LEXINGTON, Ky. — Two 5-star Canadian basketball recruits narrowed their list of college options this week and Kentucky made the cut for for both R.J. Barrett and Simi Shittu, the No. 1 and No. 9 overall prospects in the Class of 2018, per the 247 Sports Composite. The Wildcats are in Barrett’s final five and Shittu’s top 10.
The question, though, is whether coach John Calipari is the favorite to land either of them. SEC Country caught up with Scout.com director of scouting Evan Daniels.
“They’re definitely in the mix” for Barrett, who is also still considering Arizona, Duke, Michigan and Oregon. “In terms of favorites on that list, I think it’s kind of early, but Arizona and Duke have done a really good job of recruiting him,” Daniels said. “I’d hate to say there are favorites, but if I was going to guess, I’d say those two are maybe out front right now. There’s a long way to go, though, and he’s in the process of setting up visits. I think those are coming very soon, and the recruitment will really take shape from there.”
In conversations with people involved in Barrett’s recruitment, SEC Country has gotten mixed messages about Barrett’s interest in joining a “super team” like Kentucky (and Duke) frequently fields versus a school where he might be showcased as the clear-cut star.
“That would surprise me,” Daniels said. “I think he’s too good to get lost in any shuffle.”
Which raises another question: Just how good is Barrett, who recently reclassified from 2019 and jumped to the top of his new class? He’s one of three small forwards who are ranked among the top five overall prospects in 2018. Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish are the others, and both have Kentucky offers.
If the Wildcats could only land one of them, knowing UK’s style of play how Calipari will assemble talent around them, which should Big Blue Nation be rooting hardest to sign?
“That’s a tough question,” Daniels said, “because you’d be happy if you get any of the three. I think maybe Cam or Barrett for that style, but at the end of the day, any of the three are going to have success wherever they go.”
Of course, it’s possible that a single program lands more than one of those three elite small forwards. Daniels could see that, but it’s a small list: “The only two options for that would be Kentucky and Duke.”
The Cats could also do a double-dip in Canada — a country from which they’ve previously plucked Trey Lyles, Jamal Murray, Mychal Mulder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and for whom one of Kentucky’s top boosters is the new U.S. ambassador — with Shittu, a 6-8 power forward.
The rest of his list includes Arizona, Arizona State, Connecticut, New Mexico, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Oregon, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. All nine of those schools have offered Shittu a scholarship, but Calipari so far has not.
And yet, “I’m not sure that matters much,” said Alex Popp, his high school coach at Vermont Academy. “If the school is willing to take a commitment from a kid, what’s the difference? And that’s what they said: ‘We would take your commitment right now, but we would love for you to taken an official visit.’ That’s what Cal told me himself.”
Popp’s theory is that Calipari, who recently flew to Canada to see (and be seen by) Shittu, wants to get him on campus soon and extend that scholarship offer in person. It’s more powerful that way.
“There’s this aura about the O-word these days, when really on both sides it’s often kind of BS. A lot of kids are just collecting offers and a lot of schools throw them out there knowing something could change and they don’t have to honor them,” Popp said. “In this scenario, Cal is smart. He’s playing it to his advantage that people make a big deal about the offer. Cal is not the head coach at Kentucky by mistake. He knows what he’s doing.”
So will the Wildcats get Shittu to Lexington soon?
“My guess is they get a visit,” Popp said.
There’s still plenty of time and a good deal of work to be done, but should Kentucky snag both big-time Canadians, it would have arguably the best pair of forwards in college basketball next season.
“With Simi, it’s his energy and his athleticism and his mobility and ability to race up and down the floor. He’s also a really good rebounder. And he’s improving offensively, has good hands,” Daniels said. “With R.J., it’s his ability to score. He’s a tremendous scorer — got good size, got good length, he’s a good athlete — and the scary thing is he’s not a good shooter yet. As good of a scorer as he is, he’s not a good shooter, so there’s room for improvement.”
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