Good evening and welcome back to another edition of Pilgrim’s Insider Notes!
After a long week in North Augusta, SC for the 2019 Nike EYBL Peach Jam, I’ll be breaking down some of the interesting tidbits I heard from the players, coaches, parents, and family members of top Kentucky targets in attendance. I’ll also be mixing in a few major takeaways of the event from my time there, as well.
Let’s dive right in.
EYBL is the best circuit
Two years ago at the Adidas Uprising Gauntlet in Spartanburg, SC, the biggest matchup of the event was between Zion Williamson and Immanuel Quickley. Fans were three or four deep around the entire perimeter of the court and cheers were deafening after every highlight play. It was an atmosphere I felt could never be topped at the high school/AAU level.
Fast forward to this past week at Peach Jam, and that same atmosphere was there on every court for every game, no matter who was playing.
Driving up to the facility in North Augusta, there are cars parked up on sidewalks and grass, practically on top of each other. Forget about finding a “normal” parking spot.
When you finally get to the front door (usually after a 20 minute walk), there is a line backed up 10-20 yards with the admissions staff telling those individuals that the facility is at max capacity and they are legally not allowed to let anyone else in. Those that do manage to get in – still several thousand – line the courts on two separate levels ready to see some of the top prospects in the nation compete.
You sold me, Peach Jam. You win. EYBL is the best of the best.
Kentucky coaches know how to grind
One of my biggest takeaways from this week outside of just how unreal the atmosphere was is that the Kentucky coaching staff is absolutely on the prowl right now. I literally got exhausted following them around – John Calipari, Kenny Payne, Joel Justus, and Tony Barbee – all week long.
From Thursday morning to Sunday, they made sure they had a Kentucky representative on every court with a potential target. And some of their biggest targets – Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd, N’Faly Dante, BJ Boston, Josh Christopher, etc. – they were almost always two or three-deep to make sure their presence was known.
I won’t say any names, but there were several high profile coaches that made appearances on the first day or two, and then disappeared the rest of the week. Sure, some traveled elsewhere to some other AAU events within driving distance, but so did Kentucky. The difference? The UK coaches always found their way back to North Augusta through the title game on Sunday afternoon.
After talking with several parents, family members, coaches, and the elite prospects themselves, Kentucky’s non-stop grind was always noticed and appreciated. And it’ll help them when it comes time for decisions for these targets.
As a brief side note while we’re on the subject of college coaches, I also stood next to Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski while watching 2021 five-star prospects Jonathan Kuminga and Paolo Banchero playing side-by-side late one evening. After trying not to be awkward by making casual (and brief) conversation with him, Coach K couldn’t have been more unprofessional and rude to me. (You can hear more about that interaction during my appearance on the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast this week found here.)
I also saw him decline picture requests from a few kids at the Nike EYBL session in Atlanta back in April.
A dad and his son went up and asked Coach K for a picture, he declined, but said he would shake their hands. How thoughtful.
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) April 27, 2019
But yeah, “The Brotherhood.”
For every picture John Calipari took with kids walking from court to court and how positive his interactions were with the countless fans he came in contact with throughout the week, I found myself respecting him more and more. Calipari and his assistants represent the Kentucky program extremely well.
What will N’Faly Dante do?
Kentucky is all-in on their 2020 recruiting class, but they are still holding out hope for one more addition to their 2019-20 roster.
N’Faly Dante, a five-star center in the class of 2020, has been contemplating a reclassification to 2019 over the last several months. And with college players now on campus and the upcoming season quickly approaching, the clock is ticking on a decision.
After three straight days of being withheld from media opportunities, we finally got the chance to talk with Dante about his decision. In short, the 6-foot-11 center told KSR that if he gets his academic situation in order (a few online classes, he said), he will be reclassifying to 2019. End of story.
“I feel like I can play [in college right now], but it’s all about school, you know?” he said. “It’s not like I’m trying to go, but if I can go, I’ll go.”
In terms of schools of interest, he told KSR that Kentucky, Oregon, LSU, and Tennessee are at the top of his mind, with Iowa State also being considered. That being said, after discussions with folks at Peach Jam, I believe it will come down to the Wildcats and Ducks when it comes time for a decision.
While Kentucky has had some recent momentum, I’m told that there are some individuals in his inner circle that are still pushing Oregon pretty hard, making his situation a bit foggy. To be quite honest, I was expecting to hear much more pro-UK buzz during my time in North Augusta that would make me feel more confident about him ending up a Wildcat. Instead, I only got hesitancy from those familiar Dante’s recruitment.
Nonetheless, he has made it clear that his focus right now is on academics. If a jump happens, it happens. If he can’t make it work, he’s comfortable sticking with 2020.
Isaiah Todd is my favorite player in the class
I’m so nervous about face-up big men at this point because of the absolute extremes we’ve seen in Lexington with Anthony Davis on one end and Skal Labissiere on the other.
After seeing roughly ten complete games of his now, I’m absolutely convinced he’s more similar to the former than the latter.
