LEXINGTON, Ky. — Recruiting coverage is strange thing, and following recruiting coverage can be especially maddening for fans trying to decipher the comments and social media behaviors of unpredictable teenagers.
So was R.J. Barrett’s official visit to Kentucky over the weekend merely “alright,” as the No. 1 college basketball recruit in the Class of 2018 told a reporter? Or was it so good that it “couldn’t have gone any better?” as Barrett’s AAU coach told SEC Country?
We checked in with a source familiar with his recruitment — and the family’s trip to Lexington — to cut through the clutter and get a straight answer.
Here’s what really matters to Kentucky and its fans: Are the Wildcats in better position to land the 6-foot-7 Canadian wing who could be the top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft than they were before his visit? Absolutely, our source says.
The presentation UK made to Barrett and his family was “on point,” we’re told, “very organized, answered all their questions.” Furthermore, just as the young star’s coach told us, the depth of Barrett’s relationship with Kentucky freshman (and fellow Canadian Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) became clear during the trip.
That won’t make or break this recruitment, but having a current Wildcat consistently in his ear sure won’t hurt. And Gilgeous-Alexander is not a likely one-and-done, meaning he and Barrett could play together on UK’s 2018-19 team — which some believe could be yet another super squad for Calipari, and landing Barrett would solidify that.
Earlier this summer, our source was skeptical that the Cats would get him, in part because the family had questions about how he would be used and where he’d fit on a roster that is loaded with other 5-star recruits and future pros every season. So how does that source feel about Kentucky’s chances now?
“ A lot better,” he said. “I think a lot of things have been cleared up. That was a really successful visit.”
Barrett represents an opportunity for Calipari and Kentucky to reassert themselves on the recruiting trail. If you can believe it, despite signing the nation’s No. 1 or No. 2 class every year, the Cats haven’t landed the No. 1 overall player in the 247Sports Composite rankings since Nerlens Noel in 2012.
Duke has landed two (Marvin Bagley in 2017, Jahlil Okafor in 2014), Kansas has landed two (Josh Jackson in 2016, Andrew Wiggins in 2013) and LSU nabbed one (Ben Simmons in 2015) since then. The Blue Devils, one of Barrett’s other finalists, have been on a hot streak, landing two top-10 prospects already for 2018, signing three top-10 guys in 2017 and two in 2016.
Calipari knows how important it is to slow Duke’s roll and to reel in a game-changing player like Barrett, who dropped 38 points and 13 rebounds on a Cal-coached Team USA at the under-19 FIBA World Cup this summer. Best we can tell, Kentucky took a big step toward that goal during last weekend’s visit.
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