On the second day of the Cancer Research Classic in Wheeling (W.Va.), the Kentucky Wildcats came out as the big winners without even playing a game, as the Big Blue received a five-star commitment.
In addition to the live announcement on ESPNU, and the high-level play on the basketball court, fans were quick to notice familiar faces in the front row, as coaches from Connecticut, SMU, Florida, Xavier and West Virginia made appearances throughout the day.
Bigger in blue
For the fifth straight year, the Wildcats have gotten a commitment from the nation's top-ranked center, as 2013's top post, Dakari Johnson of Montverde (Fla.) Academy, pledged on Saturday night. He chose the Wildcats over Georgetown and Syracuse.
The fifth five-star to commit to Kentucky's top-ranked class in 2013, Johnson gives the Wildcats a bruiser, with a mature low-post skill set, for the future.
With Kentucky coach John Calipari and assistant Orlando Antigua on hand to watch his game Saturday night, the 6-foot-9 Johnson tallied 18 points and 15 rebounds in a blowout win over one of the nation's top teams, Chicago (Ill.) Simeon.
After the game, when Johnson made his announcement, Rivals.com caught up with him to talk Kentucky.
"Me, Coach (Calipari), coach (Kenny) Payne and Coach (Antigua) all have a great relationship," Johnson said, "It's a place I'm very familiar with from middle school. It's just a great place to be at."
"Georgetown and Syracuse recruited me for a while, so I'd like to thank them for spending time with me, but there were just people at Kentucky that me and my mom could trust."
The return of current Kentucky big man Willie Cauley-Stein for his sophomore season was thought to be important in the Johnson recruitment, but according to Johnson it's actually beneficial to him if Cauley-Stein returns to college instead of turning pro.
"Willie Cauley-Stein is just another player who will get me better and can push me in practice," said Johnson, who went on to discuss how hard he realizes he will have to work at UK.
"I talk to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and he was talking about how it's not an easy place to play at. I talk to him about once every two weeks; he tells me about all the hard work. For him to tell me that it's hard is crazy because I look at him as a hard worker."
Johnson is a Brooklyn, N.Y., native who has lived in Florida for two years and spent time in junior high school in Lexington, Ky. To commit to the Wildcats is like a homecoming for the five-star center.
"Brooklyn is always my first home, but I love Kentucky. It's like coming home for me," Johnson said.
The No. 13 prospect in the 2013 Rivals150 said his surprise announcement came because he knew where he wanted to go and that he felt it would be unethical to drag his recruitment out and keep teams on a string.
"I just want to win. I want to win a national championship in high school, college and the NBA," Johnson said. "They're (the players in UK's signing class) all good enough that if we do what we're supposed to do and work hard, then we should win a national championship."
Finally, the five-star said that despite speculation that Calipari had been informed in advance of the commitment, Johnson did not tell his future coaching staff that he would be joining the Wildcats until shortly before his team's game against Simeon.
It wasn't just a Johnson announcement ceremony on Saturday in Wheeling; they played basketball as well. In Montverde's win over Simeon, several players stood out as having made strides since Rivals last saw them at the City of Palms in Florida before Christmas.
Three-star wing Justin Bibbs was named MVP of the game after he scored 13 points in the win and was also active on defense against the Simeon frontcourt players. Bibbs is a mid-major prospect whom Montverde coach Kevin Boyle says will blow up into one of the top players in the nation by the time his senior season comes around.
Also for Montverde, the interior play of four-star West Virginia commit Devin Williams was well above average. A hardworking post scorer who excels at wiping the glass, Williams finished with 15 points in the win. Playing in front of Mountaineers fans in Wheeling, Williams showed the hustle that earned him his top 100 ranking and used his strength to outmuscle smaller Simeon forwards.
Simeon didn't have its best performance, but it got some "wow" moments from the nation's No. 3 prospect, future Duke forward Jabari Parker. The 6-foot-8 five-star knocked in tough jumpers off the dribble early and recorded two thunderous dunks that he is now able to finish after fully recovering from several injuries. In the loss, Parker finished with 17 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots.
The other player who caught our eye from Simeon was 2015 power forward Edward Morrows. An athletic and energetic post, Morrows showed high-level leaping ability and toughness in the paint as he scored 10 points.
Besides the Johnson commitment, the big question for Boyle after the game came from reporters eager to find out when 2015 five-star Ben Simmons, an Australian transfer, will enroll. Boyle said Simmons will be in Florida next week, but due to a mild injury and eligibility concerns he is unlikely to play this season. The coach said the family has not ruled out suiting up Simmons this season should he be cleared, but at this time it is unlikely.
Chicago's other stars
Simeon was joined in Wheeling by fellow Chicago squad Whitney Young High School, which blew out Philadelphia (Pa.) Neumann-Goretti in an earlier game.
Whitney Young got a terrific performance on the interior from 2014's No. 1 overall prospect, 6-foot-10 center Jahlil Okafor. The five-star post scored 32 points on 14-for-18 shooting while recording six rebounds and five blocks. Okafor was simply too much for his undersized opposition to handle, and he showed his touch around the rim in finishing every ball that he got his hands on.
Fellow 2014 Rivals150 member Paul White, a 6-foot-8 combo forward, impressed for Whitney Young as he tallied 19 points and seven rebounds. The four-star has improved his handle to the point that he can push the ball up and down the floor, and he even knocked down several long jumpers.
The other intriguing player for the Dolphins would be 6-foot-6 sophomore forward Joseph Toye. A low-post scorer with a smooth back-to-the-basket game, Toyes is one to watch in the future in the Midwest.
After watching 2016 guard Tyus Battle, there's one thing that is certain: He's going to be a big name in his class. The 6-foot-4 guard from Gladstone (N.J.) Gill St. Bernard was superb in his team's loss to Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha Catholic. He scored 17 points on just 12 shot attempts.
Battle is a future star who loves to attack the rim and has scoring instincts. The versatile wing guard is a willing passer with vision, can hit the midrange shot and is equally dangerous from beyond the 3-point line. With good size on the wing for a freshman, and length and athleticism, Battle is a tough matchup for a high school player regardless of grade. To cap everything, Battle is a tough competitor who is fearless as a playmaker and is willing to get physical if it helps his team win.
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