BY LARRY VAUGHT
Going into last season the consensus among national college basketball analysts was that John Calipari likely would not have a lottery pick in the NBA draft. Kevin Knox was considered a possibility, but not a likely lottery pick.
Of course, not only did Knox go in the lottery, but so did Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — who was not ranked among the top 25 players in the 2017 recruiting class.
So who will be Kentucky’s best hope for a lottery pick in the 2019 draft, especially since skeptics already doubt if Calipari has a lottery pick on next year’s roster?
ESPN’s Myron Medcalf recently made his pick — freshman wing Keldon Johnson. He listed his top pro prospect for every major college team and had Johnson as his top pick at Kentucky.
“John Calipari’s fleet of five-star recruits features Johnson, a 6-foot-6 wing who can explode through traffic or drive off screens. His size will help him play through contact, too,” Medcalf wrote. “With Reid Travis and PJ Washington working with Johnson on pick-and-roll situations, the projected top-15 pick in ESPN’s 2019 mock draft could soar in his first and only season in Lexington.”Obviously, a top 15 pick would put him in the lottery. Johnson was ranked behind Kentucky teammates E.J. Montgomery and Ashton Hagans in most 2018 class rankings.
Calipari is showing no signs of slowing down with his recruiting despite now having the consensus No. 1 team going into the 2018-19 season.
Kentucky already has commitments from Texas guard Tyrese Maxey and Mississippi forward D.J. Jeffries — who will play in the Marshall County Hoop Fest in December — in the 2019 recruiting class. Now five-star shooting guard Bryan Antoine has scheduled four official visits and one will be to Kentucky Sept. 22. He’ll also visit Florida, Duke and Villanova.
The New Jersey standout is the top-ranked shooting guard in the 2019 class and a consensus top 10 player. About two months ago he listed Duke, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky and Villanova as his top five schools.
Antoine has had a UK scholarship offer for almost a year. He knows UK sophomores Quade Green and P.J. Washington and often talks with them even though the consensus has been he favors Duke, something he denied to Herald-Leader writer Ben Roberts recently.
Vernon Carey of Ft. Lauderdale, the top-ranked player in the 2019 recruiting class by Rivals, also has Kentucky in his final five choice. the 6-10, 270-pound center played on the USA under 17 team and also has Duke, Miami, Michigan State and North Carolina in his top five.
His father is a former NFL offensive lineman, so it’s no surprise his size and strength are phenomenal. But he has terrific skills and is a much better passer than most big men. He’s also a reliable scorer with a variety of moves.
But just like with Antoine, Duke is making a big push for Carey.
Kentucky also remains locked in what seems to be a two-team battle with Memphis for forward James Wiseman, one of the top three players in the 2019 recruiting class. He’s scheduled to be at Marshall County Hoop Fest again in December, too.
“Wiseman is that 7-footer with athleticism and enough skill to dominate a game in high school and impact a game in college immediately,” said ESPN recruiting director Paul Biancardi. “He is a true difference maker. He he not jus potential — he is productivity. No matter when or how he cuts his lists down, we all know who the two favorites in the race will be.”
Two of the best players in Kentucky will go against each other in an early season showdown at the Marshall County Hoop Fest when host Marshall plays Pendleton County Dec. 1.
Marshall County sophomore Zion Harmon, a recent transfer, led the state in scoring last year when he averaged 32.7 points per game for Adair County. Harmon helped lead Bowling Green to the 2017 state championship as an eighth-grader.
Pendleton County is led by senior Dontaie Allen, who averaged 31.8 points per game last year — third best in the state. He led the state in overall points scored.
Allen and University Heights senior KyKy Tandy, who will also play in Hoop Fest, are the frontrunners for 2019 Mr. Basketball and Harmon likely will be in 2021 — or in 2020 if he reclassifies as expected.
This will be Pendleton’s first trip to Hoop Fest and coach Keaton Belcher says it is a historic opportunity for his team — and Allen.
“The Allen versus Harmon matchup should be good for ticket sales. Both are exciting players that have bright futures,” Belcher said. “For our kids to be able to experience playing at the Marshall County Hoopfest is something I hope they remember forever.
“Also, the opportunity to play against a well-coached Terry Birdsong team with a high caliber player like Zion Harmon makes our trip to Benton even more desirable.”
Allen got a scholarship offer from Vanderbilt during a recent visit and also has offers from Xavier, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Western Kentucky and others. He also has received interest from both Kentucky and Louisville.
The 5-10 Harmon already has offers from Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Creighton and St. Louis, Kansas has shown interest and Harmon has made an unofficial visit there just like he has to Kentucky.