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The Kentucky-Louisville basketball rivalry, once again, will spill over onto the recruiting trail.
And the Cardinals have made the first big move.
U of L extended a scholarship offer Tuesday morning to North Laurel guard Reed Sheppard, one of the most celebrated basketball recruits in the state in years and the son of two former UK standouts. Tuesday marked the first day that college coaches were permitted to contact high school players from the class of 2023 directly, and the Louisville coaching staff wasted no time in letting Sheppard know that he would be a priority recruit moving forward.
Chris Mack’s program also hosted Sheppard for an unofficial visit June 3, making Louisville his first campus trip after the NCAA ended its 15-month ban on recruiting travel that went into effect in March 2020 due to COVID-19 and was not lifted until June 1.
Before the Louisville scholarship offer on Tuesday morning, the 6-foot-2 guard had two other major Division I offers — from Iowa and Texas A&M — though more are expected to come soon. Arizona State, where former UK assistant Joel Justus is now the top assistant coach, also extended an offer Tuesday morning.
Will Kentucky be one of the next schools in line?
John Calipari and the Wildcats have been meticulous in the past about handing out scholarship offers, especially to younger players, and UK has several other major targets in the 2023 class. Calipari and his assistant coaches also haven’t seen players from that group play in person, due to the NCAA’s recruiting travel ban related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There will be two evaluation periods this month for coaches to watch players for the first time since last March, and three more evaluation periods are set for July. The June events will feature players with their high school teams, and next month’s evaluation periods will be based around the shoe company circuits, with Sheppard slated to play in the top Adidas league.
Kentucky’s coaches will surely be watching over the next couple of months.
Sheppard has already emerged as a high school sensation in the state, averaging 30.1 points per game while shooting 40.9 percent from three-point range as a sophomore and leading North Laurel to a 25-3 record, one victory shy of a trip to the state tournament at Rupp Arena.
He’s the son of two of UK’s greatest players from the 1990s — Jeff Sheppard and Stacey Reed — and Kentucky’s coaches did call during the season to express interest in his recruitment.
247Sports inserted Sheppard into its 2023 rankings as the No. 65 overall player nationally toward the end of the season, with 247Sports analyst Travis Branham telling the Herald-Leader then that he was impressed with the UK legacy recruit on his first in-person viewing.
The accolades have only continued since then, with Sheppard earning “best offensive player” honors from 247Sports following a major national camp over Memorial Day weekend.
It’s clear the local basketball standout will be in high demand as a recruit, both inside and outside the state. He also has plans to visit Virginia this month, and other major programs will be calling to express interest and extend scholarship offers.
“The kid is just skilled and he knows how to play the game,” Branham told the Herald-Leader in February. “And guys like that translate at the college level.”