Where would Jalen Duren rank in the 2021 class? And does Kentucky really have a shot?

·6 min read

A busy offseason of roster additions at Kentucky might not be finished just yet.

Late last week, the longstanding rumor in recruiting circles that No. 1-ranked prospect Jalen Duren might reclassify to 2021 and move on from high school this year went public, and the past few days have been filled with speculation regarding whether that will happen (and where Duren will end up if it does).

Rivals.com recently moved Duren — a 6-foot-10 center from Philadelphia — into the No. 1 spot in its class of 2022 rankings, pushing him ahead of likely-preps-to-pros small forward Emoni Bates, who had long held the top ranking nationally.

Now, it looks like Duren’s spot at the head of the 2022 class might not last long, with reclassification looking to be the most likely outcome.

“I still don’t know if it’s going to happen,” Rivals.com national analyst Rob Cassidy told the Herald-Leader on Tuesday. “But I think it probably will.”

Those around Duren have so far dismissed reports that the top-ranked prospect will make the move from 2022 to 2021, saying that the player and his family have not made any final decisions on his basketball future. Cassidy noted — and ESPN analyst Jonathan Givony reported last week — that Duren, who turns 18 years old in November, still has some academic work to complete his high school degree, and that would need to be taken care of before he could move to the 2021 class.

As of now, it looks like Duren will finish out the summer basketball schedule with his Nike-affiliated Team Final program — the likely favorites to win next month’s Peach Jam tournament — and then make a final announcement on his plans after that.

If he does reclassify to 2021 — and, according to others in national recruiting circles, that is the most likely scenario — the question would become whether Duren jumps straight to the pros or heads off to college for a season before entering the 2022 NBA Draft.

Cassidy said Duren is “for sure” ready to play college basketball at a high level this coming season, despite not turning 18 years old until mid-November.

“He’s got a college-ready body, as much as anybody. And more than most people,” Cassidy said. “And from a maturity standpoint, he handles the media very well, which is something a lot of people don’t see. A lot of high school kids — especially of his age — are either a little shy or a little standoffish. But Jalen seems to have a pretty good handle on it.

“He’s ready for the spotlight of college basketball, if that’s the route he decides to go.”

More on that in a bit.

Where would Duren rank in the 2021 class, if he does indeed reclassify?

Cassidy said that Rivals.com probably wouldn’t mess with those rankings at this late stage in the process. The final Rivals list was released in the spring and had Gonzaga signee Chet Holmgren — a versatile 7-footer from Minnesota — in the No. 1 spot. (ESPN and 247Sports also ranked Holmgren at No. 1).

But if Rivals.com did update its rankings, where would Cassidy place Duren?

“I’d be real tempted to put him No. 1,” he said. “Just because he’s bigger than Chet, he’s more college ready than Chet, he does a lot of the same things Chet does. I’d be tempted to put him No. 1, personally.”

Duren averaged 14.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots per game this past season for Montverde (Fla.) Academy, leading that school to a national championship and earning national junior of the year honors from MaxPreps.com.

Jalen Duren to Kentucky?

Cassidy, like pretty much everyone else in national recruiting circles, has assumed for a while that the professional route would be the most likely destination for Duren after high school.

The star center listed the G League and the Australian-based NBL as two of his 11 options in a recent list drop, and ZagsBlog reported last week that a deal from the G League for next season is estimated to be worth more than $1 million.

The G League signed four five-star recruits for its inaugural “Select Team” last year, and five-star prospects Jaden Hardy, Scoota Henderson and Michael Foster have already agreed to pro contracts to skip college and play for this season’s team.

Duren has been saying in recent weeks that the college route was still possible for him, though few who follow recruiting put much stock in that. The expectations might be changing.

“I think it’s definitely more of an option than it was, especially if the reclass happens,” Cassidy said. “It’s hard to recruit against money, but at the same time — when you’re in college — it gives you a chance to develop under less (pressure) than when someone is paying you a million dollars to play basketball.”

Cassidy said Tuesday that he still thinks the pro route is probably the favorite, though he acknowledged that the gap between the likelihood of Duren picking the pros or picking a college is narrowing. And others who have followed Duren’s process closely have told the Herald-Leader in recent days that college is actually the more likely landing spot at this point.

For the past few months, the narrative has been that — on the off chance that Duren didn’t turn pro out of high school — Kentucky and Michigan would be the most likely college teams to sign him.

Now, it’s Kentucky, Memphis and Miami generating the most buzz behind the scenes, with UCLA also mentioned as a possible dark horse in the recruitment. Duren is expected to take official visits to all four of those schools before making a decision, and the trip to Lexington is scheduled to happen later this month. The other colleges on his list are Michigan, Alabama, Auburn, Penn State and hometown Villanova.

UK, Memphis and Miami would all be intriguing picks.

Kentucky has been recruiting Duren since his earliest days in high school. If name, image and likeness reforms — allowing players to make money while still in college — are put in place in time for this season, Duren would likely be able to maximize his earning potential in a college-basketball-is-king market like Lexington.

Memphis made a major splash in its first full cycle under head coach Penny Hardaway two years ago — dethroning UK and Duke for the No. 1 spot in the recruiting class rankings — though the Tigers have not been able to replicate that success over the past two cycles.

Miami recently hired an assistant coach, DJ Irving, with ties to Duren’s Team Final travel program and the player’s former high school in Pennsylvania. The Hurricanes have also signed several prominent Team Final players over the past few years.

As of now, it looks like one of those three schools might very well end up with Duren on the roster next season.

Kentucky already has a loaded frontcourt, but Calipari would obviously love to add someone of Duren’s caliber to the mix. If he does reclassify, he might be the frontrunner to be selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft.

Even if Davion Mintz decides to remove his name from this year’s draft and return to Lexington for one more college season, Calipari would have an available scholarship to add Duren to his 2021-22 roster.

If that happens, Kentucky would be among the favorites to win the national championship.

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