Good morning and welcome back to another edition of Pilgrim’s Insider Notes.
This week, I will reach into the mailbag and answer some recent recruiting questions, most notably involving the likes of Devin Askew and his official visit to Kentucky this past weekend, the home stretch of Cade Cunningham’s recruitment, a potential change of momentum with Jonathan Kuminga, Isaiah Todd cutting his list to two, and where UK stands with other frontcourt targets such as Isaiah Jackson, Greg Brown, and JJ Traynor.
Let’s dive right in.
Who you think will be our next commitment
— wildcat.network (@WildcatSports2) September 26, 2019
Short and sweet: 2021 five-star guard Devin Askew.
Askew just wrapped up his official visit to Lexington, and there is optimism that he’ll announce his commitment to Kentucky sooner rather than later.
Going into the trip this weekend, there were rumblings that the 6-foot-2 guard out of Santa Ana, CA might not leave Kentucky’s campus without pulling the trigger on a commitment, or at least let his intentions be known that he will be making it official in the very near future. He recently said he would like to make a public announcement at his high school – Mater Dei HS – in front of his friends and family, though sources tell KSR that the UK target went into the visit open-minded about potentially leaving as a Wildcat.
While he left campus without announcing publicly that he had committed to Kentucky, I am told that the staff still feels incredibly confident in Askew ultimately ending up in blue and white, no matter when he wants to make it official. In a trip that included a tour of the basketball facilities, film breakdowns, a day at Keeneland, and dinner at Jeff Ruby’s, the Kentucky coaching staff did a phenomenal job making Askew and his family feel right at home, and I firmly feel it was enough to win out in his recruitment at the end of the day.
Following his unofficial trip to Memphis on Thursday evening, there were some initial rumblings that the Tigers were pushing for Askew to return on an official in the coming weeks prior to making a decision. As of today, I feel fairly confident that this follow-up visit will not take place.
Louisville has long been seen as Kentucky’s top competition, with several individuals familiar with UofL’s recruiting efforts indicating over the last week or two that the Cardinals remain in contention, despite the strong UK buzz. After this weekend, though, confidence on their end has waned.
While it remains to be seen when he will opt to set up an official announcement ceremony at his school or pull the trigger on a public commitment, Kentucky holds firm as the heavy favorite. At this point, I would be relatively shocked if he isn’t a Wildcat in the near future.
Chances of getting Cade Cunningham?
— Tyler Harris (@TylerHarris_22) September 26, 2019
Kentucky’s chances of getting 2020 top-three prospect Cade Cunningham are growing by the day, and it very well could go hand-in-hand with Askew’s public announcement.
From the second Cunningham’s brother, Cannen Cunningham, was hired on at Oklahoma State to join Mike Boynton’s staff, the Cowboys jumped into pole position to land the nation’s No. 1 guard. He told reporters immediately after the hiring that he was “wide open,” but there wasn’t an individual out there that felt he would wind up anywhere other than Stillwater.
As time went on, though, momentum slowly shifted.
Evan Daniels of 247Sports was the first to report that the 6-foot-6 guard out of Arlington, TX was telling the schools on his final list that he his interest in their respective programs was genuine, with North Carolina soon nudging its way into serious contention. In fact, sources tell KSR that the Tar Heels actually took over the top spot from the Cowboys, with this remaining true as late as last weekend. One of the big reasons for this movement? A lack of optimism in recruiting circles surrounding Boynton and his job status in Stillwater moving forward. If Oklahoma State struggles this season, the Cowboys could decide to part ways with the third-year head coach. Potential NCAA sanctions following the FBI investigation into college basketball could also shake things up.
While the UNC buzz grew louder, though, I continued to hear that Kentucky was likely next in line for the five-star guard, with UNC and OK State serving as the 1A and 1B options and UK circling as the dark horse right behind. And then this weekend, Ben Roberts of the Herald-Leader was the first to report that Kentucky had overtaken North Carolina as Oklahoma State’s biggest threat to land the transcendent talent.
And with Cunningham now rescheduling his official visit to Kentucky back to next weekend for Big Blue Madness, things are about to get very, very interesting.
Sources tell KSR that Kentucky is recruiting both Cunningham and Askew for the class of 2020, and there is a puncher’s chance of that scenario coming to fruition. I am told that as soon as Askew’s official visit wrapped up in Lexington, the staff’s recruiting focus shifted entirely to Cunningham’s official visit scheduled for this weekend.
“Next week is the big one,” one source close to the situation told KSR. “[They are] not playing around, going for the kill.”
And they are getting this week started with a bang, with Cunningham telling KSR that Calipari will be in to see him this evening at his school less than a week before his official trip to Lexington.