While I’m not saying he’s the next Anthony freaking Davis by any stretch of the imagination, I genuinely do think he’s a top-five talent in the class of 2020 and projects as an elite college player. He possesses an effortless perimeter jumper, smooth handles, and runs the floor like a gazelle. Regularly in his games, the top Kentucky target will grab a strong rebound, take the ball coast-to-coast, and either pull up for the shot in transition or find his way to the rim for an easy bucket.
In a positionless basketball world, the elite 6-foot-11 big man fits that mold to perfection.
In terms of his recruitment, despite recent Oklahoma State buzz, sources tell KSR that Kentucky is still the leader for Todd and that John Calipari has made him one of his personal priorities for the class of 2020. He told KSR at Peach Jam that UK will be getting one of his official visits and he is in the process of scheduling it right now.
I have also been told that another rumored contender, North Carolina, will not be a likely destination for the five-star forward. A source close to Todd’s family tells KSR, “No need to worry about [the Tar Heels].”
I expect Todd to play the process out and take multiple official visits, but I wouldn’t trade UK’s position with anyone else’s right now.
needs earned a Kentucky offer
After watching him play this week, I started this tidbit yesterday with a personal opinion that 2020 five-star guard Josh Christopher needed a Kentucky offer, and he needed one soon. This afternoon, the 6-foot-5 prospect received one from the UK coaching staff.
And let me just be clear now, this is a massive one for both parties.
A month ago, Christopher told Krysten Peek of Rivals.com that Kentucky was his “dream school.” And then last week, Christopher told KSR that he grew up wearing Kentucky gear and was a diehard fan of the program, adding that an offer would mean the world to him.
“I mean, shoot, it’s Kentucky. It’s Calipari,” he said. “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].”
While Kentucky fans often scoff at “dream school” talk (which is ridiculous considering on the 2019-20 roster alone, Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney, Immanuel Quickley, and Nick Richards all called UK their dream school during their respective recruitments), after talking to him personally and a few people close to him throughout the week, I’m certain it’s genuine.
Now, sources tell KSR that with an offer in-hand, Kentucky has jumped out front by a significant margin.
He told KSR last week that he would make some progress in his recruitment after Peach Jam, saying a final list and/or scheduled visits could be on the horizon. He even added that he could make a decision whenever he feels ready, saying that could come at any moment.
“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.”
Whenever that time comes, I really, really like Kentucky’s chances.
BJ Boston is trending toward Kentucky
With Christopher earning a Kentucky offer and the Cats in a great spot, what does that mean with UK’s position with fellow five-star shooting guard target BJ Boston.
Sources tell KSR that it doesn’t hurt their position with the 6-foot-6 wing at all and that the Cats remain on top for him.
Boston is set to take an official visit to Kentucky starting next week, and as I said a few weeks back on my insider notes, the UK coaching staff feels they can secure a commitment in the near future. After favoring Duke for a brief period, I’m also told that his family is now leaning toward the Cats, as well. Needless to say, things are trending in Kentucky’s direction.
He told KSR at Peach Jam and at the NBPA Top100 Camp in Charlottesville that he’ll make a decision whenever he’s ready, likely avoiding a set decision date or announcement ceremony. Could it come during his visit, with a commitment from Christopher coming not long after? Vice versa?
That’d be one heck of a way to get the class of 2020 rolling.
Kentucky’s guard situation in 2020 is fascinating
It’s no secret that the Kentucky coaching staff sees 2020 top-three prospect Jalen Green as the crown jewel of the class, traveling across the world to see him play in Greece, attending every one of his AAU games with Team WhyNot, and seeing him at his home and school in California.
And even with Christopher and Boston trending toward Kentucky, I’m told that the Wildcats are still a favorite – Memphis being the other top contender – to land the dynamic 6-foot-5 scorer. I would actually give Kentucky the slight lead at this point in time.
So yes, to sum things up, the Cats are in strong position with all three of Green, Boston, and Christopher. Seriously.
Sources tell KSR that this is actually the goal for their recruiting class and that they are hoping to go after all three of Green, Boston, and Christopher, three legitimate top-10 guards in 2020. And after conversations with individuals close to all three last week, I don’t think it’s as crazy as it sounds. Sources tell KSR that Boston has talked with Green about playing together in college, and Green has talked to Christopher about playing together in college. Green and Christopher’s parents, Marcus Green and Laron Christopher, are best friends outside of basketball and have also talked about their sons playing together at the next level.
In this dream scenario, Christopher would likely run the lead guard spot, with Green and Boston at the two and three, respectively. They still may continue to push for Daishen Nix or Sharife Cooper, and I still expect them to, but they are very much interested in seeing the dynamics of those elite prospects working together in the same backcourt.
We can also throw in the fact that Kentucky just made the top-five for 2020 five-star small forward Cam’Ron Fletcher and recruiting insider Evan Daniels just submitted a Crystal Ball pick for him in favor of the Cats, which is huge news. Fletcher told KSR at the NBPA Top100 Camp that Kentucky was one of the offers he was waiting on the most.
“I have a high level of interest in Kentucky,” he said at the time. “I don’t know too much about the program yet, but I know that they’re a really good school and I definitely know about Coach Cal.”
All in all, Kentucky is dreaming big for the 2020 recruiting class.
“[It definitely] can be big [for us],” one source close to the Kentucky program told KSR.