What’s next? Making sense of Kentucky’s basketball recruiting board for 2021.

Tribune Content Agency

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Following months of seemingly little development on the recruiting trail, John Calipari’s basketball program has seen a flurry of activity in recent weeks.

In the past month alone, Kentucky has extended five new scholarship offers to players in the 2021 class, immediately landing a commitment from one of those prospects — four-star point guard Nolan Hickman.

With the early signing period nearing — it’s set for Nov. 11-18 — expect more recruiting dominoes to fall in the coming weeks. UK now has six scholarship offers out to uncommitted players in the 2021 class, and it won’t be a surprise to see a few of those recruits make their college commitments between now and November.

The expectation is that several talented players will return from this Kentucky team, so — along with the early commitment of Hickman — the Cats might need to add only three or four more recruits for next season. Late additions via transfers and reclassifications will also remain an option into the spring.

For now, here’s an updated look at UK’s 2021 recruiting board, along with the latest info on each player’s recruitment, their standing in the newly updated Rivals.com rankings, and the Wildcats’ top competition for each prospect’s commitment.



New Rivals.com ranking: No. 1.

The outlook: The 6-9 perimeter forward from Milwaukee remained in the top spot in the new Rivals.com rankings for the 2021 class Monday, and that makes him the most coveted college prospect for next season. Baldwin is still listing several programs in his recruitment, and Kentucky is one of them, but the Wildcats remain a long shot for his commitment. He was able to make some campus visits before the NCAA shut down in-person recruiting due to COVID-19 concerns back in March, but Lexington was not among those destinations. The NCAA announced Wednesday night that the recruiting shutdown has been extended through at least Jan. 1, and Baldwin could very well make a college decision before then.

Top competition: Duke, rightfully so, remains the perceived leader in Baldwin’s recruitment, but there’s continued chatter that it might be tough for any school to pull him away from Milwaukee, the hometown program that employs his father, Pat Baldwin, as its head coach. The elder Baldwin has already helped mold his son into the nation’s top recruit, and Milwaukee’s chances of keeping him home shouldn’t be written off. UK, for now, remains an unlikely landing spot.



New Rivals.com ranking: No. 10.

The outlook: One of the newer additions to UK’s recruiting board, Collins is a skinny but athletic 6-9 forward from Atlanta, Texas, and the Wildcats have been making major waves in his recruitment. Even before Jai Lucas — Collins’ lead recruiter at Texas — was officially announced as the newest member of Calipari’s staff, UK assistant coach Joel Justus had already gotten the Cats involved in his recruitment. Collins has been described to the Herald-Leader as perhaps the most athletic frontcourt player in the entire 2021 class, an intriguing prospect that — with some added strength — could be a uniquely talented player at the next level. He was one of the biggest movers in the new Rivals.com rankings, jumping from No. 20 to No. 10 overall.

Top competition: Before Lucas left Texas, the Longhorns were seen as potential favorites in Collins’ recruitment. Now, Oklahoma might be UK’s top competition. Collins has close friends in that program and played for Blake Griffin’s travel team. If any program can pull him out of the region, however, it’s Kentucky, and the Cats are in a good spot with the uber-athletic forward.



New Rivals.com ranking: No. 29.

The outlook: Diabate — a 6-11 post player from France — landed his UK offer just last week, but he has been on the Wildcats’ radar for well over a year, and he was mentioned in the 2020 recruiting cycle as a possible reclassification candidate. Instead, he stuck in 2021 and will play his final season of high school ball at Florida powerhouse IMG Academy (alongside UK 2022 point guard target Jaden Bradley, among other star players). Diabate is a high-motor, physical post player who projects as an exceptional rebounder and should be a solid contributor for any program as a college freshman. With relatively few true, instant-impact frontcourt options available in the 2021 class, Diabate would be among the best possible additions for Kentucky.

