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What's next for Jalen Duren, Shaedon Sharpe and other Kentucky basketball recruits?

Lexington Herald-Leader logo Lexington Herald-Leader 7/26/2021 Ben Roberts, Lexington Herald-Leader

Jul. 26—The third and final July evaluation period for college basketball coaches ended Sunday, but happenings in the recruiting world are unlikely to slow down anytime soon.

While there is one more limited window for college coaches to see recruits — this week's NBPA Top 100 Camp, which has not yet announced a roster of participants — the attention of those coaches will largely turn to getting their top targets back on campus and locking up commitments from the 2022 class.

Expect Kentucky to get some good news on both fronts in the near future.

John Calipari and the rest of UK's coaching staff traveled all over the country in July, and there has been plenty of buzz in the Wildcats' favor as the summer recruiting periods wrap up.

The Jalen Duren situation

Until there's a resolution to Jalen Duren's recruitment, it will remain the biggest story in college basketball recruiting.

The 17-year-old center — ranked No. 1 in the 2022 class by both 247Sports and Rivals.com — was a first-team all-Nike selection in the regular season two weeks ago and carried his stellar play over to the Peach Jam portion of the Nike event this past week. In 15 total games of Nike play, Duren averaged 13.7 points and 8.7 rebounds, helping to lead Team Final to 14 straight victories and a Peach Jam championship to close out the summer.

As Duren played out his final summer of grassroots basketball, Kentucky's John Calipari, Memphis' Penny Hardaway and Miami's Jim Larranaga kept a close eye on the star recruit. On multiple occasions, all three coaches were in the stands together for Duren's games. (And top G League rep Rod Strickland also watched him play this month).

Though some onlookers were underwhelmed by their initial viewings of Duren — CBS Sports, in particular, had some criticisms of his game and long-term upside — it's clear that he would be a game-changing addition for any college team, if he decides to go that route.

What's next? A commitment, of some sort. To whom? Who knows.

Duren has narrowed his choices to Kentucky, Memphis, Miami, the G League and the NBL. Ask around to those who are usually in the know on such topics of national recruiting importance, and you get different answers. Many seem to think Miami has the best shot. Others have said it could be a Memphis-Kentucky battle. Some still think Duren, who has some high school coursework to complete if he wants to play college ball this season, might just turn pro, a route that would likely get him north of $1 million.

Of course, going to school and reaping the rewards of NIL reforms would also be lucrative to a player of his standing. If he does reclassify — and it would be a shock if he doesn't — Duren could end up as the No. 1 recruit in the 2021 class.

The lack of confidence among national recruiting insiders — and the continued presence of all three college coaches recruiting Duren — suggest no final decision has been made. Expect that decision to come very soon, however. With college classes starting next month, Duren should have an announcement on his basketball future in the next couple of weeks.

Shaedon Sharpe's rise

This time last year, Shaedon Sharpe was not a top-100 recruit in most of the national rankings. His profile steadily picked up from there, with a Kentucky scholarship offer in December, a standout junior season, and an eventual rise up the recruiting charts.

Sharpe — a super-athletic, 6-5 shooting guard from Ontario — entered July at No. 8 nationally in the 247Sports composite rankings. He's likely to jump up several more spots on that list in the coming weeks, and he has put himself in the conversation for the No. 1 ranking among 2022 recruits.

Named the most outstanding offensive player of the Nike regular season this month, Sharpe wowed coaches and evaluators in North Augusta, S.C., over the past two weeks, showing there's a whole lot of skill to go along with the next-level athleticism that he was already known to possess.

In 12 games of Nike play, Sharpe averaged 22.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists, making 28 of 77 three-pointers (36.4 percent). John Calipari was a constant presence at his games in North Augusta, and UK is the only college that has hosted Sharpe for an official visit so far in his recruitment.

What's next? A Kentucky commitment.

This has evolved into the worst-kept secret in national recruiting circles over the past few weeks. Sharpe, who plays for the same Nike program that produced Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, took a surprise official visit to Lexington last month, and it has been expected since then that he would ultimately commit to the Wildcats.

There's no official timetable for an announcement on Sharpe's final recruiting decision, but — barring a major surprise at this point — he's likely to be a Kentucky Wildcats commitment by the end of next month. Landing a talent the caliber of Sharpe, who is expected to be a consensus top-five player in the 2022 class once those rankings are revisited, would be a tremendous boost to Kentucky's 2022-23 roster and a major source of momentum on the recruiting trail.

Reed Sheppard's offers

The rest of the country found out this month what those in the commonwealth already knew: Reed Sheppard can play some basketball.

Over the course of the past two weeks, Sheppard has landed scholarship offers from Kentucky, Indiana, Virginia, Ohio State, Clemson and UMass. (Louisville offered in June). It has been quite the national rise for the North Laurel standout, who just turned 17 years old and still has two more seasons of high school ball in front of him. During the three July evaluation periods, he led his Midwest Basketball Club to a 14-1 record — finishing out the run with a 31-point performance Sunday morning — while playing at the highest level of the Adidas circuit.

Sheppard — a 6-3 guard — showed John Calipari enough in the UK coach's very first viewing of him to earn that Kentucky scholarship offer. Coming into the month, he was ranked No. 39 nationally by Rivals.com, No. 65 by 247Sports, and he wasn't ranked at all by ESPN. The next time all of those 2023 rankings are updated, expect a rise for Sheppard, who garnered rave reviews over the past few weeks from the folks who put such lists together.

