Kentucky announces 2017 spring signing class

When Kentucky head coach John Calipari arrived in the Bluegrass on April 1, 2009, he said he can “recruit the best of the best” at Kentucky. Nine recruiting classes later, the Hall of Famer has been true to his word.

Kentucky announced its latest class Thursday, including three spring signees in Jemarl Baker, Kevin Knox and Jarred Vanderbilt. Once again, the Wildcats have the No. 1 ranked group according to all four major recruiting services. Baker, Knox and Vanderbilt join what is now an eight-man 2017 class for Kentucky.

“To go along with who we have coming back, this group of young people – I’m ecstatic,” Calipari said. “I’m telling you, it’s going to be hard. We will be the youngest team and most inexperienced team in the country. This may be my youngest team ever, but you know what, I love the challenge of it because we have kids that will share, that are going to give it up for each other and that are comfortable in their own skin. They come from great homes. They understand they’re on a mission. They want to get better. Those are the kinds of kids that we want here at Kentucky.”

The trio of spring signees will play alongside fall signees Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Quade Green, Nick Richards and PJ Washington. Hamidou Diallo, who enrolled midseason last year, is considered a 2017 signee. He is currently weighing his options in the 2017 NBA Draft and has until Wednesday to make a decision as to whether he will return to UK for the 2017-18 season or remain in the draft.

At least one of the four major recruiting services have ranked Kentucky’s class No. 1 in eight of the past nine years under Coach Cal’s direction. Kentucky’s recruiting classes have been ranked in the top two in the country every year under Calipari.

UK’s recruiting classes under Coach Cal

2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Rivals 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1
Scout 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 2 1
247Sports 2 1 1 2 1 2 1 2 1
ESPN 1 1 1 2 1 2 2 1 1

 
Baker is a 6-foot-3, 190-pound guard out of Corona, California, who is capable of playing both guard positions. He is most known for his fantastic shooting abilities, which stretch well beyond the college 3-point line.

Baker led his high school, Eleanor Roosevelt, to the CIF State Division 1 title this past season, averaging 17.1 points and 4.1 assists per game while knocking down 94 3-pointers. As a high school junior, Baker shot 44 percent from beyond the arc. He hit nearly 300 3s during his four-year career. Playing for Earl Watson Elite in AAU ball, Baker led the Under Armour circuit last summer with 41 made 3-pointer (six more than any other player) and averaged 16.8 points per game, seventh best on the circuit.

A four-star guard and top 100 prospect by three of the four major recruiting services, Baker is the No. 63-ranked prospect in ESPN’s rankings, No. 78 by Rivals, No. 83 by 247Sports and No. 85 by Scout.

“We looked at this group and we said we need to have someone who is a knockdown shooter, which is what he is, but he’s also a guy who can create his own shot,” Calipari said. “I think he’s a player who can be a terrific defender because of his length and because of his athleticism. We need to come in and we need him to knock down shots.”

Knox is one of the premier combo-forwards in the country, and one of top prospects in the entire 2017 class, regardless of position. A 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward from Tampa, Florida, Knox plays the game with great position versatility thanks to his athleticism, ball handling and outside shooting. That positionless nature figures to give opposing defenses headaches, as it did throughout his high school career, where he was named Florida’s Mr. Basketball this year.

Knox, who attended Tampa Catholic High School, averaged 28.9 points and 11.3 rebounds per game en route to leading TCHS to the state title game. Playing with Each 1 Teach 1 on the Nike EYBL circuit, he put up 19.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Knox helped lead the 2016 USA U17 World Championship Team to a gold medal in Spain, averaging 11.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in the six games he played (all starts).

A consensus five-star prospect, Knox, was ranked as the No. 9 prospect in the country by ESPN, Rivals and Scout, while 247Sports ranked him at No. 17. He competed in the McDonald’s All American Game, Nike Hoop Summit and Jordan Brand Classic.

“Kevin Knox is going to be the youngest player in college basketball,” Calipari said. “Similar to a Devin Booker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, he comes in really, really young – but talented. He’s a long, skilled player who, again, has a will to get to better. I’m anxious to see his growth because I think it will be off the chain. Great kid, character kid who comes from a great family.”

Vanderbilt is a smooth, athletic and versatile forward at 6-foot-8, 200 pounds. Capable of guarding and playing many different positions, Vanderbilt handles the ball very well and displays wonderful court vision, especially for his size. He is a willing passer and his athleticism causes him to be a matchup nightmare both for opposing offenses and defenses.

