LEXINGTON, Ky. – Upon accepting the position of head coach of the Kentucky men’s basketball program 10 years ago, John Calipari said one of the reasons he was chosen for the job was because he could recruit the best of the best.
It was a promise kept and a promise on which he continues to deliver. As he begins what he’s calling his “second tour” at UK, he hasn’t lost his touch.
Calipari and the Wildcats made an emphatic statement during the fall signing period with the additions of six highly skilled, athletic players to the program. UK signed decorated prospects Devin Askew, BJ Boston, Terrence Clarke, Cam’Ron Fletcher, Isaiah Jackson and Lance Ware to national letters of intent.
They will all join the program for the 2020-21 season.
“I’m really excited about this group of young men,” Calipari said. “They recruited us as much as we recruited them. They wanted this culture. They wanted to be with other good players. They didn’t need crazy promises. They wanted this. In the past, when we’ve had groups like that, it’s led to success both individually and as a team.
“When you’re building a great team, not only do you need to be talented, you need to have high-character individuals, which we have with this group. These are great kids from good families.”
All six players are consensus four- or five-star prospects and all are ranked in the top 50 by the major national recruiting services. Five of the six are on the preseason watch list for the Naismith High School Trophy (Askew being the lone exception because of his recent reclassification).
With the spring signing period still to go, UK is going to be in the mix for one of the top classes in the nation yet again. Rivals and 247Sports currently rank UK No. 1 at the end of the fall signing period.
In every season in the Calipari era, the Wildcats have signed a top-three recruiting class according to the Recruiting Services Consensus Index, which tallies major recruiting rankings and plugs them into a formula to calculate a consensus ranking. With the fall additions, Kentucky has signed 59 top-50 recruits, 48 top-25 players and 24 top-10 players (according to Rivals) in what will now be Calipari’s 12 recruiting classes at Kentucky.
The fall signing period began Nov. 13 and concluded Wednesday. The spring signing period begins April 15.
UK can only comment on prospects who have signed official paperwork with the university.
Already verbally committed to the Wildcats, Askew caught some by surprise last week when he announced he was reclassifying to the 2020 class. Joining college a year early isn’t expected to be a hiccup for Askew, who appears to be ready both physically and mentally for the next step.
“Devin is a winner who other players want to play with,” Calipari said. “He has a team-first mentality and a maturity about him that you won’t find from many kids his age. He can make shots, he creates plays for himself and his teammates, and he is a willing defender with great size and length. Devin embraces the challenge of playing on this stage and has the makeup to be a special player.”
At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, Askew has the frame to make an immediate impact, plus he’s shown the ability to flourish alongside other high-level players at Mater Dei High School, where he averaged 14.0 points, 6.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds last season while leading his team as a sophomore to the California Interscholastic Federation Open Division Southern California Regional championship.
A 2018-19 MaxPreps Boys Basketball Sophomore All-American Third Team selection, Askew led his team to the Peach Jam finals over the summer and averaged 11.6 points, 5.1 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game while shooting 41.4% from 3 in the Nike EYBL circuit. The five-star prospect is tabbed the No. 22 overall player in the 2020 class by Rivals and was the consensus No. 1 point guard in the 2021 class prior to reclassifying.
“I chose Kentucky because I trust that Coach Cal and the coaching staff have my best interests at heart with making me a better person and player on and off the court,” Askew said. “Kentucky provides me with the stage to help me reach my dreams.”
Long and athletic with a penchant for scoring the basketball. Sound familiar? Boston fits the mold of some of Calipari’s best guards, and the Norcross, Georgia, native certainly has the skills to be one of the next greats.
“BJ is one of the best basketball players in the country,” Calipari said. “He can score from anywhere on the floor with his length and his athleticism and he finishes really well in traffic. He’s versatile enough to play two or three positions. On top of BJ’s basketball ability, what I love about him is he wants to play with other great players. He’s already doing that on the high school level and wanted the challenge of competing with and against the best every day in practice here.”
At 6-7, 185 pounds, Boston is a consensus five-star prospect who is slated to play at Sierra Canyon High School (Chatsworth, California) for his senior season. Over the summer, playing alongside and against some of the best players in the country, Boston averaged 22.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.9 steals per game in the Nike EYBL circuit.
Boston is considered one of the best perimeter scorers in the class because of his ability to put the ball in the basket from the outside and at the rim. He has length to shoot over defenders with an elite ability to slash into the lane and finish in traffic.
The Georgia product is considered one of the top shooting guards in the class and is ranked as high as No. 9 overall by ESPN. He earned 2018-19 MaxPreps Boys Basketball Junior All-American Team Honorable Mention distinction after averaging 18.4 points, 5.4 rebounds 1.9 steals while leading his previous high school in Norcross, Georgia, to the state semifinals last season. He’s a 2019-20 All-USA Preseason High School Boys Basketball Team selection.
“Kentucky’s vision for me fits where I want to go,” Boston said. “What stood out is how hard everyone works every day and just how much improvement everyone makes from the beginning of the season to the end.”
With Boston already in the fold, Clarke added another lethal scoring option to the Wildcats’ arsenal for 2020-21 when he announced in September that he was not only joining UK but reclassifying to the 2020 class.
“Terrence is one of the most talented basketball players in the country regardless of class,” Calipari said. “He has a toughness to him that the Big Blue Nation is going to really love. When he came on his visit, he saw firsthand the type of effort and work we expect of our players and immediately decided this was the type of environment he wanted to be in. Terrence has all the tools you look for in a kid: length, athleticism, toughness and a high basketball IQ. I’m looking forward to coaching him.”
