John Calipari has been very visible during the past few days at summer basketball showcases, making sure the Kentucky brand is big-time represented and getting plenty of attention.
It was certainly working Friday, with Calipari, Orlando Antigua, Jai Lucas and Chin Coleman all watching four-star UK double-legacy 2023 recruit Reed Sheppard in Hoover, Alabama, at the Adidas #3SSB circuit event.
The important July evaluation period opened late in the week.
Sheppard is a 6-foot-2 junior phenom from North Laurel High School. His story was already trending this way, but he started moving quickly toward UK recruiting legend status on Thursday and Friday.
When Sheppard put up on social media that he had gotten an offer from UK, it became the talk of college basketball on Friday afternoon. A lot of chatter was noted nationally on a topic — a scholarship offer from Calipari and Kentucky — that had been heating up in the commonwealth for months.
A segment of the fan base wondered why Calipari hadn’t already offered Sheppard, even though the coach hadn’t seen him play in person yet.
After watching one game in Hoover, Calipari was convinced enough to make that offer to the son of UK basketball legends Jeff Sheppard and Stacey Reed Sheppard.
Jeff was the Most Outstanding Player and leading scorer for the 1998 UK national championship team. Stacey is considered one of the best players in that program’s history.
And this would be considered working ahead for Calipari and the UK staff.
Even with a loaded roster, UK is still going after top players for this season.
Former Illinois star Kofi Cockburn withdrew from the NBA Draft and was immediately in the discussion to land at UK. No. 1-ranked recruit Jalen Duren, who is expected to reclassify to play this season or go pro, will play for either UK, Memphis or Miami if he does a year of college basketball.
All of the activity by Calipari since the end of the dismal 2021 season has galvanized a belief that might have seemed absurd in the early spring.
Maybe last season’s team meltdown was the best thing to happen to Calipari and his team-building methods at UK. The way he was doing things needed to change. The coaching staff was retooled, and major pursuit of recruits began immediately.
The energy level has picked up considerably concerning UK basketball, and confidence in the Wildcats has returned in the commonwealth.
Just look at what’s gone on since late March.
Not enough point guards or shooters from distance? Calipari took the approach that three of each might be the best answer.
The interior game needed more power, so UK has gone after tanks in the post.
Cockburn, a 7-foot, 285-pound center, withdrew from NBA Draft consideration on Tuesday, the day before the deadline to retain his college eligibility.
Last week, Cockburn put his name in the NCAA transfer portal after spending his first two seasons as a standout player at Illinois, which he helped lead to a Big Ten Tournament title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament this past season.
Kentucky has the scholarship flexibility to pursue both Cockburn and Duren this summer, though it seems unlikely that the Cats would be able to land both.
The reason for that is a frontcourt player list that already includes Oscar Tshiebwe, five-star freshman Daimion Collins, returning forwards Keion Brooks, Lance Ware and Jacob Toppin and freshman wing Bryce Hopkins.
Duren is ranked by 247Sports and Rivals.com as the No. 1 overall player in the class of 2022, though he is expected to reclassify to 2021 and play college basketball this coming season. He isn’t expected to announce a decision until his Nike league play is finished in late July.
Cockburn also hasn’t set a date for a transfer announcement. UK players are on campus and doing preseason work now.
In a video from UK of a recent summer practice session, Calipari liked what he was seeing from this new team.
He looks like a high-level college basketball coach who has rebooted, recharged and is going at full speed.