A closer look at Kentucky’s growing list of frontcourt recruiting options for next season

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — New names continue to fly around — and familiar ones keep resurfacing — as Kentucky’s search for at least one more frontcourt player for next season’s basketball roster continues.

So far, the Cats will have only a pair of power forward recruits — Isaiah Jackson and Lance Ware, both 6-foot-9 freshmen — for the 2020-21 season. Rhode Island transfer Jacob Toppin — a 6-8 forward — could also join them if the NCAA approves a change to its waiver process that would allow traditional transfers to play at their new schools without sitting out a season. Toppin, a 190-pound prospect who averaged 5.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game as a freshman, is seen as more of a long-term contributor, however.

The next tallest player on UK’s projected roster will be 6-7 sophomore Keion Brooks, who was recruited to play more of a wing role in college.

So, Kentucky will add someone else for the 2020-21 campaign. Who will it be?

Here’s the latest on the most likely possibilities, as of now, as well as those who keep getting mentioned but are unlikely to play for Kentucky next season.


Intriguing options

— Frank Anselem — a 6-foot-9 center with a 7-foot-5 wingspan — is probably the most realistic addition for Kentucky next season (though this recruiting cycle is moving fast and changing day to day). Anselem — a native of Nigeria who just completed his final season of high school ball at Prolific Prep (Calif.) — isn’t as highly ranked as the typical John Calipari recruit. 247Sports has him ranked No. 119 in the 2020 class, while Rivals.com has him at No. 133. Still, he has a ton of upside — he’s in only his fifth year of playing basketball — and could be uniquely suited to help Kentucky next season. While still raw offensively, he’s an active rim-protector with quality length and athleticism. He’s also a terrific offensive rebounder. Kentucky’s coaches see him as well-suited for next season’s roster — which already has plenty of offensive firepower — and a promising long-term prospect.

Anselem’s AAU coach and mentor, Julius Smith, is realistic about immediate expectations. He told the Herald-Leader that Anselem doesn’t need to be a featured player — or even a starter — in his freshman season. He just needs to find a team that can provide the opportunity to play quality minutes right away and continue to develop his game.

More than a dozen schools have reached out over the past few days — including Maryland, Oregon, Syracuse and Texas, among others — and Anselem could have a college decision in the next week or two. Seton Hall will be another program to watch. Smith said that Anselem already has a good relationship with Pirates assistant coach Tony Skinn, who was also born in Nigeria before coming to the United States. He’s also known Seton Hall center Ike Obiagu — another fellow Nigerian — since his early days in America.

Anselem wouldn’t solve UK’s need for more bulk in the frontcourt — he weighs in at about 205 to 210 pounds — but he’d be another quality addition for next season who could blossom into a star down the road.

— Makur Maker set social media abuzz over the weekend with his revelation that — despite declaring for the 2020 NBA Draft — he is still considering the college route. The 6-11, 239-pound center with skills that stretch to the perimeter would be a perfect fit for next season’s UK roster, but there’s a long way to go before that could become a reality.

Maker’s guardian, Ed Smith, told the Herald-Leader on Sunday that UK, Auburn, Oregon and UCLA are the four schools they’re considering if Maker — the No. 5 recruit in the 247Sports rankings for 2020 — does indeed go to college. Smith also made it clear that the NBA Draft remains the No. 1 priority for Maker, and he will “exhaust” the pre-draft process before turning back to college. Smith said that Maker would also be all clear from an NCAA eligibility standpoint, though there are still questions about that in recruiting circles.

Bottom line: Maker is a tenacious competitor who can rebound, protect the rim, run the floor, and provide all kinds of offensive mismatches, but it would be a surprise if he ends up in college, and any commitment to a school would likely be months away. Going straight to the pros is still the most likely scenario.

— Olivier Sarr is a name that is starting to be discussed among Kentucky fans, and for good reason. The Wake Forest center — a 7-foot, 255-pound native of France — averaged 13.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots per game as a junior this past season. Last week, Danny Manning was fired as the Demon Deacons’ head coach, and Wake is expected to have a tremendous amount of roster turnover this offseason. As of now, Sarr has not joined the NCAA transfer portal, but it could still happen in the future. The Herald-Leader was told that Sarr would remain at Wake for his senior season if the school retains associate head coach Randolph Childress. Others have been mentioned more prominently for the Wake head coaching job, but Childress — a former standout at the school — could come back in his current role. Childress has spent eight seasons on staff under two head coaches.

