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The third and final July evaluation period for college basketball coaches begins Friday and runs through Sunday, giving schools one last, best chance to scout their biggest recruiting targets against top summer competition.
Kentucky’s coaches are once again expected to flock to North Augusta, S.C., where Nike play will wrap up with the Peach Jam finals. There’s a full slate of games scheduled for Friday — with each Nike team playing twice — but the eval opportunities dwindle after that, with the knockout rounds beginning Saturday and the finals set for Sunday evening.
College coaches will have a limited evaluation period at next week’s NBPA Top 100 Camp, but the guest list for the event is not yet set, and — other than that — they will not be able to see recruits off campus until early September.
So, the big question this weekend: Will anyone else end up with a UK scholarship offer?
That list is bound to expand soon — either by the end of the weekend or in the few weeks that follow — and there are some prime candidates to add their names to Kentucky’s offer sheet.
Already high on the list was five-star guard Cason Wallace, who has made an even better case for himself over the past week. Wallace — a 6-foot-4 prospect from Richardson, Texas — is the No. 18 overall player in the 2022 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
He’s long been known for his defense, but Wallace showed plenty of offensive ability in Nike regular-season play, averaging 15.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game, leading his Pro Skills squad to a 7-0 record, and earning most valuable player honors for the week.
Calipari watched Wallace play multiple times, and the expectation is that he will indeed receive a UK scholarship offer at some point in the next few weeks. If the Cats do jump all in on Wallace’s recruitment, the biggest competition will be Tennessee, which hosted him for an official visit last month.
Another Nike player the UK coaching staff has kept an eye on is Nick Smith Jr., a 6-4 combo guard from the same Arkansas high school that produced Archie Goodwin.
Smith averaged 16.4 points per game in the regular-season portion of the Nike schedule and is widely viewed as one of the top perimeter scorers in the 2022 class. He’s No. 20 overall in the 247Sports rankings, and his recruitment seems relatively wide open, though a Kentucky scholarship offer could vault the Cats to the very top of his list.
UK already has a commitment from five-star point guard Skyy Clark, and the Wildcats are major favorites to land five-star shooting guard Shaedon Sharpe, with multiple guards from this season’s team expected to be back in Lexington for the 2022-23 campaign. (That list could include Sahvir Wheeler, CJ Fredrick and Dontaie Allen, and possibly TyTy Washington, if he doesn’t end up as a one-and-done player).
Kentucky also has scholarship offers out to five-star guards Jaden Bradley and Keyonte George. Still, Wallace and Smith remain high on the Wildcats’ target list, and it’s expected that UK will make a serious move for at least one of those recruits in the coming weeks.
Adem Bona — a 6-10 center — is another player to watch. Bona was born in Nigeria, moved to Turkey as a teenager and made his way to the United States last year. He’ll be a senior at Prolific Prep (Calif.) this season, and Kentucky has been linked to his recruitment over the past few months.
When Bona first arrived in the United States, the expectation in recruiting circles was that he would ultimately head back overseas and play professionally once he was finished with high school, then return to America for the NBA Draft. That still might happen, but there’s been enough buzz surrounding UK and other schools that it seems possible Bona will play college ball.
He was gone for the first part of the July evaluation periods — representing Turkey in the FIBA U19 World Cup in Latvia — but he returned to his Nike team a few days ago and put up 18 points and 14 rebounds in his first Peach Jam game this week. Bona, who turned 18 years old in late March, is a high-motor, hard-working prospect who could be an excellent rebounder and rim protector at the college level, with enough overall upside that 247Sports ranks him No. 9 nationally in the 2022 class.
Cason Wallace has looked like a man on a mission at the Nike EYBL, making a strong case for consideration as the best point guard in the class. Here's a taste of what he's had to offer so far this week. pic.twitter.com/1u3kFs0iVj
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) July 16, 2021
COVID-19 at Peach Jam
There’s been a steady stream of reports of COVID-19 positives among college coaches who attended last week’s Nike event and recruits playing in Peach Jam over the past couple of days, and the New York Times reported Thursday that there have indeed been cases detected.
The report specifically named Kyle Filipowski, who landed a UK scholarship offer Monday, as one of the players who has tested positive for COVID-19 this week. Filipowski played Tuesday — and was one of the star players on the circuit last week — but was sidelined for Wednesday’s game. Several other players across multiple teams have also tested positive this week.
Unlike other grassroots basketball tournaments this month, Nike did require players and coaches participating in its event to submit COVID-19 tests before their arrival in North Augusta, S.C., last week, and players have continued to be tested daily.
Fans are not allowed at the event this year.
As of Thursday afternoon, tournament organizers had not commented on the COVID-19 concerns, and there were no indications that the remainder of the event would be canceled or postponed.
