Kentucky coach John Calipari talks about the spring signing class of Baker, Knox, and Vanderbilt. (Kentucky Wildcats TV)
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Already boasting the No. 1 rated recruiting class following the fall signing period, the Kentucky men’s basketball team added to its arsenal with three additional signees in the spring signing window, which closed on Wednesday, May 17. Jemarl Baker, Kevin Knox and Jarred Vanderbilt signed national letters of intent to suit up for the Wildcats in 2017-18.
The three spring signees will join Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Quade Green, Nick Richards and P.J. Washington, who signed during the fall signing period. Additionally, midyear enrollee Hamidou Diallo would begin game action in the fall should he decide to return to school (he’s currently weighing his professional options and has until Wednesday to decide whether he will return to school).
Kentucky’s three spring signees are consensus four- or five-star prospects and are ranked in the top 100 by the major national recruiting services.
In every season in the John Calipari era, the Wildcats have signed either the nation’s No. 1 or No. 2 recruiting class.
“To go along with who we have coming back, this group of young people – I’m ecstatic,” Calipari said. “I’m telling you, it’s going to be hard. We will be the youngest team and most inexperienced team in the country. This may be my youngest team ever, but you know what, I love the challenge of it because we have kids that will share, that are going to give it up for each other and that are comfortable in their own skin. They come from great homes. They understand they’re on a mission. They want to get better. Those are the kinds of kids that we want here at Kentucky.”
Jemarl Baker, G, 6-4, 190
Baker is a combo guard with an ability to create his own shot off the dribble and knock down jumpers. Tabbed as one of the premier shooters in the country whose range extends well beyond the college 3-point arc, Baker is expected to fill out UK’s backcourt and complement Green and Gilgeous-Alexander, who are at their best with the ball in their hands.
“We looked at this group and we said we need to have someone who is a knockdown shooter, which is what he is, but he’s also a guy who can create his own shot,” Calipari said. “I think he’s a player who can be a terrific defender because of his length and because of his athleticism. We need to come in and we need him to knock down shots.”
A 6-foot-4 sharpshooter out of Roosevelt High School in Corona, California, he is a consensus four-star prospect ranked among the top 100. ESPN ranks him as the 63rd overall player and the 19th-best shooting guard in the class. Rivals has him rated as the No. 78 overall player, while 247Sports ranks him No. 83 and Scout tabs him as the 85th overall player.
During his senior season, Baker averaged 17.1 points, 4.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. He hit 94 total 3-pointers last season and shot 44 percent from long range as a junior, leading the Under Armour circuit in 3-pointers last summer. A first-team HSGameTime All-Area selection, Baker led his team to a program-record 23 wins and a share of the Big VIII League title as a junior.
“I want to be great,” Baker said. “I chose to go to the school where I’d get a chance to compete every day and play against the best of college basketball. Kentucky will challenge me to become the best I can possibly be.”
Kevin Knox, F, 6-9, 203
Knox is a versatile wing who can play with his back to the basket or flourish as a perimeter threat. He committed to the Cats on Derby Day and inked his commitment later in the month. Aided by his length and ability to play inside and outside, coupled with his athleticism, Knox is one of the best pure scorers in the class.
“Kevin Knox is going to be the youngest player in college basketball,” Calipari said. “Similar to a Devin Booker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, he comes in really, really young – but talented. He’s a long, skilled player who, again, has a will to get better. I’m anxious to see his growth because I think it will be off the chain. Great kid, character kid who comes from a great family.”
Knox is considered a top-10 prospect by Scout, Rivals and ESPN, all of which list him as the second-best player at his position. He is the No. 17 overall player rated by 247Sports.
The Tampa, Florida, native averaged 28.5 points and 11.3 rebounds a game for Tampa Catholic as a senior where he finished his career scoring 2,760 total points. He led the Crusaders to a 25-6 record during his senior season, including a runner-up finish in the state championship game. As a junior, he averaged 30.1 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, leading his team to district and regional titles as well as an appearance in the state semifinals.
A 2017 McDonald’s All-American, he scored 15 points and added three rebounds in that contest. He is a 2017 Naismith High School All-America Second Team selection, as well as the 2016 USA Today All-USA Florida First Team member. A two-time All-State First Team selection, Knox has been a mainstay with USA Basketball.
He’s won gold medals with USA Basketball at the 2015 FIBA Americas U16 Championship and the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championship. He started all six games in 2016 for a team that went 7-0 to win gold. He averaged 11.2 points and 4.5 rebounds, while also snagging a combined 13 steals. During the 2015 run, he averaged 10.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
“There were a lot of reasons why I chose Kentucky; first the coaching staff is phenomenal,” Knox said in his blog post to announce his decision. “They know how to push players to the limit. Then I’ll be playing with a lot of great players every day in practice getting better against the best competition and, lastly, they know how to win. The program knows how to win and I’ll have a lot of players around me that know how to win and want to learn how to win even more.”
Jarred Vanderbilt, F, 6-9, 213
A talented forward with guard-like skills, Vanderbilt was a late verbal commit in the fall before officially signing with the Cats in April. An elite ball handler for a player with his size, Vanderbilt has the skillset to snare rebounds on the defensive end and start the fast break. His exceptional court vision and passing ability makes him a dangerous threat on the outside, while he has the power and craftiness to finish at the rim.
“I love guys that they have to put on the other board and say, ‘Alright, how are we guarding this kid? What do we do?’ ” Calipari said. “You’re talking a long athlete, a playmaking player who can get to that rim. He can really pass it and handle it in transition. He can rebound and go. He’s another one I’m anxious to see the growth as a player, as a shooter and as a perimeter scorer, because he can do both (play inside and outside).”
Vanderbilt is rated as one of the nation’s top-20 prospects and his play on the annual high school all-star circuit has solidified that. He is the No. 8 overall prospect by 247Sports and the No. 2 player at his position. Scout lists him as the No. 11 overall player, Rivals has him at No. 13 and ESPN ranks him at No. 18.
A native of Houston, Vanderbilt averaged 28.5 points, 13.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists a game for Victory Prep Academy. Vanderbilt, a lefty, was a former AAU teammate of All-America guard De’Aaron Fox.
Vanderbilt has displayed his ability to affect the game in all phases throughout the high school all-star circuit particularly with an impressive performance in leading the USA Junior National Select Team over the World Select Team, 98-97, at the Nike Hoop Summit. He posted game-highs of 19 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 8 of 12 from the field. He also contributed three assists, two blocks and two steals in just over 19 minutes of action. Vanderbilt was also a member of the USA U16 National Team that captured the gold at the 2015 FIBA Americas U16 Championship.
"I'm all about the team,” Vanderbilt said in an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal. “I want to win. My main goal is to win. Everything is good when you're winning. There's no sense in being productive by myself and you're losing. I want everybody to succeed. I'm that type of guy."
With the latest additions, Kentucky has signed 44 top-50 recruits, 37 top-25 players and 22 top-10 players (according to Rivals) in Calipari’s nine recruiting classes at Kentucky.