What's next? An actual recruitment.

Many Kentucky fans probably thought Sheppard — the son of two former UK stars — would commit to the Wildcats shortly after Calipari extended the offer, but it doesn't sound like that will be the case. Sheppard and his family have been clear that he wants to go through the process — visit other college campuses, get to know other college coaches, study which programs might be good fits — and then make a decision from there.

Some recruits say that and then commit to a school in short order anyway, but the Sheppards' public approach to this seems genuine. That's not to say Kentucky shouldn't be seen as the leader. And it's not to say that fans should expect Sheppard to drag his recruitment into his senior season. Just don't expect a commitment sometime in the next few weeks.

More recruits on Kentucky's radar

Going into July, the Wildcats had a commitment from five-star point guard Skyy Clark and scholarship offers out to seven additional 2022 recruits: Jaden Bradley, Jalen Duren, Keyonte George, Dereck Lively II, Chris Livingson, Brandon Miller and Shaedon Sharpe. After the second evaluation period, one other rising senior has landed a UK offer: 6-11 forward Kyle Filipowski. This past weekend, five-star guards Cason Wallace and Nick Smith Jr. earned their Kentucky offers.

It's clear that Kentucky's pool of recruits is still expanding.

The Wildcats' coaching staff spent considerable time over the past few weeks getting a closer look at other possible targets in the 2022 class. Remember, due to the NCAA's pandemic-related travel restrictions on recruiting, this was the first real chance for Kentucky's coaches to see players in person since March 2020, when the prospects in the 2022 class were high school sophomores (and not high priorities to be evaluated).

Now that UK has a nice sample size of in-person viewings of some more of these recruits, the coaches can figure out where they go from here — and who they want to prioritize — in the coming weeks and months.

What's next? A couple of interesting league battles.

Kentucky probably won't stop at Skyy Clark and Shaedon Sharpe when adding guards to its 2022 class. Five-star guards Nick Smith Jr. and Cason Wallace were the two most interesting players to watch on that list of possibilities heading into the weekend, and now they both have scholarship offers.

Smith is one of the most offensively gifted perimeter players in the 2022 class. The 6-5 guard — from the same Arkansas high school that produced Archie Goodwin — had been looking for a UK offer for months, and a couple of national analysts put in pro-UK predictions for his recruitment before that offer came Sunday night. He helped lead his team to the Peach Jam finals this weekend, scoring 31 points in the loss to Team Final on Sunday afternoon.

Wallace — a 6-4 guard from Richardson, Texas — has been known for his defense, but he showed enough all-around game to take home league MVP honors at the conclusion of the Nike regular season this month. Basketball insiders pegged Tennessee as the favorite going into July, but that new Kentucky offer could swing his recruitment.

These will be two interesting recruitments within the Southeastern Conference.

At this point, it would be a major surprise if Wallace chooses any team other than Kentucky or Tennessee, while Smith has already taken official visits to Alabama and Auburn, with another official visit to home-state Arkansas planned for the fall.

It looks like Calipari wants to take at least three guards in this talented class of perimeter prospects. There's confidence in recruiting circles that UK can manage just that: commitments from Clark, Sharpe and one of either Smith or Wallace. That would be a heck of a young backcourt for the Wildcats a year from now.

UK's coaching staff debuts

Following 16 months of inactivity on the recruiting trail — due to the COVID-19 restrictions — Kentucky's coaching staff showed up big in July, with John Calipari, Orlando Antigua, Chin Coleman and Jai Lucas sharing the sidelines together for the first time.

The group made its collective recruiting debut at the Adidas showcase in Alabama during the first evaluation period, and they stayed busy throughout the month, with a major focus on the Nike league games these past two weeks.

Calipari's recent staff shake-ups were clearly done with a focus on recruiting in mind, and he has assembled one of the best groups — perhaps the best group — of coaches to hit the trail. (And don't forget that former college head coaches and longtime Calipari confidantes Bruiser Flint and John Robic are still on Kentucky's staff).

What's next? We'll see. Kentucky's coaches — and Wildcats fans — are obviously hoping for big things.

Calipari assembled this staff, in part, to return UK to its glory days of recruiting, when the program not only landed the No. 1 class in the country but a game-changing, can't miss recruit or two at the top of each class, as well. This Kentucky staff will have its chances.

A commitment from Jalen Duren would be a major "We're back!" moment for Calipari on the recruiting trail, but even if that doesn't happen, there are other opportunities in the near future.

Landing a commitment from Shaedon Sharpe, which is expected, would be a big deal. Sharpe should end up as a top-five national recruit in this 2022 class. A commitment from Dereck Lively II, which could very well happen, would also go a long way. The versatile, 7-2 post prospect has risen to the No. 3 spot in the 247Sports rankings and could end up as the top prospect from the 2022 class to actually play college basketball.

Looking a little further down the line, DJ Wagner is the undisputed No. 1 player in the 2023 class. He has lifelong ties to Calipari. If he plays college ball, it would be a shock if he does it anywhere other than Kentucky. When might Wagner be ready to make a decision on his future?

The Cats have been similarly positioned for top recruits in recent years. At various times, they looked like the leaders for superstar prospects like James Wiseman, Paolo Banchero and — if only for a little while — Cade Cunningham, only to swing and miss in all three of those high-profile pursuits.

This feels different, and the next few weeks and months should tell us quite a bit about Kentucky's current recruiting power.

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