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The recruitment of five-star basketball prospect Adem Bona is likely to come down to what happens this weekend.
Bona — a 6-foot-11 center at Prolific Prep (Calif.) — was set to start his official visit to UCLA on Friday, a 48-hour trip that will ultimately be a major factor in a college decision that’s expected to come in the near future.
Kentucky hosted Bona — originally from Nigeria, and the No. 10 overall player in the 247Sports rankings for the 2022 class — for an official visit three weeks ago. At one point, UK looked like the favorite to land his commitment. Recent predictions indicate that’s no longer the case.
Has Bona slipped away from the Wildcats? Not quite yet, say the experts.
“Right now, I would say they’re about neck and neck heading down the final stretch of this recruitment,” 247Sports analyst Travis Branham told the Herald-Leader on Thursday. “Kentucky has done, I think, about all they can do up to this point. They’ve put themselves in a good position, so I think we’ll really start to have some clarity on where this is headed — whether it’s Kentucky or UCLA — next week. But, right now, it’s a bit of an open-ended question. I don’t think there’s a definitive answer to who the leader is at this moment.”
Rivals.com national analyst Rob Cassidy placed a UCLA prediction on Bona’s FutureCast page last week, becoming the first recruiting expert to publicly pick the Bruins for Bona’s commitment. Since then, another Rivals analyst and three 247Sports experts — including national analyst Eric Bossi — have also placed UCLA predictions. No new picks for UK have come in during that time.
Still, even Cassidy doesn’t think this recruitment is over just yet.
“I think it’s UCLA’s to lose, and that’s not saying that they can’t do that,” he told the Herald-Leader on Thursday. “I’m not as staunch as some people thinking it’s for sure UCLA. I think this visit actually does mean a lot. I think there’s some people out there who think this is a done deal and it’s a formality. But I think Kentucky gave him plenty to think about.”
The 247Sports Crystal Ball allows analysts to place a 1-10 “confidence” grade on each prediction. Bossi put a “6” next to his pick, not exactly a lock.
Cassidy went a step further.
“If we had that meter at 1-10, I’d put it at about 3,” he said with a laugh. “Because it seems like a neck-and-neck thing, and the people that I’ve talked to have said it’s not a done deal and that this UCLA visit is more like a reconnaissance mission than anything else. There are things that they need to show him. I don’t know what those things are, necessarily.
“There’s a thought out there that recruitments are over before the visits are over — and sometimes that’s true — but I don’t think it’s the case here.”
That’s Branham’s read, as well.
He was the first analyst to correctly predict that Dereck Lively II would pick Duke over Kentucky last month, but he acknowledged this week that he’s more conservative than most with his Crystal Ball predictions. Branham has not yet made a pick on Bona’s page, and he said he’s actually received conflicting information in recent days, with some sources saying UCLA is the most likely destination, while others still think it will be Kentucky.
He also said UK fans could rightly look to those relatively low confidence assessments as a reason for hope in the final stretch.
“For sure. This one has been a fluid recruitment,” Branham said. “I’ve been saying that for months now. While Kentucky came in as an early favorite, it’s been fluid every step of the way. Things can change. Obviously, things are starting to solidify now, and it’s obvious that Kentucky and UCLA are the top two options. But nobody is certain at this moment of where he will be going, so we’ll see.”
Adem Bona’s recruitment
When Bona first came to the United States from Turkey — where he had moved from Nigeria at age 13 and started developing as a basketball prospect — last year, there was an expectation in recruiting circles that he would ultimately return overseas after high school, play professionally for a season, and be back for the 2023 NBA Draft.
Over time, the college route emerged as a more reasonable path, and earlier this year Kentucky emerged as a possible favorite. At the same time, UK was recruiting Lively — the unanimous pick as the highest-ranked frontcourt player in the 2022 class — and the Wildcats were involved in something of a juggling act with the two post players. They obviously missed out on Lively to recruiting rival Duke, and it was around that same time that UCLA emerged publicly as a real threat for Bona’s commitment.
The timing was so exact that it led to speculation that Kentucky had blown Bona’s recruitment — if he does ultimately end up at UCLA — by seemingly prioritizing Lively instead.
“I don’t think there’s as much to that as people want to make it out to be,” Cassidy said, adding that Lively was the No. 1 post player on everybody’s board by the end of the summer, and further speculating that, if Bona truly wanted to be at Kentucky more, UK’s pursuit of Lively shouldn’t do much to alter that feeling.
In every class at every position, college coaches pursue multiple players, and Kentucky was apparently looking for a way to add both frontcourt talents to its 2022 class. With Lively out, Bona remains as the only post player with a UK scholarship offer in a class that so far has yielded zero frontcourt commitments for the Wildcats.
That makes Bona, who projects as an instant-impact college rebounder and defender with upside offensively, an important part of Kentucky’s recruiting future. He’s just as important for UCLA, which made the Final Four last season and is ranked No. 2 nationally for 2021-22.
This weekend will likely be the final step in his recruitment.
Branham said he would expect a final decision from Bona to come fairly soon after the UCLA visit wraps up Sunday.
“Heading into this final visit, UCLA does have momentum. There is buzz behind them,” he said. “But, again, I think Kentucky is in a good spot. I’m not ready to rule them out just yet.
“So there are a lot of questions in the air. And we should have those questions answered in the next week or two.”