend has some folks nervous and for good reason. WVU has been on Tshiebwe forever and they will be pulling at the heartstrings over the weekend.
This is tough. I’m not sure who leads for Lewis and while UK is proud of the work they have put into Lewis’ recruitment, I’m starting to get worried that the shine of the official visit is gone and the previous relationship with Florida may win out. There are two directions this recruitment may go and one I think is great for Florida and the other is great for Kentucky:
Option One: Lewis announces his decision this week. If Lewis announces this week I think the decision will be for Florida because he will want to get it out of the way before heading to Colorado Springs. Lewis will be hounded by media about Kentucky if he remains uncommitted and he could avoid that headache and have a pretty quiet weekend if he were to commit to Florida. I don’t think he would commit to Florida just to avoid having to talk to the media, but if he knows he wants to go there he may just get it out of the way.
Option Two: Lewis’ AAU coach said he may commit this week, but if he goes to Colorado Springs uncommitted he will talk with other big time targets to get a better feel for where things stand in other recruitments. If that’s the case that would seem positive for Kentucky. Maxey, Whitney, Wiseman, Stewart and other UK targets will be there and maybe Lewis will feel intrigued to join what could be a monster class in Lexington.
I asked Klatsky (his AAU coach) if he thought he’d commit this week or wait until after the Colorado Springs weekend, he joked “It will be one or the other”.
Kentucky likes their spot, but they don’t know exactly where Lewis is leaning. I don’t either, but I think if you hear of a decision this week it may be bad news for UK. If Lewis goes into the weekend uncommitted that would be good news in my opinion.
Nnaji eliminates UK:
I was told that if UK wanted Nnaji they would have a great chance at landing him. We also heard that Nnaji was going to take an unofficial visit in September to Kentucky and possibly an official in October. Maybe two visits in two months? It was clear that Nnaji was feeling UK but those visits never happened and were never officially planned. No dates were set. So, what happened?
Other schools were showing Nnaji more love. I’m told that Nnaji felt like UK clearly had other big targets and that he was a backup plan, so he went with five schools that were showing him more love. UK didn’t stop recruiting him completely, but they never made him a priority, so easy come easy go situation. UK liked Nnaji and they didn’t offer him just because they wanted Matthew Hurt, but the two points aren’t mutually exclusive. They liked Nnaji but if that also helped with Hurt then great. But these two have never used the word package deal together so the Cats are still in the hunt for Hurt, who will visit for Big Blue Madness.
Kansas is the only school that Hurt is strongly considering that made Nnaji’s final five (UCLA, Arizona, Purdue, Baylor and Kansas). Again, odds are against Hurt and Nnaji playing together in college, but if they do it would be at Kansas, so maybe root for Nnaji to go elsewhere.
Keion Brooks: He will visit UK on October 20th for an official visit. I still don’t think he ends up in Lexington, but stranger things have happened.
Cole Anthony: He visited UNC over the weekend and I think the Tar Heels extended their lead in this recruitment. The plan has always been for Anthony to decide in the spring, but UNC has all the momentum here. I still think there’s a chance he visits UK, but I still haven’t been told a date.
Sharife Cooper: UK offered the 2020 guard over the weekend. He visited and there won’t be any decisions anytime soon, but Cooper is an elite scorer. I’m a sucker for guards that are great scorers so I’m a fan of Cooper’s game and despite being on the smaller size I think he could shine at UK.
James Wiseman: He officially visited Kansas over the weekend. I’ve always said that there will be some smoke to take attention away from UK and Memphis, and that is currently happening. It’s still going to come down to those schools but Wiseman supposedly had a blast in Lawrence.