Like Boston, Clarke is 6-7 and 185 pounds. The consensus five-star prospect from Boston is playing his high school ball at Brewster Academy and enjoyed a sensational summer season. Playing in the Nike EYBL, Clarke showed he’s one of the game’s best young scorers with a 16.2 average to go along with 5.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. Not only will he be an early favorite to score the basketball for Kentucky next season, but he also has the tools to be a shutdown defender.
Clarke is currently the top-ranked signee of this UK signing class. Both Rivals and 247Sports consider him the No. 4 overall player in the class with 247Sports assigning him top shooting guard honors. USA Today named him to its All-USA Preseason High School Boys Basketball Team.
“I chose Kentucky because of the legacy,” Clarke said. “I want to be a part of this history and leave my mark on a program that has helped other players reach their full potential in college and maximize their time at Kentucky. Looking back at players like Devin Booker, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jamal Murray, Tyler Herro and even more, their next step was not certain until they put in the work at Kentucky and made it happen on the big stage. That’s a challenge I want to take on and work for to be the best me next year.
“With the relationship I have built with Coach Calipari, Coach (Tony) Barbee and the rest of the coaching staff, I feel that I can trust them in helping me make a huge jump to reach my goal of playing at the next level. One of the things I love about Coach is that he knows I want to make it to the NBA, so he is going to push me and work me to my full potential to get there. He has told me plenty of times that the path is not going to be easy, but he wants me to come to Kentucky to strive for greatness. I knew since last year due to the environment and atmosphere that Kentucky was my home. I will always be Boston made but can’t wait to bleed Kentucky blue.”
If Kentucky fans are noticing common denominators of versatility and athleticism with this class, Fletcher should underscore that. The 6-6 wing is dripping with athleticism and a high upside and is expected to fit in nicely with Calipari’s position-less approach.
“Cam’Ron is one of the most unique players in the country and is going to have a tremendous career,” Calipari said. “He can play multiple positions. He’s an elite defender, a great basketball player and he’s an exceptional kid. He’s another one of those guys who wants to win and will do whatever it takes. His best basketball is still in front of him and I can’t wait to see him grow on this stage.”
Fletcher plays high school ball at Vashon High School in St. Louis. During the 2019 Nike EYBL circuit, he averaged 11.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. At 6-6, 195 pounds, Fletcher has the tools and length to be a versatile two-way player who can play and guard a number of positions.
Tabbed a four-star prospect by the major recruiting services, Fletcher checks in as high No. 41 overall by Rivals. He climbed the rankings after his recent surge in the Nikey EYBL circuit and a standout performance at the NBPA Top 100 Camp.
“Kentucky has always been a dream school for me,” Fletcher said. “Growing up I watched them win at a high level and send players to the NBA. Also, Kentucky is a great program that fits my style of play. I feel like Coach Cal will push me to be a better person and player both on court and off the court. After speaking with Coach Cal and Coach (Kenny) Payne, I knew Kentucky was the right fit because of their honesty. They were candid with their expectations of me coming in as a freshman.
“My dream is to play in the NBA and have a successful career there, using basketball as a way to support my mom and my little brother. I feel like Kentucky is the best place for me to accomplish my goals.”
Jackson became the final piece to Kentucky’s star-studded fall recruiting haul when he announced his commitment Saturday at Waterford Mott High School in Waterford, Michigan. At 6-9, 200 pounds, he will be an important piece for the future of UK’s front court.
“Isaiah is without a doubt one of the best defenders in this class,” Calipari said. “You’re talking about an elite shot blocker who can guard one through five. Isaiah is acquiring the offensive skills needed to be an exceptional two-way player and I really like his ability to attack the rim in a lot of different ways. Isaiah is a high-character kid and a winner.”
Jackson possesses a ton of upside. At his best, he combines an explosive skillset with length, athleticism and a lot of bounce. With an elite wingspan, he could be an ideal rim protector for the Wildcats. During the Nike EYBL circuit this past summer, he averaged 10.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.
Jackson is expected to continue to grow into his frame and why his best basketball is still ahead of him. He’s ranked as high as No. 22 in ESPN’s class of 2020 rankings. The five-star prospect is a consensus top-four power forward in the class.
“When I was younger and first started to love and play the game of basketball, my dreams and imagination was always to play in the NBA,” Jackson said. “When I was 14 years old and Coach Cal won his first national championship in 2012 with UK, my love for Kentucky just started to blossom. Ever since then, Kentucky has been my dream school.
“I truly believe that Coach Cal and the coaching staff at Kentucky can help my fulfill my ultimate goal of being an NBA pro and that’s why I chose the Kentucky Wildcats.”
Ware, a 6-9, 215-pound forward is coming off a big-time summer. A skilled big man who can attack the basket in a variety of ways, Ware caught the eyes of coaches everywhere when he went against some of the nation’s best competition at the Nike Peach Jam and flourished.
“Every team needs a guy that will do things that help you win – those winning basketball plays. Lance does those,” Calipari said. “Lance has the ingredients to get a team over the hump. He’s skilled, he’s tough, he rebounds and he finishes around the basket. Lance knows what his strengths are and plays to them. He’s going to have a tremendous career here at Kentucky.”
Ware averaged 11.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game during Nike EYBL play, but he played particularly well at the Peach Jam tournament. In five games in North Augusta, Georgia, Ware averaged 14.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.
Ware, from Camden High School in Camden, New Jersey, is comfortable with the ball in his hands from just about anywhere from 15 feet and in. He can shoot, dribble and pass it well for his size, and he can score in a number of ways. Those skills were on display this summer as he rose up to No. 33 overall in the Rivals rankings and the No. 4 power forward.
“From the first time I picked up a basketball, I have always dreamed of being on the biggest stage and chasing my dreams,” Ware said. “My decision of becoming a part of UK basketball is reaching that dream. Having Coach Cal and his staff helping me achieve my goals is why I love my decision of becoming a part of the Big Blue Nation.”