Vanderbilt competed in the McDonald’s All American Game, Nike Hoop Summit and Jordan Brand Classic. He helped lead Team USA to victory at the Nike Hoop Summit when he posted a double-double with 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 10 rebounds, which were both tied for team highs. He also had three assists, two steals and two blocks in that game. As a high school senior at Victory Prep Academy in Houston, Vanderbilt nearly averaged a triple-double with 28.5 points, 13.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game. He put up 13.5 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.6 steals per game on the Nike EYBL circuit in 2016 with Houston Hoops.

A five-star prospect by all four major recruiting services, Vanderbilt is ranked as highly as eighth nationally by 247 Sports. The top prospect from the Lone Star State, Vanderbilt is the No. 11-ranked player in the country by Scout, No. 13 by Rivals and No. 18 by ESPN.

“I love guys that they have to put on the other board and say, ‘Alright, how are we guarding this kid? What do we do?’ ” Calipari said. “You’re talking a long athlete, a playmaking player who can get to that rim. He can really pass it and handle it in transition. He can rebound and go. He’s another one I’m anxious to see the growth as a player, as a shooter and as a perimeter scorer, because he can do both (play inside and outside).”

UK has now signed 44 top-50 recruits, 37 top-25 players and 22 top-10 players (according to Rivals) in Coach Cal’s nine recruiting classes at Kentucky.

Jemarl Baker

  • 6-foot-3, 190-pound guard from Corona, California
  • Attended Eleanor Roosevelt High School
  • One of the best shooters in the class, Baker can play either guard position and is best known for his shooting
  • Has shooting range well beyond the college 3-point line
  • Four-star guard and a top-100 prospect by three of the four major recruiting services
  • Ranked No. 63 nationally by ESPN, No. 78 by Rivals, No. 83 by 247Sports and No. 85 on Scout
  • Averaged 17.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game as a high school senior and knocked down 94 3-pointers
  • Shot 44 percent from distance as a junior in high school, averaging 16 points per game
  • Played AAU ball for Earl Watson Elite and led the Under Armour circuit last summer in 3-pointers made with 41
  • Led Earl Watson Elite to the Las Vegas Fab 48 17U Invitational title, scoring 20 points and knocking down four 3-pointers in the championship game
  • Led Eleanor Roosevelt to the CIF State Division 1 title
  • Originally signed with California but reopened his recruitment after head coach Cuonzo Martin left to become the head coach at Missouri
  • Chose Kentucky over Arizona, Marquette, Oregon and Utah
  • Twitter: @_jeyb3
  • Instagram: @_jroc3_

Why Baker chose the Cats

“I want to be great. I chose to go to the school where I’d get a chance to compete every day and play against the best of college basketball. Kentucky will challenge me to become the best I can possibly be.”

Coach Cal says

“We looked at this group and we said we need to have someone who is a knockdown shooter, which is what he is, but he’s also a guy who can create his own shot. I think he’s a player who can be a terrific defender because of his length and because of his athleticism. We need to come in and we need him to knock down shots.”

What they’re saying about Baker

“I think Jemarl Baker is a really good pickup for Kentucky because I think it fills a huge need. I think they obviously have a tremendous recruiting class, it’s ranked number one in our recruiting class rankings, but it was missing a shooter and that’s what he brings to the table. He’s 6-foot-3 with a 6-6 wingspan and he can make shots.” – Scout’s Evan Daniels to KSTV
“Baker is a willowy scorer who has a feathery jump shot that extends out to 22-feet and his ball skills are tight. He can nail jump shots off the catch or convert it off his 2-dribble pull-up. He plays on balance and has remarkable savvy and poise for a player of his youth. In addition, he has the ability to slash his way to the rim and his body control is excellent.” – ESPN recruiting

Baker video highlights

Kevin Knox

  • 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward out of Tampa, Florida
  • Attended Tampa Catholic High School
  • One of the top prospects in the 2017 class due to his position versatility as someone who can play in the post, handle the ball and shoot from outside
  • A truly positionless player who will pose matchup problems all over the court with his athleticism, ball-handling and shooting
  • Five-star prospect and a top-10 player nationally by three of the four major recruiting services
  • 9-ranked prospect in the country by ESPN, Rivals and Scout, and the No. 17 player by 247Sports
  • As a high school senior, Knox averaged 28.9 points, 11.3 rebounds per game en route to leading Tampa Catholic to the state championship game
  • Averaged 19.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game with Each 1 Teach 1 on the Nike EYBL circuit in 2016
  • Named Florida’s Mr. Basketball in 2017
  • Competed in the McDonald’s All American Game, Nike Hoop Summit and Jordan Brand Classic
  • Helped lead the 2016 USA U17 World Championship Team to a gold medal in Spain, averaging 11.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in the six games he played (all starts)
  • Chose Kentucky over Duke, Florida State, North Carolina and Missouri
  • Twitter: @kevin_knox23
  • Instagram: @kknox_23

