If there is one position John Calipari has been particularly selective about over the course of his coaching career, it’s who he recruits at point guard.
In the class of 2020, Calipari only has two offers out for true point guards in consensus top-25 prospects Sharife Cooper and Jeremy Roach.
For Roach, we’re still early in the process, but most assume his decision will come down to one of the major blue blood programs in Kentucky, Duke, and North Carolina, along with Villanova also being a serious contender and possible favorite.
As for Cooper, a 6-foot prospect out of Marietta, GA, the consensus is that we’ll see a rematch between Elite Eight opponents Kentucky and Auburn for his signature.
But before we get into the nitty-gritty of the main contenders, we’ll get the question of the hour out of the way.
Like just about every other elite prospect in the class of 2020, there have been whispers that Cooper may be making a jump to 2019. At the first session of Nike EYBL on Saturday, KSR caught up with the five-star guard about when he would be playing college basketball.
“I haven’t really thought much about reclassifying,” he said. “They’re just saying that because Jared (Harper) left (Auburn for the NBA Draft), I guess. But no, I’m not reclassifying.”
Moving on to the “where” aspect of his recruitment, despite the general consensus that his decision will come down to Kentucky and Auburn, Cooper said that he still has no idea where he’s going.
“I’m pretty wide open in my recruitment right now, no one up, no one down. Just wide open,” he said. “(My decision) will come down to the best fit and where I can feel the most comfortable.”
There were a few reports out that the Kentucky coaching staff was scheduled to visit Cooper in Georgia last week, but according to Cooper, Calipari was unable to make it.
“(Calipari) was supposed to come, I think something happened with his flight though,” Cooper said, adding that none of Kentucky’s assistants were able to visit, either. “They all talked to my dad, but something happened.”
Nonetheless, his communication with the UK coaching staff remains consistent and extremely positive.
“We talk a lot, text a lot,” he said. “They’re good people. That staff, I like what they’re doing. I like Kentucky.”
So what is it about Kentucky that he likes so much? According to the lightning-quick point guard, it’s because of the past superstar athletes they’ve brought through Lexington. It was the “cool” thing growing up to like the Wildcats.
“All of the players that came through there,” he said. “Karl-Anthony Towns, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, all of those types of people. I’ve been watching them all my life. So I’ve known about Kentucky, everybody knows about Kentucky.”
During his visit to Lexington back in September, Cooper said it was the perfect chance to see what the program he has admired for so long from the outside looks like on the inside.
“I grew up always watching them, looking from the outside in,” he said. “So being able to go in and see what really goes on, it was a great experience.”
As for Auburn, Cooper admits that he’s fascinated with what the Tigers have to offer. Receiving a scholarship from Bruce Pearl, his first, all the way back in August of 2016, the five-star point guard said that it’s no secret the Tigers are “like family.”
“I love Bruce Pearl, I love what they’re doing, and I love how they play” he said. “They’re definitely recruiting me hard, so I really like them a lot. … Auburn is like family.”
The Auburn head coach warned Cooper back when his first offer came that other schools would end up coming in later in hopes of making up lost ground.
“It means a lot, because it shows that they’ve seen something in my game longer than anyone else,” he said. “(Pearl) told me that everyone was going to eventually come with the offers, but we’ve had a relationship for a really long time. That’ll help.”
— SLAM HS Hoops (@SLAM_HS) April 27, 2019
Making the Final Four this past season, Cooper said that there’s certainly an added comfort in potentially choosing the Tigers now that they’ve proven they are capable of competing for a national championship.
“It made it more welcoming,” he said. “It made it more like “I want to play with there” instead of just “I’m going there…” so I think that really helped.”
As far as their style of play is concerned, Auburn proved they are as guard and speed-oriented as anyone in the nation this past season. They averaged nearly 80 points per game, made 11.4 3-pointers each night, took the most 3-point attempts in the nation, and stole the ball 9.2 times per contest.
If there was one team out there that liked to press, get out in transition, and put shots up, it was the Auburn Tigers.
And according to Cooper, that’s music to his ears.
“I mean, of course (it helps their chances),” he said. “I love the way they play. I love the way (Pearl) treats his point guards, they’re able to facilitate and really control the game. That’s what he wants me to do if I go there. I really like them.”
The five-star guard said he wasn’t close to a decision and didn’t have a timetable for a decision, but it’s clear this thing will come down to the Cats and the Tigers.
Dressed head to toe in 2019 Final Four gear on Saturday, Pearl made clear to the EYBL world that he’s ready to compete with the heavy hitters of college basketball moving forward.
Will he add to impressive list of recent accolades by stealing away one of the top point guards in the class of 2020?