Even more Kentucky targets?
Wallace, Smith and Bona might not be the only 2022 prospects with a real chance to land a UK offer.
Texas big man Vince Iwuchukwu has been impressing spectators at the Nike event. Compass Prep (Ariz.) power forward Sadraque Nganga (No. 19 in the 247Sports composite rankings) has long been linked to the Wildcats and plays for the same program that featured UK freshman TyTy Washington last season.
More recently, Kentucky has been tied to fast-rising Missouri center Tarris Reed Jr., who was Nike teammates with Skyy Clark before the UK commitment suffered a knee injury this month.
Five-star guard Anthony Black — a do-it-all, 6-8 prospect from Texas — will be playing in Orlando this weekend, and it’s possible a Kentucky coach might get down to see him. UK assistant Jai Lucas watched Black during the first eval period this month, and he’s also a possibility to turn up at next week’s Top 100 Camp, which the Wildcats are expected to scout. Duke, Gonzaga and several other major programs have already offered.
And, of course, with so much uncertainty in the recruiting world over the past year and a half, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Kentucky target a player or two not currently known to be on its radar. Coaches are expected to be able to travel for in-home visits — the first such recruiting trips in 18 months — starting in early September. A lot can change between now and then.
Watch UK recruits on ESPN
All of the Nike league games have been free via online live streams, but Kentucky fans wanting to get a better look at some top recruits might have that chance this weekend.
ESPNU will have live broadcasts of the Peach Jam semifinals at 5 and 7 p.m. Saturday, and that network will televise the Nike championship game at 6 p.m. Sunday.
Obviously, we don’t yet know who will make it to the semifinals, but — with so many major Kentucky targets in the event — there’s a good chance at least one of those players is playing on national television this weekend. Check out the Next Cats blog on Kentucky.com as the bracket progresses to see who will be playing on ESPNU on Saturday and Sunday.
The network will air three other games Sunday: the girls’ 16U finals at noon, the boys’ 16U finals at 2 p.m., and the girls’ 17U finals at 4 p.m. There could also be some UK targets in those games.
UK targets sweep awards
The players at the top of Kentucky’s recruiting wish list haven’t disappointed so far.
Awards for the Nike regular season were posted by The Circuit — an official outlet of the event — this week, and it was a clean sweep by UK targets.
As previously mentioned, Cason Wallace took home MVP honors.
Other big awards went to Shaedon Sharpe (best offensive player), Dereck Lively II (best defensive player), and DJ Wagner (top underclassman).
Sharpe and Lively, who both took official visits to Kentucky last month, are arguably the Wildcats’ top two targets in the 2022 class. Sharpe averaged 21.6 points per game and shot 46.2 percent from three-point range in the regular season. Lively blocked 35 shots in seven games. Wagner, the No. 1-ranked player in the 2023 class, averaged 18.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.0 steals per game. If he goes to college, Kentucky will be the major favorite.
John Calipari and the UK coaching staff watched all three of those recruits play multiple times last weekend, and they’re expected to do the same during the final evaluation period.
— Who's Next (@WhosNextHS) July 20, 2021
Reed Sheppard Watch
During the first July evaluation period, North Laurel standout Reed Sheppard played in front of John Calipari for the first time, earned a UK scholarship offer the next day, and continued to wow national talent evaluators along the way.
During the second July evaluation period, Sheppard helped lead his Midwest Basketball Club to the semifinals of the 30-team Adidas circuit, falling to eventual champions Dream Vision there. Sheppard’s squad won its first nine games of Adidas play in July before that loss, and he played last week in front of the likes of Virginia’s Tony Bennett, Michigan’s Juwan Howard, Indiana’s Mike Woodson and Iona’s Rick Pitino.
Sheppard will wrap up the July recruiting period in Indianapolis, where he and the Midwest Basketball Club will play in the Prep Hoops 2K21 event starting Friday afternoon. The team has five games scheduled for the weekend, and it will be interesting to see which college coaches show up to see Sheppard.
That Kentucky scholarship offer hasn’t prevented others from recruiting the UK legacy. He picked up additional offers from Indiana, Ohio State, Clemson and UMass after the UK offer.
On Wednesday night, another big one came.
That’s when Virginia came through with a scholarship offer, and the word in recruiting circles this month has been that the Cavaliers have the best shot of anyone at battling Kentucky for Sheppard’s commitment.
Still, UK has established itself as the major favorite. Since the Kentucky offer came two weeks ago, eight Crystal Ball predictions have been logged on Sheppard’s page, all in favor of the Wildcats, with national analysts Eric Bossi and Jerry Meyer among those picking UK.
— 402 Visuals (@402visuals) July 21, 2021