May 30, 2024

Will Kentucky’s current five-star recruits follow John Calipari to Arkansas? Who will UK turn to next?

Another domino appears to have fallen in the ever-changing coaching carousel and it’s a big one. John Calipari is reportedly headed to Arkansas after spending 15 seasons as Kentucky’s head coach.

In his tenure in Lexington, Calipari had 11 top-three recruiting classes led by elite high school prospects who have gone on to be great NBA players. This year was no different with Kentucky bringing in a No. 2 recruiting class led by five-stars Boogie Fland, Karter Knox, Jayden Quaintance and Billy Richmond.

Fland, Knox and Quaintance all played in the McDonald’s All American game last week and were looking forward to playing at Kentucky next season and being the group to change the narrative around Calipari’s recruiting and coaching system. Kentucky ended its season this year with another disappointing early exit from the NCAA tournament after 14-seed Oakland upset the Wildcats in the first round.

“There’s always pressure coming into a new situation, but we all definitely feel it after how this season ended,” Fland told Yahoo Sports at the McDonald’s All American game. “We have to go in there with the mindset that we’re not freshmen. The big thing for us is we need to make it about the team’s success first. We all want to reach that next level and make the NBA. The key is to not skip steps and really buy into what coach Cal says and do whatever is necessary to win.”

Many Kentucky fans assume most, if not all, of the four- and five-star recruits that made up this top recruiting class will be following Calipari to Arkansas. They would still be competing in the SEC and most recruits chose Kentucky over the years because of Calipari’s track record in getting players to the NBA.

In the last nine NBA drafts, Calipari had 14 players selected in the first round, and there are currently 28 former Wildcats in the NBA or G League. Kentucky has the most active NBA players, with Duke second (24) and UCLA third (15). This year, Calipari will likely return to the NBA Draft green room with freshmen Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham projected to go in the lottery.

“Calipari’s track record speaks for itself,” Knox told Yahoo Sports last month. “We’re all trying to get to the league and just following in my brother’s (Utah Jazz forward Kevin Knox) footsteps; I knew coach Cal was the right coach for me.”

With Knox and his family ties to Calipari, it’s safe to assume he’ll be following Calipari to Arkansas.

Prior to committing to Kentucky, Fland, who is originally from New York, chose the Wildcats over Indiana, Alabama, North Carolina, Michigan and Maryland. Most players commit to college programs based off their relationship with the coaching staff, but depending on who Kentucky hires, Fland might explore other options.

Quaintance, 16, has the most unique situation out of the group. The 6-foot-9 forward reclassified up a grade and will need to spend two years at the college level before even being eligible for the NBA Draft. Prior to committing to Kentucky, Quaintance took official visits to Ohio State and Missouri.

None of the six current Kentucky signees had an Arkansas offer or ever visited the campus during the recruiting process. Four-star point guard Travis Perry is the only commit from the state of Kentucky and might be the only one to stay at the home-state school, depending on who gets the head coaching job.

Alabama’s Nate Oats is the hot name rumored to be in consideration as Calipari’s replacement at Kentucky. Oats is coming off a run to the Final Four this year and has had recruiting success in the SEC, landing top one-and-done talent and having successful seasons at Alabama.

Scott Drew is another early candidate due to the winning culture he’s brought to Baylor. The Bears won a national title in 2021, and Drew and staff have a track record for landing top talent. This season they had projected lottery pick Ja’Kobe Walter, and right now they have a commitment from one of the best guards in the senior class in VJ Edgecombe.

Current Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan is another name in the mix. Donovan led Florida to back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007 and the reported $10 million salary might be enough to get him back in the college game.

Kentucky fans are getting what they wanted after multiple disappointing seasons during Calipari’s reign in Lexington. The Hall of Fame coach will be welcomed with open arms in Fayetteville with something to prove as he starts a new era in his coaching career.

Calipari has always ruled the recruiting world and that will likely stay the same. How he adjusts to the transfer portal and building teams to compete with older, stronger players is still a gray area that is no longer a Kentucky problem but may be an Arkansas problem if he doesn’t bring success in the first two seasons.

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