Why Knox chose the Cats

“Basically there are three reasons why I decided to go to Kentucky. The coaching staff knows my goal to be an NBA player and a top draft pick, and the way Coach Cal coaches and develops his players, I felt that it was the best choice for me. I also really like their style of play; they are an aggressive defensive team that runs in transition. Lastly, the Kentucky program wins at a high level, and I want to help them continue to be a program that wins at a high level.” – Knox to ESPN.com

Coach Cal says

“Kevin Knox is going to be the youngest player in college basketball. Similar to a Devin Booker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, he comes in really, really young – but talented. He’s a long, skilled player who, again, has a will to get to better. I’m anxious to see his growth because I think it will be off the chain. Great kid, character kid who comes from a great family.”

What they’re saying about Knox

“He’s a versatile forward that can play the 3 and the 4. He’s a very good athlete. I think — with the way college basketball and the NBA are going — he can be really effective in a small-ball 4 role. He sees himself as a straight perimeter player. He can definitely do that. He’s really improved as a shooter. He’s a terrific rebounder. He can push the break. This is a kid that can affect the game in a variety of ways.” – Scout’s Evan Daniels to the Lexington Herald-Leader
“Knox is an example of today’s versatile player. Right now, he can do a little bit of everything well. He hurts opponents the most with his ability to grab a defensive rebound and turns it into a fast break. Knox can rebound and push the ball to become a one-man fast break, which makes him dangerous. Once he is in the open floor and in attack mode, he can score or dish out the assist, which puts extreme pressure on the defense. His jump shot has progressed beyond and inside the arc.” – ESPN’s Paul Biancardi

Knox video highlights

Jarred Vanderbilt

  • 6-foot-8, 200-pound forward out Houston
  • Attended Victory Prep Academy
  • One of the most versatile players in the class, Vanderbilt can handle the ball, displays great court vision and is a willing passer
  • Displays great athleticism all over the floor and his positionless qualities allow him to be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses
  • Five-star prospect by all four major recruiting services and the top-ranked prospect from the state of Texas
  • Ranked as high as No. 8 nationally by 247Sports, No. 11 by Scout, No. 13 by Rivals and No. 18 by ESPN
  • As a high school senior, Vanderbilt averaged 28.5 points, 13.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game
  • Averaged 13.5 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.6 steals per game with Houston Hoops on the Nike EYBL circuit in 2016
  • Competed in the McDonald’s All American Game, Nike Hoop Summit and Jordan Brand Classic
  • Led Team USA to victory at the Nike Hoop Summit by tying for the team lead in points (19) and rebounds (10) and also had three assists, two steals and two blocks
  • Scored 17 points on 8-of-14 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked two shots at the Jordan Brand Classic
  • Averaged 12.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in the three major high school all-star games
  • Chose Kentucky over North Carolina, Oregon and TCU
  • Twitter: @JVando_
  • Instagram: @jvando_

Why Vanderbilt chose the Cats

“The development of the players at Kentucky has been impressive. It was the best opportunity for me both on and off the court. Coach (John) Calipari is a proven head coach and a hall of fame coach. When I watched them practice, I like the way he gets the most out of his players. Coach Cal kept the process real and told me how hard it was going to be. He was very upfront.” – Vanderbilt to ESPN.com

Coach Cal says

“I love guys that they have to put on the other board and say, ‘Alright, how are we guarding this kid? What do we do?’ You’re talking a long athlete, a playmaking player who can get to that rim. He can really pass it and handle it in transition. He can rebound and go. He’s another one I’m anxious to see the growth as a player, as a shooter and as a perimeter scorer, because he can do both (play inside and outside).”

What they’re saying about Vanderbilt

“One of the most versatile and athletic players in the class, Vanderbilt can truly play multiple spots on the floor because of his size and skill level. He rebounds with good anticipation and on the defensive glass he can take the ball off the rim and go coast to coast. His ability to run the break and make the assist is impressive. When the game slows down he can beat his defender off the bounce and has a capable jump shot. His passing skills are unique to his size as he owns excellent vision and the willingness to give it up. The combination of scoring, rebounding and facilitating make him hard to guard. Once his jump shot becomes a consistent weapon he will be highly effective anywhere on the floor.” – ESPN’s Paul Biancardi
“He’s an extremely good ball handler and passer. He’s very dangerous as a defensive rebounder who can start the fast break. He can really push the ball up the court, and he has great vision — does a really good job finding people while on the dribble. So, he has offensive versatility, and he has it on defense as well. He can guard a bunch of positions.” – 247Sports’ Jerry Meyer to the Lexington Herald-Leader

Vanderbilt video highlights