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Kentucky Named a “Loser” of the Transfer Portal This Offseason, Frustration Grows

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© Jeff Faughender/Courier Journal and USA Today Network / USA TODAY NETWORK

One NCAA Tournament win over the last three seasons is far from acceptable by Kentucky basketball standards. For that reason, tension and expectations are high going into what many believe is a make-or-break season for John Calipari.

While the Wildcats do have the No. 1 recruiting class coming in – which includes five freshmen – they have only returned only two players that played at least five minutes per game last season – Adou Thiero and Ugonna Onyenso – and have lost at least four to the NBA Draft or to the portal.

As the roster stands, only eight scholarships of the thirteen the NCAA allows are taken. With the draft withdrawal deadline on May 31st, that number could change as Chris Livingston, Oscar Tshiebwe, and/or Antonio must make their final decisions. However, it is highly unlikely they all decide to return.

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With that said, the staff has made their bed. They didn’t express a lot of interest in the transfer portal, but lost out on the two prospects they did want, Hunter Dickinson and Keshad Johnson. Now this late in the portal, there aren’t currently many options that can replace the production or level of player that Kentucky has lost and are expected to lose.

For these reasons, 247Sports’ Travis Branham named Kentucky one of the biggest losers of the transfer portal.

“They do have the No. 1 recruiting class in 2023 incoming but this is a team that has been at the mercy of Oscar Tshiebwe and Antonio Reeves. There is so much riding on these two and they have not landed a single transfer as of yet. Even if one of those guys opts to go to the draft and not return, that’s an extremely big hit to the Kentucky program, especially this late into the portal,” Branham said.

“There’s not many more that we’re anticipating to go in there. Will still be a couple, but not many that can move the needle and they will be in line trying to advocate to get these kids on campus. As of today, there’s only seven scholarship players for the 2023-24 season for Kentucky and that can really be a big, big miss if Antonio Reeves and Oscar Tshiebwe opt to stay in the draft.”

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Kentucky is recruiting all three players to stay, but realistically hoping for the return of Reeves and Tshiebwe. John Calipari is planning to visit Tshiebwe this weekend in Charlotte to gauge where he stands in his final decision.

At the start of the offseason, Reeves and Tshiebwe would have been two of Kentucky’s best options regardless of who was in the portal, therefore if Calipari is able to retain them, the outlook will become much more optimistic. While Livingston could have an All-SEC caliber ceiling as a sophomore, Calipari could find a capable wing player (i.e. David Jones) to fill that role.

Either way, the roster picture will become much clearer in just a matter of days, but depending on what those decisions are the panic meter will certainly rise for the Wildcats.

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2025 Five Star, Potential Reclass Candidate Will Riley Begins Kentucky Visit

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2025 five star prospect and reclass candidate, Will Riley, takes his official visit to Kentucky June 4th-6th.
IMAGN/USA Today

Will Riley, one of the top rising seniors in the class of 2025, is set to begin a two-day official visit to Kentucky on Tuesday. This was first reported by Kentucky Insider last week.

The 6-foot-8 small forward out of Malvern, PA, is currently down to five schools: Kentucky, Arkansas, Arizona, Illinois, and Alabama, and is leaving the possibility of playing professionally in the NBL in Australia. Riley is coming off a visit to Illinois and will visit Alabama later this week.

Already considered a consensus Top 25 prospect in the country according to 247 Sports, ESPN, and Rival, Riley’s stock is only continuing to rise. His calling card is his scoring ability and he has put that on display this Spring.

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Through the first four sessions of the Nike EYBL circuit, he is averaging 21.9 points per game, on fairly efficient numbers, shooting 49.6 % from the field,  31.7 % from three-point range, and 79 % from free throws. Riley also adds 4.7 rebounds per game and 2.5 assists per game in just under 30 minutes.

A possible reclass candidate, Riley is considering making the jump from the 2025 class to the 2024 class. That decision is yet to be determined, adding an element of suspense to his potential future in college basketball.

With one current scholarship remaining for the upcoming roster, Kentucky is open to Riley reclassing and joining this year’s roster, underlining the significance of his potential addition to the team.

However, Jaxson Robinson’s commitment makes it less likely that Kentucky would be the choice if he does reclass. If he decides to remain in the 2025 class, Kentucky would remain toward the top of his list.

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Does Riley become the first top 25 recruit in the Mark Pope era?

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Mark Pope Talks About His Recruiting Approach, “Those Who Belong at Kentucky Are the Very Best Players in All of College Basketball”

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The hiring of Mark Pope was met with mixed reactions from Kentucky fans, but he is well respected in the coaching community.
Clare Grant/Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

When Mark Pope was first hired at Kentucky, multiple coaches who have competed against Pope talked to Kentucky Insider about what to expect. By his peers, Mark Pope is seen as one of the best offensive minds in all of college basketball, but the question was, can he recruit?

