What UK's top basketball targets are saying about the Cats, and what's next in their recruitments


Six of the seven basketball recruits in the class of 2019 who have already earned scholarship offers from Kentucky played with their summer league teams in the Indianapolis area this past weekend, and all six spoke to the Herald-Leader about their interest in the Wildcats and the current state of their recruitments.

(The seventh, Matthew Hurt, was playing on the Adidas circuit in Atlanta).

The Cats already have early commitments from highly touted small forward DJ Jeffries and Ashton Hagans for 2019, though Hagans — the No. 1 point guard in the group — is widely expected to reclassify to 2018 and play for UK next season.

Jeffries confirmed Sunday that he’s sticking with his UK commitment despite the fact that his former AAU coach, Penny Hardaway, is now the head coach at Memphis.

Who else will join Jeffries? Here’s what John Calipari’s top 2019 targets had to say about their own recruitments:

Bryan Antoine

The 6-foot-5 shooting guard from New Jersey is high school and Under Armour league teammates with another player on this list — Scottie Lewis — and both have been on UK’s radar for well over a year.

Antoine, ranked No. 8 nationally by 247Sports, hasn’t released a school list, but he has many scholarship offers and could go just about anywhere he wants. He told the Herald-Leader he’s “always hearing from Coach Cal,” and that the UK coach reached out Thursday to wish him a happy birthday.

Antoine also said this of the Cats:

“Everybody knows everything about Kentucky. They’re known for getting players to the NBA early. They’ve had success with doing that — a lot of success. Any player who’s trying to better themselves and play at the next level and stuff like that, Kentucky would be the best place to go.”

That sounds promising for the Wildcats, but the behind-the scenes chatter surrounding Antoine indicates that Duke is a heavy favorite going into the summer, and he didn’t exactly deny that when it was mentioned over the weekend.

What’s next?: Antoine said that he could cut his list in two or three weeks and that he’d like to take his official visits this summer so he can make a college decision relatively soon. “I’m going to try to commit sometime before the school season — maybe September, October,” he said, noting that he’d like to sign in November. Despite the kind words for Kentucky, the major favorite appears to be Duke.

Keion Brooks

UK’s scholarship offer last fall to the 6-8 small forward from Fort Wayne, Ind., came as a bit of a surprise. Not necessarily that the Cats offered, but that Brooks — now ranked No. 16 overall by 247Sports — was one of the first players in the class of 2019 to land one.

Keion1.JPG

Keion Brooks, a small forward from Indiana, is one of the top basketball recruits in the 2019 class.

Doug McSchooler

“They’re a very big school. I didn’t expect them to offer me so early. But I did know I put the work in,” he said.

Brooks is a long, versatile prospect who averaged 20.0 points per game through the first two sessions of Nike league play and made 14 of 28 threes over those eight games. He said Calipari has compared him to Kevin Knox.

When asked for the schools recruiting him hardest, Brooks listed UK, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue and Iowa, noting that North Carolina also got involved this month. He also said Chris Mack recruited him while at Xavier and has continued that push at Louisville.

Michigan State has often been mentioned as a favorite, and there’s a strong local push for Indiana, but Brooks claims there’s no leader yet, and he did seem wide open to the process.

What’s next?: Brooks told the Herald-Leader he has no set-in-stone plans to cut his list down or make a decision. If he’s not ready to pick a school by the early period in November, that’s not a problem. “Whenever I’m feeling it, whenever it comes to me, that’s when I’ll make that decision,” he said.

Vernon Carey

Carey — ranked No. 2 nationally by 247Sports (and No. 1 by Rivals.com) — talked to the Herald-Leader at length Friday following his team’s shootaround before this past weekend’s Nike games.

The 6-10, 255-pound power forward might be the most college-ready big man in high school basketball, and — though there have been several schools mentioned over the past few months — he said no one currently leads in his recruitment.

Before the high school season, Carey named a top eight of UK, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Michigan State, UCLA, Florida and Miami, where his father was a football standout and later a first-round NFL Draft pick.

Carey stays in touch with former UK post player Bam Adebayo and has developed a good relationship with Wildcats assistant coach Kenny Payne, who is known as a master developer of big men.

“He just said I can come in and impact the team. He was like, ‘If you want to be at Kentucky, you just have to come and play hard every time. Bring it every day.’ Nothing is going to be handed to you at Kentucky,” Carey said.

