By LARRY VAUGHT
Now that Zion Williamson is definitely not coming to Kentucky, maybe it’s time to focus more on the three players that UK coach John Calipari has already signed in his 2018 recruiting class.
Not only did UK not get Williamson, he went to Duke to give the Blue Devils the top three players in the 2018 recruiting class. However, FoxSports/247Sports recruiting analyst Evan Daniels says Kentucky fans are going to like Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley. ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale already does.
“I know about 350 other schools that would like to be having the so-called recruiting problems that Kentucky is,” said Vitale.
Johnson is the highest ranked of the three players and, like Quickley, is a McDonald’s All-American.
“Keldon really plays hard,” Daniels said. “He’s a driving, slashing guard who can get to the rim and finish or dish. He’s a good athlete and a really tough kid. I think he really has a bright future.”
Johnson is ranked as the No. 6 player in the class in the latest ESPN rankings and was named to the Naismith Trophy Midseason Team.
Quickley is the point guard Calipari targeted in this recruiting class from the start and he played on the USA under 18 team that Calipari coached last summer. If both Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander return to UK next season as most expect, Daniels said Quickley would have no problem playing with either one. He’s dropped from 12th to 17th in the rankings after missing the first month of the season with mononucleosis.
“Quickley is going to be good. He has great court vision, can run and can distribute the ball,” Daniels said. “He’s 6-3 with long arms. He really competes hard on both ends of the floor. He’s made strides with his jump shot, and he can shoot with distance better now. I really like his approach to the game and his mental ability.”
Herro is the best shooter of the trio of guards, but Daniels says he’s a scorer and not just a shooter. He also jumped into the No. 25 spot in the latest ESPN rankings.
“He is pushing 6-5. He’s an above average athlete who can really score off the bounce, hit from midrange. He can make runners, floaters. He knows they need a shooter and he can make a shot from both 3-point range and the midlevel area,” Daniels said.
“He has a lot of swagger and athletic ability. He is a fine defender. He’ll have to get better defensively like any high school senior, but he has the ability to defend his position. I don’t see that being a problem for him.”
What about Kentucky? How big a problem is it for Kentucky that Williamson picked Duke, not UK? Where will UK turn for an inside presence in its 2018 recruiting class?
“Truth is there is not a lot of talent at the big man spot still out there in the 2018 class,” Daniels said. “I am not sure what direction they might take. Maybe they will wait for the grad transfer market. Somebody will pop up for Kentucky. Somebody always does.
“There’s also no certainty at Kentucky this year on who will or who will not be back next year. There’s nothing certain yet on who may or may not leave for the draft, so that’s a little different for UK, too.”
Calipari has not signed a top five recruit in the last three years, something that led many UK fans to speculate about what has happened to the once dominant recruiting hauls Calipari had.
“We don’t get every kid. I’ve said that all along. We get the ones that need to come here. Others chose not to and that’s fine. That’s their choice,” Calipari said. “Obviously, the kids who have come here are worth over a billion dollars. Seventeen have graduated. Thirty-five, or whatever, got drafted. Three No. 1 (overall NBA draft picks). I mean, kids who have come here belonged here. It doesn’t mean that everybody needs to come here. I don’t think it’s changed much at all.”
Kentucky last week offered 6-10 E.J. Montgomery, the No. 1 player in Georgia and top 15 player nationally, a scholarship. Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and UCLA are among other schools that have offered and he’s already indicated he will visit Duke. He is a McDonald’s All-American. He originally committed to Auburn before changing his mind after the FBI probe into college basketball started.
Kentucky has also shown some interest in shooting guard Anfernee Simons, a one-time Louisville commit who is the highest ranked uncommitted player in the 2018 Class at No. 7. Tennessee and Florida are viewed as his leaders.
Another possibility is point guard John Lecque, the No. 9 player in the 2019 recruiting class who has indicated his might consider reclassifying to the 2018 class. Don’t forget 6-9 James Wiseman of Memphis, the top player in the 2019 recruiting class. He has a UK offer and many still believe he will reclassify to the 2018 class even though he continues to insist he will not.