If Sarr does leave Wake Forest, he’d probably be the most coveted transfer in the country and a player that could be a major contributor for Kentucky next season, if he’s immediately eligible as a transfer. He’d also be relatively young for a senior. He didn’t turn 18 years old until the final weeks of his freshman season, suggesting plenty of room for future progress in his game.


Long shots, at best

— Moussa Cisse — the No. 8 player in the 247Sports composite rankings for 2021 — is still a candidate to reclassify to 2020, and he’s one of the few big men in the country with a Kentucky scholarship offer. If he does move to the 2020 class, it probably won’t be good news for the Cats. The Herald-Leader has been told by people in various levels of recruiting circles that the 6-10 post player will play for Louisiana State if he goes to college next season.

— Efton Reid — a highly skilled 6-11 center from Richmond, Va. — was contacted by Kentucky last week, around the same time it became clear that the Cats would miss out on coveted 7-3 transfer center Matt Haarms. Reid and his coach have also acknowledged that he is leaving open the option of reclassification from 2021 — where he’s the No. 20 player in the 247Sports composite rankings — to 2020. For now, the buzz in recruiting circles is that Reid is likely to stay in the 2021 class, and that remains Kentucky’s expectation, as well. Reid’s coach also told the Herald-Leader that his relationship with the college head coach will be a major factor in the decision, and — as of early this week — he had not yet had any contact with Calipari. He did take official visits to Louisville, Ohio State and Virginia earlier in the process.

— Paolo Banchero remains at the top of the wish list for UK fans who follow recruiting, but those wishes — for next season, at least — are highly unlikely to be granted. Banchero — the No. 2 overall player in the Rivals.com rankings for the 2021 class — has repeatedly and adamantly denied reclassification rumors, and the Herald-Leader has been told that he’s still expected to stay in the 2021 class. The 6-9 power forward from Seattle revealed his final six schools Wednesday — they are UK, Arizona, Duke, Gonzaga, Tennessee and hometown Washington — and the Cats remain well-positioned for his commitment in the 2021 cycle.


Others of note

— Virginia Commonwealth transfer Marcus Santos-Silva — a 6-7, 250-pound rebound machine — became the top-ranked player in the transfer portal after Haarms’ commitment to BYU last week. He quickly released a list of six finalists, however, and UK was not among those mentioned. The Herald-Leader was told that Kentucky would not try to jump into that recruitment. On Wednesday, he committed to Texas Tech.

— Kai Sotto — a 7-3 center from the Philippines — is the next-best post player in the 2020 rankings after Makur Maker, coming in at No. 51 overall in the class. He took an official visit to Kentucky in December, but there’s been no buzz around UK in recent months, and he’s expected to play pro ball next season.

— Moussa Diabate — a 6-10 power forward from France, now living in Florida — has been linked to Kentucky in the past and is still being mentioned as a possible reclassification candidate to 2020. (He’s ranked No. 10 overall in the 2021 class). He’s an intriguing talent, but other schools might be better-positioned, and there hasn’t been much talk surrounding the Cats in recent weeks.

— Jonathan Kuminga — a versatile 6-8 forward from Congo — is the unanimous No. 1 player in the 2021 class, but he’s expected to move to 2020 sometime soon. He has a UK scholarship offer, but the Cats are not considered favorites in his recruitment. Auburn could be a major contender if he plays college ball. The G League’s new professional path program could also be an option. ESPN placed Kuminga at No. 4 overall in its new 2021 mock draft this week, another indication that those in basketball circles expect him to move to the 2020 class. He also wouldn’t solve UK’s need for another post player. The five-star talent is expected to play more of a perimeter role at the next level.

— Charles Bediako and Franck Kepnang, the No. 21 and No. 24 players in the 2021 composite rankings, respectively, have also been mentioned as reclassification candidates and loosely linked to Kentucky, though the Cats are not thought to be at the top of either center’s list right now. (Neither player has a scholarship offer from Kentucky, as of yet, and Bediako has shot down reclassification rumors in the past).

It’s also likely that more names will be added to the NCAA transfer portal, especially if players are granted the right to switch schools without the punishment of sitting out a season, a change that could come in the next few weeks. It’s possible that additional post players fitting Kentucky’s needs could pop up there later this spring.


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