LEXINGTON, Ky. – Continuing a trend that started with the arrival of head coach John Calipari (pictured), the Kentucky men’s basketball program has once again put together one of the strongest recruiting classes in the country, signing four of the nation’s top players during the early fall signing period. Highly rated prospects Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Quade Green, Nick Richards and P.J. Washington have all inked national letters of intent with UK.
All four players are consensus four- or five-star prospects and all are ranked in the top 50 by the major national recruiting services. In a class stocked full of highly regarded players, national analysts are already calling UK’s class one of the nation’s top hauls for 2017.
“I’m excited about the beginning of this,” Calipari said. “I’m excited about these kids. Each one of them, just like the guys on this current team, they’re great kids. They’re sharers. They’re going to be servant leaders to each other. They’re going to be great teammates. They understand they’re coming here because they want to be the best version of themselves. They’re not worried about being better than another guy on this team. They’re worried about, ‘How can I be my best?’ If you think about it, none of these players are like one another. They’re all different. Just be the best version of yourself. Come here, get better and let’s do this.”
Click on the video as Calipari breaks down the class.
In every season in the Calipari era, the Wildcats have signed either the nation’s No. 1 or No. 2 recruiting class. UK looks to continue that streak with the latest additions of Gilgeous-Alexander, Green, Richards and Washington.
“The 2017 class is starting to shape up,” Calipari said. “We’re not done yet because we’re going to lose three seniors and four or five underclassmen from this team, so we’re still going to have to really round this class out, but the start of this class – wow! I’m feeling very comfortable that I can now worry about coaching that team on the floor knowing that we need to sign a couple more guys.”
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G, 6-5, 175
Like so many of the Calipari-era point guards before him who have gone on to successful college and NBA careers, Gilgeous-Alexander is long and athletic. A distributor who likes to push the ball up the court and create for his teammates, Gilgeous-Alexander also has the ability to create for himself with his quickness and a solid midrange jumper. He can play point guard or shooting guard.
“Shai is a little bit like Jamal Murray and some other guys we’ve gotten late in the process before,” Calipari said. “He decommitted from a school and called us and asked us if we would be interested in recruiting him. I saw him play in the summer and I thought he was a pretty good player. Then he grew three inches and went and played for the national team. The national team brought out stuff that no one knew, and all of a sudden you’ve got a five-star guard that’s 6-5, 6-6, can make plays and can get in the lane. He can get in the lane like Isaiah Briscoe. He can guard and deflect balls.”
Gilgeous-Alexander will come to Kentucky out of Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Originally from Canada, Gilgeous-Alexander was a member of the 2016 Canadian Men’s U18 National Team that captured the silver medal at the 2016 FIBA Americas U18 Championship over the summer. He averaged 7.8 points, a tournament-best 5.4 assists and 3.0 steals per game, second best in the field. ESPN, Scout and 247Sports tab him a top-50, four-star prospect.
“I felt an immediate comfort level with the coaching staff, which is full of really genuine people,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Coach Cal is the type of coach I want to play for. He’s really hard on his players and expects a lot from you, but you also feel a crazy amount of love. I wanted to go to a university where I felt like I was going to get better each and every day and be able to develop my game as fast as possible. I think the University of Kentucky is that university.”
Quade Green, G, 6-1, 175
Green’s playmaking ability is what sets him apart from so many of his peers in the class of 2017. His tools are exactly what one would want from a point guard: He’s an elite distributor who understands passing angles and lanes, he’s crafty off the bounce, and he has leadership tools that so many of Calipari’s other great point guards have had. Green is also a dangerous scoring threat with an ability to knock down shots.
“Quade Green is a winner,” Calipari said. “Aside from great skills and the ability to pass, his ability to make shots and create shots, he wins. He’s tough and he’s a fighter. Everyone wants to play with him. He’s a player that guys want to play with. It’s important when you’re leading. When you’re that lead guard, you’ve got to be that – that mentality, that personality to where they know this kid is a fighter and I want to be in his foxhole. He’s skilled and one of the best in the country at what he does.”