In just over a month as Kentucky’s head coach, Pope has filled 11 of his 13 scholarship spots. Eight of those players have come via the transfer portal, which has become the quickest way to fill a roster with talent in such a short span. It also shows Pope’s understanding of the importance of the transfer portal.

That said, going forward it’s clear that Pope wants to maintain the Kentucky brand in recruiting and what it means to some of the best young talent in the country. This past weekend he and his staff were in Texas and Indianapolis watching more than a dozen five-star recruits from the 2025 and 2026 classes, including several top-five prospects. While doing so, he talked to Kyle Tucker of The Athletic about his recruiting approach.

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“We’re just out here recruiting the best players we can get, and the best players you can get at Kentucky are the best players,” Pope said. “I’m used to working with a relatively limited pool, and Kentucky has a relatively limited pool also. It’s just a little different kind of pool. The guys who belong at Kentucky are the very best players in all of college basketball, so those are the guys you’re chasing. And then from that group, we’re chasing guys that really fit us, the way we’re attacking the game and the way we’re playing.”

Of the players that Pope is pursuing and will pursue, they are tiered. “It’s a balance. We’re actually tiering kids,” he said. “The kids we think are one-and-done that we really want to try and grab; another tier of guys we think can come be in the rotation as freshmen; and then a tier of guys you say, ‘Man, I’m telling you, that kid is going to come add something to our program as a freshman, even if he’s not in the rotation, and then he’s going to win us the biggest games in college basketball as a junior or senior.’”

In summary, “We do our best to tier guys and then go hunting and be super deliberate about the guys in each of those pools that we recruit really hard.”

Pope has three assistants who will be helping him on the recruiting trail, two of which are seen as two of the best recruiters in all of college basketball, Alvin Brooks and Jason Hart.

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Brooks comes from Baylor, and his father was the Director of Basketball Operations at Kentucky under Billy Gillespie. Pope calls him: “One of the elite recruiters in all of college basketball, because he builds these super, super deep, meaningful relationships with guys.”

Brooks was responsible for recruiting the likes of Keyonte George, Ja’Kobe Walter, and VJ Edgecombe to Baylor, and is already eyeing two five-star Nike EYBL standouts from Texas to come to Kentucky, Hudson Greer and Shelton Anderson.

As for Hart, he is a former ten-year NBA veteran (player) who was most recently the head coach for the G League Ignite. Before that, he was the associate head coach at USC (2013-21) where he helped recruit some of the best talent in the country and put a half dozen players in the NBA.

“You’re not going to meet a better person in the world than Jason Hart,” Pope said. “He’s got an energy that’s contagious, and he’s really smart and he could spend all day every day in the gym because of how much he loves the game.”

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The third and last recruiting assistant is Cody Fueger, who has been with Pope at Utah Valley and BYU. He is someone that Pope trusts and has worked

“Cody has just been grinding, getting great talent to some of the hardest places in the world to recruit,” Pope said. “So now he’s coming at this from a much different angle: ‘This is easy compared to what I’ve been doing.’ Because it’s Kentucky. And we say that every day: It’s Kentucky.”

Kentucky Insider has talked to one of Pope’s teammates and a fellow coach, Scott Padgett, who is confident that Pope will prove himself as a capable recruiter given his positive attitude, charisma, and worth ethic.

All three have been apparent to Kentucky fans early, and with a talented staff around him, Pope is going to purse the best of the best. As recruiting begins to ramp up with the 2025 class, we will see who that first player is.

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Top Transfer Portal Prospect Chaz Lanier to Visit Kentucky on Monday

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One of the best scorers in the transfer portal, North Florida transfer Chaz Lanier will visit Kentucky.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Pope has filled 11 of 13 scholarship spots on his first Kentucky roster. With just two spots remaining, he is targeting two of the top scorers in the portal, Jaxson Robinson, who played for him last season at BYU, and North Florida transfer Chaz Lanier.

The latter will arrive in Lexington on Sunday night for a visit, first reported by 247Sports, and will visit through Monday. Lanier will be coming off a weekend visit to BYU and is expected to schedule a visit to his home state school of Tennessee soon.

Just a few weeks ago, Lanier, a Nashville native and former Mr. Tennessee basketball finalist, was believed to be a Tennessee lock. After multiple conversations with the Kentucky staff, they are believed to be the leader. This visit is a big opportunity to lock up that recruitment.

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Lanier is a 6-4 four-guard from North Florida University, averaged 19.7 points per game with 4.8 assists, shooting an efficient 51% field goal percentage and 44% from 3-point range last season. This play earned him first-team all-conference honors in the A-SUN.

This would be a massive addition for Mark Pope and Kentucky, as Linear was viewed as one of the best scorers and shooters in all of college basketball last season. According to 247Sports, Lanier is the 11th-ranked transfer in the portal, while ESPN has him 42nd.

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