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.
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.
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…
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.