Green is considered a five-star point guard prospect by Rivals, ESPN and Scout. ESPN ranks him as high as the No. 22 overall prospect in the class, while Rivals has him at No. 23, Scout tabs him at No. 25 and 247Sports list him at No. 31. Green, who was named the 2016 Pennsylvania Class 3A Player of the Year as a junior, was a part of the 2016 FIBA Americas U18 Championship team that won a gold medal in Chile. He averaged 18.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists in leading Neumann-Goretti High School to the Pennsylvania state championship last season.
“I chose the University of Kentucky because I think it’s the best fit for me,” Green said. “I know I can be me by going to Kentucky. At the same time, I know the coaching staff is going to challenge me every day to be the best version of myself and is going to help me reach my dreams. At the end of the day, I felt like Kentucky could prepare me for the next step better than anyone else.”
Nick Richards, C, 6-11, 235
Richards, a 6-foot-11 center with great size and mobility, is considered an elite defender and rebounder. Described as a big-time finisher around the rim, Richards possesses a lot of length, a high motor and athleticism to run the floor. Richards is already equipped with an impressive power drop step around the basket that allows him to finish through contact. His upside might be his best asset.
“Nick is 7-foot tall with long arms,” Calipari said. “He’s a runner, a blocker, a defender and offensive player with a jump hook. He shoots free throws well. He’s in that same line of some of our previous big guys like Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis that had to establish who they were. That’s where he is. He’s a five-star kid and talented, but he’s not even close to where he’s going to be in two years. He’s going to flourish with us.”
Richards will be the second player in the Calipari era to join Kentucky out of the Patrick School in Elizabeth, New Jersey. National champion and No. 2 overall NBA Draft selection, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the other. Richards is ranked in the top 20 by the major recruiting services, including ESPN (No. 12), 247 Sports (No. 15), Scout (No. 17) and Rivals (No. 19). 247Sports tabs him as the second-best center in the class. He’s a consensus five-star prospect.
“I wanted to play at the highest level and Kentucky always said they are the highest level in college basketball,” Richards told ESPN.com. “Just the environment, it just felt like the right place.”
P.J. Washington, F, 6-8, 229
Washington, who currently plays at Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada, is an elite-level forward who is quickly developing perimeter skills to add to his already impressive arsenal around the basket. Long and versatile, Washington is considered a terrific finisher on the fast break with an above-average midrange game and an ability to attack the rim one-on-one from the high post.
“P.J. Washington is an alpha dog,” Calipari said. “I’m not trying to hype him up because I don’t do that, but he’s a combination between Trey Lyles and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He’s not quite as big as Trey and shoots it a little bit better than Michael, but he’s that kind of player. He’s a physically strong player. I want him to come in here and lead and be an attack dog. In the same sense as Nick, he’s not close to where he’s going to be. He can shoot it, you can throw it ahead to him in the break and he can bully a player that’s not big enough to guard him. He’s an outstanding player.”
Washington, measured at 6-8, 229 pounds, is rated as high as No. 14 overall in the rankings by Scout. 247Sports and ESPN have him at No. 16 and Rivals tabs him No. 17. The five-star prospect is considered the top power forward in the class by Scout. Washington was a member of the 2016 USA Men’s U18 National Team that won a gold medal at the 2016 FIBA Americas U18 Championship over the summer. He started all five games and averaged 10.0 points and 4.0 rebounds. Washington also represented the U.S. at the 2015 FIBA 3x3 U18 World Championship.
“Just the way that Coach Calipari uses his players and gets them to the next level, I felt that would be great for me,” Washington said when asked why he chose Kentucky on ESPNU’s signing day special. “He told me he would use me like Trey Lyles and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – just dominate the game. (Big Blue Madness) was great. The fan base was amazing. I got to see many of the past players, and it just felt like family.”
With the latest additions, Kentucky has signed 40 top-50 recruits, 34 top-25 players and 20 top-10 players (according to Rivals) in Calipari’s nine recruiting classes at Kentucky.
Photo by Jamie H. Vaught