Top competition: Any team name in this space would be complete speculation at this point. Diabate has offers from a wide array of programs from all over the country, and he has given little hint on which way he might be leaning. (Probably because he’s still legitimately open in the process). Rivals.com national analyst Eric Bossi recently described Diabate’s recruitment as, “Hands down … the toughest of any to read” in the country. Tony Barbee is UK’s lead recruiter, and the Cats wouldn’t have extended the scholarship offer if they didn’t think they had a shot.



New Rivals.com ranking: No. 5.

The outlook: Long one of UK’s top recruiting targets in the 2021 class, there hasn’t been much progress at all in Hardy’s recruitment. The super-scoring combo guard from the Las Vegas area landed his UK offer last September and has met with Kentucky coaches several times, but he didn’t make a trip to Lexington before the NCAA recruiting shutdown in March. If Hardy ends up playing college ball, he’d become one of the game’s biggest scoring threats as soon as he steps on the court as a freshman. If a traditional travel schedule had been played this summer, Hardy might have come out of it in the thick of the conversation for the No. 1 ranking in 2021. He’s that good. The possibility of a jump to the G League looms, however, and that has been a concern of the college coaches recruiting him for several months now.

Top competition: UCLA is getting lots of buzz at the moment, and Hardy’s brother will play for Oregon this season, but the threat of a G League jump has to be counted as the biggest competition for any college program recruiting him. It also wouldn’t be a surprise to see him commit to a school and ultimately go the G League route next spring. Hardy is too talented a player for college programs to give up on, but until he sets foot on campus as a freshman, the possibility of a preps-to-pros leap will be there.



New Rivals.com ranking: No. 30.

The outlook: A former Louisville commit, Hopkins landed his UK scholarship offer last month and was immediately seen as a major Kentucky lean. The Chicago area standout even drove down to Lexington with his family this past weekend to get a feel for the UK campus. The NCAA recruiting shutdown prevented him from meeting with the coaching staff or touring the basketball facilities on that trip, but it was yet another sign of the Cats’ strong position in his recruitment. The incredibly long, 6-6ish small forward can do a little bit of everything on the court and projects as a multi-year player in college. In fact, former 247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels has compared him to Georges Niang, a four-year star at Iowa State who recently completed his fourth NBA season. Hopkins is the type of player who could add some continuity to UK’s program while also bringing the ability to have an impact right away as a freshman.

Top competition: Time? Hopkins has already set a final eight and could be cutting that list further in the coming days, but this recruitment is really shaping up as Kentucky’s to lose. It certainly won’t be a surprise to see him make a final college commitment in the next few weeks, well ahead of the early signing period in November. Seemingly the only thing that could negatively affect UK’s chances at this point would be a delay in the decision-making process.



New Rivals.com ranking: No. 6.

The outlook: There are few hotter names in national recruiting circles than Sallis, who has made major jumps to the No. 6 overall spot in both the Rivals and 247Sports rankings in recent weeks. That designation makes him the No. 1 point guard in the 2021 class, and his recruitment is shaping up as a blue-blood battle among Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina. The 6-5 playmaker from Omaha, Neb., appears to be the quintessential Calipari guard, a prospect who can pass, score, defend and handle the ball while thriving alongside other star perimeter players. Even with Hickman aboard for next season and the possibility that freshman point guard Devin Askew could return for a second year at UK, there’s plenty of room for Sallis, who has clearly become one of the Cats’ top priorities. It’s even possible that those three players could all play at the same time, given their versatility, length and shared ability to play on or off the ball.

Top competition: North Carolina is likely the program that Kentucky will have to beat for Sallis’ commitment. The Tar Heels and Wildcats are also battling for five-star point guard Skyy Clark, who could still reclassify to 2021. Before recently departing Rivals.com for a job in the NBA, former national recruiting analyst Corey Evans predicted that UK would get Sallis and UNC would land Clark, though it’s certainly possible the Cats could end up with both players. Either way, Kentucky seems to be a good spot to land the nation’s No. 1 point guard.


©2020 Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)

Visit the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.) at www.kentucky.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.