LEXINGTON, Ky. — It’s entirely commonplace for John Calipari to welcome five-star high school prospects onto UK’s campus for recruiting visits. It’s not hyperbole to say that one of this weekend’s guests for Big Blue Madness will be one of Calipari’s biggest recruiting visitors in recent memory.
Cade Cunningham — a 6-foot-7 point guard from Texas and the No. 2 player in the 247Sports rankings for the class of 2020 — is coming to Lexington for his official visit, deciding to skip a major USA Basketball training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., to follow through with his original plan of attending Big Blue Madness.
Cunningham is the top uncommitted player in the 2020 class, and it’s become clear in recent weeks that he’s Calipari’s top recruiting priority as the early signing period nears.
A few months ago, the idea of Cunningham ending up at Kentucky was implausible.
His older brother was hired as an assistant coach at Oklahoma State in June, and pretty much everyone in recruiting circles expected Cunningham to follow the family tie to Stillwater.
Cunningham, however, continued to list other schools — Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina and Washington are his other four finalists — and he’s followed through on his pledge to take official visits.
247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels downplayed the significance of Cunningham’s decision to skip USA Basketball camp to attend Big Blue Madness, but he did recognize that it’s a big deal simply to get Cunningham to Lexington.
“The significant portion is that he’s going to be on campus,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “I don’t think when he was going to be on campus mattered one way or another. But I do think Kentucky is right there with Cade Cunningham. If I were handicapping it, I would put it — in no order — Kentucky, North Carolina and Oklahoma State.”
All 15 of the Crystal Ball predictions on Cunningham’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page are in favor of Oklahoma State, but Daniels recently switched his pick to “undecided,” and there’s been a growing sense — even among those who think he’ll ultimately pick the Cowboys — that Cunningham truly is open to the idea of playing elsewhere.
“They’ve relayed to the schools involved that he’s not a done deal to Oklahoma State,” Daniels said. “Will that be the case? … We’ll see what happens.
“I don’t think Calipari or Roy Williams would’ve spent as much time on Cade Cunningham if they didn’t think they had a legitimate chance to get him.”
The Herald-Leader was told in recent days that Kentucky should be viewed as Oklahoma State’s biggest competition in Cunningham’s recruitment, and it’s likely that he will end up at one of those two schools.
The Cowboys obviously have the family connection, but they’re coming off a losing record in their second season under head coach Mike Boynton and haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2015. It’s been more than 10 years since Oklahoma State has won an NCAA Tournament game.
Cunningham has spoken of his desire to contend for a national title in what is likely to be his one season of college basketball, and his presence on UK’s 2020-21 squad would put the Wildcats at the forefront of the conversation for preseason No. 1 honors.
UK already has commitments from five-star shooting guards Terrence Clarke and Brandon “BJ” Boston, as well as four-star wing Cam’Ron Fletcher and four-star power forward Lance Ware.
The Cats are also expected to return several impact players from this season’s team, a list that could possibly include guys like Immanuel Quickley, Johnny Juzang, Keion Brooks and Dontaie Allen.
UK is certain to add a few more recruits to its 2020 class. Top targets include five-star forwards Greg Brown and Scottie Barnes, who have teamed up with Cunningham in AAU ball and high school, respectively.
Putting Cunningham — an early candidate to be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA draft — in charge of all of that talent on the court could make Kentucky the favorite for a national title a season from now.
Daniels said Cunningham would fit “pretty flawlessly” as the point guard for that group.
“Cade is a tremendous basketball player with a great feel,” he said. “He’s a guy that, when he’s surrounded by weapons, he’s even better. And obviously Kentucky would be able to surround him with players.
“He would fit in pretty well next to Terrence Clarke and BJ Boston. I can’t imagine in my head a better perimeter backcourt than that.”
Daniels said Cunningham could also co-exist in a backcourt that included five-star point guard Devin Askew, who visited UK this past weekend and might reclassify from 2021 to 2020, a decision that isn’t expected until after the high school season. Askew plans to announce a college commitment soon.
“I certainly think that they are in great shape to secure at least one,” Daniels said. “I would imagine that Kentucky thinks they can get two and will try to find a way to make it work. And, obviously, those two could play together. They’re very different.”
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