The Boo Williams session of the Nike EYBL not only gives college coaches a great chance to evaluate prospects against the nation's most elite competition, it also gives prospects a better feel for which schools are really serious about recruiting them heading into the summer.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari traveled to Hampton, Virginia, for the entire weekend with assistants Orlando Antigua and Kenny Payne, where the trio evaluated a slew of four and five star prospects, a few of which have offers from the Wildcats already.
With Cats Illustrated on hand throughout all three days to track the Kentucky staff, and the event's top players, here are our thoughts on each 2014 prospect that Calipari and company checked out.
Head of the Class
One of the keys to winning in the Nike EYBL is finding elite point guard play to navigate the offense against long, athletic and active defenses. No one in the league has a better floor general then the Howard Pulley Panthers, out of Minneapolis, who rely on five-star Tyus Jones to lead them to victory. The consummate teammate, more often than not Jones obliges.
Since we had not seen Jones live since the Nike Peach Jam late last July, we were eager to get a detailed look at his game and progress. In a word, Jones was, tremendous. The no. 3 prospect in the 2014 Rivals150, Jones is the best pure point guard in the nation, showing a willingness to create offense for teammates before looking to score himself.
A 6-foot guard, Jones has good speed but thrives in changing gears, and is so calm under pressure that defenses cannot hurry him up. An excellent fit for Kentucky because of his knack for making plays off of high ball-screens, Jones was watched on multiple occasions by Calipari over the weekend.
The consensus amongst media members and coaches is that Duke leads for Jones, something that the Apple Valley (Minn.) High School guard has adamantly denied. However, Duke coaching staff, as well as Michigan State, Kansas, North Carolina, Baylor and Minnesota all watched Jones closely in addition to the Wildcats.
On Saturday, we caught up with Jones, and he let us know that right now the only thing he knows in his recruitment is that it isn't going to end anytime soon.
"I'm a little bit closer to a decision, but at the same time I have no idea where I'm going to choose," Jones said. "I'm going to try to make it by the fall sometime, start taking my officials in the fall, but I still have no idea."
"I've taken unofficials to all the colleges and have good relationships with them. We've really had all our questions answered. Now I have to get ready to make a decision."
Jones is playing his recruitment tight to the vest, but was still clear that he intends on playing his college ball alongside his good friend Jahlil Okafor, a center who is ranked no. 1 overall in the 2014 Rivals150. Okafor didn't play over the weekend, but would have likely drawn interest from the Kentucky staff if he had played.
Narrowest of Gaps
As great of a pure point guard as Jones is, five-star Dallas (Tex.) Prime Prep guard Emmanuel Mudiay is just as good, just very, very different. A scoring point guard who can also make the assist play to an open teammate, Mudiay is a more fast paced driver who wants to attack the rim every possession. He's a bigger guard at 6-foot-4, and has both the strength and athleticism to step in as a college ready body.
For every game of Jones' that Calipari and his staff watched, they watched an equal amount of games for Mudiay. In addition to the Wildcats, coaches from Baylor, Kansas and Arizona were constant faces at Mudiay's games with Texas Pro.
Like Jones, the five-star guard isn't giving much information away right now. But he did tell Cats Illustrated that he plans on taking summer visits to Kentucky, Arizona, North Carolina State, Baylor and SMU, leading to logical speculation that those schools stand out the most among the five-star point guard's 10 finalists.
A few weeks ago, back when Cliff Alexander was playing his AAU ball with the Derrick Rose All-Stars, we reported that interest between Kentucky and Alexander had significantly diminished, a sentiment echoed throughout the top of the Rivals network. However, things in recruiting can change in a hurry, and that seems to be what has happened with Alexander, who has played the last two weeks in the EYBL with Mac Irvin Fire.
Just three weeks after not even listing Kentucky among ten schools he mentioned to reporters at the NY2LA Swish-N-Dish, Alexander told media that the Wildcats stand out the most in his recruitment, along with Michigan State and Illinois, heading into May.
Calipari recently took a trip to Chicago to talk to the Curie High School big man, who is ranked the no. 5 prospect in the Rivals150, where he re-established the relationship between the prospect and the Wildcats.
Maybe it was a change in the recruitment of Kentucky's other center target, Jahlil Okafor, maybe it was Alexander absent mindedly leaving Kentucky off of his previous lists, or maybe it has something to do with Alexander's switch of AAU teams, but it looks like this recruitment has taken complete 180-degree change, and more developments could emerge soon.
After the two point guard prospects, always Calipari's most coveted position, the main target that he spent time evaluating was Oakland Soldiers five-star forward Stanley Johnson. Of every player in the 2014 class, there might not be a better fit for the Wildcats then the 6-foot-6 forward from Santa Ana (Cal.) Mater Dei, who plays with such terrific effort and desire that he could remind Kentucky fans of a younger version of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Johnson was clearly devastated by his team's lack of success this weekend, just a year after capturing the EYBL crown at the Nike Peach Jam, as his squad rests at 3-6 after two weekends. However, there wasn't much else Johnson could do for his team, as he relentlessly defended, chased down loose balls and scored from inside and outside in a trio of losses that we watched, to Team Final, Team Takeover and Chicago Meanstreets (three of the league's top teams).
Offensively, Johnson is much improved, showing a new ability to go coast to coast with the ball for powerful downhill drives through contact at the rim. Also proving that he can handle the ball in the half-court, Johnson also assumed a much more dominant role on his team then he did a year ago.
Arizona and Kentucky were the two schools who watched Johnson the most over the weekend; but Oregon, California, UCLA and several others are desperately trying to catch up.
Always Have a Wingman
It's hard to say who Kentucky's top wing target is at this point. It could be five-star Wisconsin Playground Elite guard Rashad Vaughn, a Minneapolis native who is strongly rumored to be attending Huntington (W.V.) Prep next year, or it could be Mississippi shooter Devin Booker, the star of the Alabama Challenge.
Regardless of who the Wildcats staff likes the most, they showed both prospects a lot of love over the weekend.
Just days after earning an offer from Kentucky, Booker starred in Hampton as a scorer, with Calipari watching at least parts of three of his five contests. Booker impressed in front of us as well, showing an aggressive scoring attitude, a willingness to distribute and the ability to make shots off of the catch or the bounce.
In addition to Kentucky, coaches from Duke, North Carolina, Missouri and Michigan State all checked out Booker in multiple games.
The focus on Vaughn over the weekend was more centered around his high school decision, but the scoring wing got better in every game that he played, really finding a comfort level in shooting the ball in mid-range pull-ups in isolation situations late on Saturday and on Sunday. In our first viewings of Vaughn, the five-star impressed with his range, his physical strength and aggression, but will have to continue to hone his ball-handling skills.
Kentucky and North Carolina clearly tracked Vaughn the most throughout the weekend. Vaughn chose not elaborate to a slew of UNC and UK beat writers on Friday night, saying that, "everybody" is showing him love right now, and that he "could" narrow his list down soon.
These 2014 prospects have listed Kentucky interest over the past month to us, but all four of them were either evaluated for a very, very short time by Wildcats staff in Hampton, or skipped over altogether. Those prospects are wing guards D'angelo Russell, Theo Pinson, Jalen Lindsey and Isaiah Whitehead.
This doesn't mean that Kentucky doesn't have an interest anymore in these players, but they clearly are putting more of an emphasis on their two point guard and two main shooting guard targets, heading into summer recruiting. With a plethora of schools beating down the doors to try and land commitments from these elite prospects, look for Kentucky to take a major backseat in their recruitments'.
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