Next Kentucky basketball visitor is making a push for the No. 1 ranking in his class

·5 min read

One bonus that comes with Kentucky’s early success on the basketball recruiting trail for next season is the luxury for the Wildcats’ coaching staff to look even further into the future.

With much of UK’s work done for the class of 2022 — three five-star commitments locked in and decisions from Adem Bona and Cason Wallace coming in the next two weeks — attention has already turned to the top players in the 2023 class, several of whom have made recruiting trips to Lexington over the past few weeks.

The next blue-chip high school junior expected to be on UK’s campus is Oregon native Mookie Cook, who is scheduled to take an official visit to Kentucky this weekend.

Cook — a 6-foot-7 wing — started his high school career with Jefferson (Ore.), the alma mater of former UK star Terrence Jones, before transferring this past offseason to Arizona Compass Prep, the same program that produced five-star Kentucky freshman TyTy Washington.

Long considered one of the best prospects in the 2023 class, Cook made another big jump over the summer, ending up at No. 2 overall in the Rivals.com rankings heading into this season. He might not be done moving up.

“There were serious discussions about making him No. 1,” Rivals.com national analyst Rob Cassidy told the Herald-Leader. “And I think there probably will be in the future.”

The player who has held that top spot for as long as there have been 2023 rankings is DJ Wagner, a New Jersey point guard with extensive family ties to John Calipari. Cassidy said there’s “not a lot to separate” Wagner, Cook and New Jersey wing Mackenzie Mgbako at the top of the list and that all of those players are likely to push for the No. 1 spot moving forward.

Wagner and Mgbako both visited UK for Big Blue Madness a couple of weeks ago.

Cook averaged 22 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists per game as a sophomore last season and comes to Compass Prep ready to play a national schedule.

Compass Prep program director Pete Kaffey said his team played against Cook last season, and the coaching staff was impressed with his athleticism and versatility. Offensively, he can initiate plays, impact the game above the rim and is underrated as a passer. Defensively, he competes — “We loved the fact that he plays hard, plays with a motor,” Kaffey said — while using his 7-foot wingspan to rebound and block shots, and he has the ability to defend guards on the ball.

“He’s got every tool,” Cassidy said. “He’s long. He’s turning into a better shooter. He’s a strong, athletic kid who plays above the rim. He’s a great ball handler. He does a lot of things really well.”

Consistency as an outside shooter had been an early knock on Cook’s game, but Kaffey said he’s improved in that area since arriving at Compass Prep and noted that — for a 6-7 kid still growing into his body with two more years of high school in front of him — he’s already a solid three-point shooter.

The biggest thing the Compass Prep coaches have been working on in the early going is getting Cook to keep his energy level up at all times. “Whenever you’re that good that early, sometimes you don’t work as consistently every play,” Kaffey said.

That’s not an option at Compass Prep, which was one of the top high school basketball teams in the country last season and will again feature several elite college prospects. Kaffey has already seen Cook’s competitiveness take another jump while playing against his talented teammates.

“Our practices are better than the games,” he said. “Because everywhere you look, you’ve got five-star, four-star guys — high-major recruits. So, you know, you’ve got to bring it. And if you don’t bring it, we’re going to make sure you bring it. But he brings it.”

Mookie Cook and Kentucky

Despite the existing high school ties to Cook’s recruitment, Kentucky will surely have a battle on its hands to bring him to Lexington two seasons from now.

As should be expected by his lofty ranking, Cook has emerged as one of the most-coveted prospects in the 2023 class.

Kansas, Gonzaga, Arizona, Memphis, UCLA and Oregon are among the many major colleges that have already reportedly extended scholarship offers. Duke has been paying attention to his recruitment. Gonzaga and Oregon have hosted Cook for unofficial visits, but this weekend’s trip will be the first official visit of his recruitment.

That could be taken as a positive sign for Kentucky, which has obviously built a good relationship with the Compass Prep program. Kaffey noted that he already knows all of UK’s coaches — some of those relationships date back more than a decade — and explained that Washington, who could be the Wildcats’ top player this season, is seen as a legend at Compass Prep, which is ahead of schedule as an emerging national prep school program thanks in large part to Washington’s play last season.

Washington’s father has been attending Compass Prep practices this season, and the early reports from TyTy are that he’s enjoying his time in Lexington so far. (And Kaffey was well aware of that endorsement deal his former star already has with a Kentucky Porsche dealership, a tangible sign of the name, image and likeness possibilities available to UK basketball players).

Kaffey said Cook plans to link up with Washington when he and his family get to Lexington this weekend. “And I’d rather have TyTy tell him what it is about Kentucky than anybody else,” he said, adding that Cook already has a high opinion of the program.

“I know he likes Kentucky. Obviously, every kid would want to be recruited by Kentucky. I know he likes the way Cal coaches. I know he likes the culture and everything else. … Obviously, taking a visit, he has an interest in Kentucky.”

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