What’s next?: Carey said he plans to narrow his list to five schools after the summer season, likely around the beginning of August. He will take all five of his official visits — he’s already taken one to Michigan State — and then make a college decision. It’s looking like UK will, at the very least, make his list of five.

Scottie Lewis

One of the most exciting, energetic players in high school basketball, Lewis has been viewed as the most likely of the Jersey duo — he and Antoine — to ultimately end up at Kentucky.

The 6-5 wing is ranked No. 9 nationally by 247Sports and impacts the game well beyond the box score, bringing defensive intensity and all-around leadership to the court. He told the Herald-Leader he could see a place for himself at Kentucky.

“They’re fast-paced. They like to get on the break. I feel like if I can surround myself by those kind of guys that go to Kentucky — it’s a place where I could shine at, because I am such a leader and a captain,” he said.

Lewis and Antoine are still considering playing college basketball together, but a “package deal” is far from a sure thing. Lewis lists 12 schools: UK, St. John’s, Duke, Seton Hall, Maryland, Villanova, Stanford, Kansas, Florida, Harvard, North Carolina and Colgate.

Recruiting observers the Herald-Leader spoke to in Indianapolis said Lewis has been a tough prospect to get a handle on, and his recruitment could still go a number of ways. Defending champ Villanova, however, has picked up some recent buzz, and UK and Florida have been seen as contenders for a while.

What’s next?: “My family and I are hopefully going to cut my list by the end of August or early September,” Lewis said. He hopes to get his list to five or six schools and then take official visits. Lewis said he’s not locked in to making a final decision in time for the early signing period in November.

Tyrese Maxey

The 6-3 point guard from Texas has been the most-talked-about UK recruiting target in the country in recent days, and for good reason.

Maxey — ranked by 247Sports as the No. 17 overall player in the 2019 class and No. 2 point guard nationally — hasn’t been shy about the possibility that he will reclassify to the 2018 class and play college basketball next season. In fact, that now appears to be the most realistic scenario.

If Maxey does reclassify, UK would be the clear favorite. He did list Texas, Michigan State, Michigan and Oklahoma State as his other four finalists this past weekend, but all of the talk at the Nike league stop in Indy centered on the Cats.

The UK point guard corps for next season already includes McDonald’s All-Americans Quade Green and Immanuel Quickley, and five-star recruit Ashton Hagans is also committed and expected to reclassify from 2019 to 2018. A reporter asked Maxey on Saturday if that backcourt was too crowded already.

“No, sir,” he said. “Coach Cal always tells me that he’s good with guards — having a lot of guards. He just keeps it in the back of my mind that he’s done this before.”

What’s next?: Maxey said he expects to make a public announcement on reclassification within the week, and he told the Herald-Leader that his college decision could also come at the same time. He said, no matter what, he should be announcing a college choice within the next two or three weeks. Maxey is expecting to finish the coursework necessary to reclassify to the 2018 on June 28. Usually, when a recruit speaks so openly about the possibility of reclassifying, he ends up moving up a grade in the end. Maxey’s recruitment appears to be nearing its end — and the expectation is he ends up a Kentucky Wildcat.

James Wiseman

The first player in this class to land a UK scholarship offer has been the biggest target on Calipari’s 2019 wish list for a while.

Wiseman — a 6-11 power forward from Nashville — moved to Memphis last summer so he could play for his AAU coach, Penny Hardaway, in high school. Hardaway, of course, is now the head coach at Memphis, and Wiseman’s recruitment will ultimately come down to that school at Kentucky.

Calipari has recruited him as hard as anyone in the class, and UK obviously has a lot of pros as it pursues yet another five-star post player.

“It’s basically the tradition — all the great players that came through there like DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall and Anthony Davis,” Wiseman said of UK’s pitch. “They have such a great tradition. That’d be great if I would be able to be a part of their program. But I don’t know yet.”

Solid cases have been made for both schools, and Wiseman didn’t tip his hand at a possible leader in multiple interviews over the weekend. The 2019 big man was asked Saturday who else he’d like to play with at the next level: “I would say Tyrese Maxey, and I’d say Ashton Hagans.” That’s certainly not bad news for the Cats.

What’s next?: Who knows? Wiseman didn’t give any solid timetable on his decision-making process, and he gave a flat, “I don’t know” when asked if he planned to sign early or wait until next spring. Cal and Penny — and the rest of us — will all just have to wait and see.



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