Cunningham, the nation’s No. 2 overall prospect, is Kentucky’s top recruiting target, and has been since he separated himself as a consensus top-five recruit. The Wildcats backed off a bit when it seemed like his commitment to Oklahoma State was imminent, though sources told KSR from the start that they would be “monitoring the situation closely.” Once that door cracked ever-so-slightly, they jumped on the opportunity instantly, going out of their way to make sure his status as the program’s top priority was evident. A trip to see the five-star talent on the first day of the fall recruiting period, followed by another in-home visit with his family in Texas the week after, and then visiting him at Montverde again today, only confirms that.
In terms of his upcoming visit, sources tell KSR that Cunningham will not be swayed by the lights and show aspect of Big Blue Madness. Instead, he will be focused on the staff’s specific plan for him in Lexington and how they could turn him into the No. 1 draft pick in the summer of 2021. If they can align on that front – and Kentucky certainly feels they can – there is optimism on UK’s side of things that they can separate itself as the leader. There are individuals close to the North Carolina basketball program that already feel this is the case.
Oklahoma State and North Carolina remain as major threats, but the Kentucky buzz is not a secret at this point. It is now on them to officially jump out in front this weekend.
What’s the word with Kuminga and Baldwin? Cal has visited them a lot lately, so what chances do we have?
— Jason (@Darezayy) September 26, 2019
Two weeks ago on the Sources Say Podcast, I reported that the Duke talk surrounding 2021 No. 1 prospect Jonathan Kuminga was incredibly overstated and that the 6-foot-8 forward was not leaning toward the Blue Devils. Since this, that talk has grown even louder, and if I were to make a prediction today, I’d say Kuminga will not wind up at Duke if he reclassifies to the class of 2020, as expected.
Without getting too in-depth, there are several Duke connections close to Kuminga at his high school and within his AAU program, the NY Renaissance. That being said, I was adamantly told that these individuals are not steering the 6-foot-8 forward to Duke (or any other program, for that matter) and will let him make the best decision for him when it comes time for an announcement. Looking at the recruiting track records of both The Patrick School and the NY Renaissance of the Nike EYBL circuit, there is a lot of truth to this.
In terms of Kentucky’s chances, the coaching staff continues to visit the five-star forward during the fall recruiting period, indicating they feel at least somewhat confident in their chances. One source familiar with Kuminga’s recruitment told KSR on Sunday that the rumblings of Duke’s chances diminishing are also going hand-in-hand with the buzz surrounding Kentucky going up. The five-star forward told KSR at Peach Jam that he had discussed a “dream class” scenario with Kentucky commit Terrence Clarke, with the two openly talking about playing at the same school in college. When you factor in Kuminga being AAU teammates with Lance Ware, along with him being a current student-athlete at The Patrick School – former home of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Dakari Johnson, and Nick Richards – and a star out of New Jersey – Karl-Anthony Towns, Isaiah Briscoe, Kahlil Whitney, Ware all signed with Kentucky out of the state- the connections are certainly there.
While I’m confident Duke is not the runaway favorite – or even a slight favorite, for that matter – I’m simply not comfortable enough to make a specific prediction right now or even choose a leader for the elite prospect. As one individual told KSR last night, “Kuminga has his options, with or without Duke.”
In short, I genuinely don’t think Jonathan Kuminga doesn’t know where Jonathan Kuminga is going right now, with sources telling KSR that a decision will absolutely not happen in the early signing period and that the earliest timeframe for an announcement is after high school basketball season this winter.
At the end of the day, I am told that Kuminga steers away from the “brand” talk and doesn’t care about promised minutes or worrying about other players at his position. In fact, he actually favors the idea of suiting up with other elite talent over being the lone star on the team, wherever he goes to school. There’s a strong argument that the 6-foot-8, 215-pound forward is the No. 1 prospect in all of high school basketball, and with all due respect to the other elite recruits in the nation, he is simply not scared of potential competition. If another player is looking to score, Kuminga is looking to assist or rebound. If the offense is flowing elsewhere, he’s looking to be a game-changer on defense. It’s tough to find flaws in his game, and he’s prepared to show that at the college level, no matter who else is on the roster.
It’s still early, but look for things to ramp up in a major way this winter and going into the early spring.
Who do you think ends up at UK out of traynor Jackson brown and Todd
— Daniel Collier (@DanielCollier2) September 26, 2019
The most immediate news at hand regarding the frontcourt is that 2020 five-star forward Isaiah Todd announced on Twitter this morning that only two schools remained in contention – Michigan and Kansas – cutting Kentucky, North Carolina, and Memphis from his official list. He also announced he would be making his college decision on October 17, just ten days from now.
As of last night, I really didn’t have a strong feel as to which schools would make the cut, but the growing sentiment over the last few weeks was that the Wildcats would not be the final choice when it came time for a commitment.
This spring, Kentucky was far and away the favorite to land the 6-foot-10 forward out of Baltimore, MD, with sources telling KSR that had he reclassified to the class of 2019 following his junior season (as most expected him to), he would have been a Wildcat.
When he opted to remain in the class of 2020, though, momentum shifted as time crept forward, with overseas buzz growing louder and louder at and around Peach Jam. North Carolina then wiggled its way into strong contention – he took several unofficial visits to the school – as did Michigan and Kansas over the last several weeks.
After making one visit to Todd’s school in North Carolina once the fall recruiting period opened up, Kentucky’s public contact died out almost completely, with some speculation coming out over the last week or two that the Wildcats had pulled out of the race completely.
He then posted on his Instagram page this morning that Kentucky “wouldn’t let” him take an official visit to the school, indicating there was at least some truth to these rumors.
Why? Sources tell KSR that Todd is still strongly considering a move overseas, even if he/when makes a college commitment on Oct. 17. While Kentucky has always been extremely high on Todd’s game – I have said in the past that I felt the skilled 6-foot-10 forward was John Calipari’s favorite recruit in the class – they simply weren’t going to risk securing a commitment and seeing him opt for the professional route after the other options dried up.
So what are those other options?
2020 top-25 prospect Isaiah Jackson recently trimmed his list to three, with Kentucky, Alabama, and Syracuse making the final cut. The bouncy 6-foot-9 forward recently took an official visit to UK, with the Kentucky coaching staff following it up with back-to-back visits to see him at his school and home in the weeks following. As Todd’s recruitment fizzled out, Jackson’s ramped up.
With the five-star expected to commit in the coming weeks and sign in mid-November, it’s apparent that Kentucky feels solid about their chances to secure a signature from the Waterford, MI native. Alabama remains a solid threat, and he will take his official visit to Tuscaloosa on the weekend of October 25, but it appears his decision will come down to the Wildcats and Crimson Tide.
2020 top-ten prospect Greg Brown is set to take an official visit to Lexington in January before making a decision in the spring. While Texas remains as the top option for the five-star forward, sources tell KSR that Kentucky has solidified itself as the No. 2 option in his recruitment. Shaka Smart and the Longhorn basketball staff has developed a phenomenal relationship with Brown and his family, but there are growing concerns about Smart’s job security moving forward. If he is fired at the conclusion of yet another mediocre season at Texas, I strongly believe Brown will head elsewhere.
Another factor to keep in mind? Brown and Cunningham – who are AAU teammates with the Texas Titans – are very close and have been in recent discussion about playing together at the next level. This could play a major role in how the UK coaching staff moves forward in the frontcourt. I believe Kentucky is in a crossroads of trying to decide whether to push for a commitment from Jackson now or wait for a potential commitment from Brown in the spring. While I think they’re different enough – they’re the two most athletic bigs in the nation, but Brown is much more skilled offensively, while Jackson may be a better interior defender – the staff wants to make sure they’re comfortable co-existing in the Kentucky frontcourt.
From there, Kentucky is also seemingly picking up momentum with 2020 top-ten forward Scottie Barnes, as John Calipari will be in to see the 6-foot-8 forward this evening, as well. Oregon has long been seen as the favorite to land him, with Florida State also picking up recent momentum, though the five-star prospect recently told reporters that UK was one of the four schools he would focus on moving forward. Kentucky could plug him in as a small ball four alongside either Brown or Jackson, giving the Wildcats one of the most versatile and skilled starting fives in the entire nation.
2020 four-star forward JJ Traynor is another guy I would pay close attention to, as I believe Kentucky will ultimately offer a scholarship before it’s all said and done. After visiting the 6-foot-9 forward for a workout in Bardstown, KY a few weeks back, UK assistant Kenny Payne immediately called Calipari and told him he needed to come out and see Traynor in person. Last week, Kentucky brought the four-star forward in on an unofficial visit, with another trip to Lexington scheduled for this weekend for Big Blue Madness.
Sources tell KSR that Traynor did not receive an official scholarship offer last week, though one is expected in the near future. I get the sense that the staff would prefer to see him in live game action prior to pulling the trigger, but with Traynor expected to make his decision during the fall signing period, the clock is ticking.
Right now, I’d say Cincinnati and WKU are the leaders, though offers from Louisville and Kentucky would automatically vault them up to the 1A and 1B options. Traynor grew up a UofL fan and the connections are obvious with his father and head coach both being former Louisville players, though Payne’s relationship with Bardstown’s Boo Brewer can’t be discounted, either. I am told that Traynor’s visit went incredibly well last weekend and that the four-star forward’s camp would be more than okay seeing him eventually suit up in blue and white.
I also answered several of these mailbag questions on the Sources Say Podcast last week, so if I didn’t get to your post here, please go back and listen to that episode here.
A new episode of the show will be recorded on Tuesday evening, where I will have a bit of news to share…
We’ll see you then.