He visited UK for Big Blue Madness last year. Now, other SEC schools lead his recruitment.

The offseason change from John Calipari to Mark Pope as the head coach of the Kentucky basketball program has produced a whole host of new recruiting names for Wildcats fans to become familiar with.

From five-star class of 2025 guard Trey McKenney to four-star small forward Shelton Henderson, new prospects have popped up on UK’s recruiting radar since Pope and assistant coaches Alvin Brooks III, Cody Fueger and Jason Hart arrived in Lexington. (Brooks, Fueger and Hart are the three UK assistants permitted to go out recruiting.)

But while Pope’s talent evaluation process — and overall recruiting outlook — differs greatly from that of Calipari, some past UK recruits remain top of mind for UK’s new coaching staff.

This group includes class of 2025 stars such as top-ranked player AJ Dybantsa (who has been reoffered a scholarship by Pope), twin brothers Cameron and Cayden Boozer (sons of former Duke and NBA star Carlos Boozer) and Jasper Johnson (a former in-state star at Woodford County).

An intriguing storyline to follow during Pope’s first recruiting cycle as Kentucky’s coach will be whether or not another class of 2025 standout, power forward Caleb Wilson, joins this list of prospects being recruited to Kentucky by Pope after initially receiving UK interest from Calipari.

Wilson — a 6-foot-9, 205-pound power forward who is ranked as the No. 4 overall player in the 2025 class by the 247Sports Composite — first received a UK scholarship offer last June. He was a visitor to Calipari’s final Big Blue Madness — a key recruiting event — in October.

But since then, other schools have established themselves as the leaders in Wilson’s recruitment, including a pair of other SEC powers.

During last weekend’s Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) session just outside Indianapolis, Wilson said Arkansas, Auburn, Duke, Georgia Tech and Tennessee are the schools currently recruiting him the hardest.

Should Pope want to, he has every chance to put Kentucky back in the thick of this recruiting race.

That EYBL session near Indianapolis occurred during the first live recruiting period of the spring, when coaches and recruiters are allowed to watch prospects in action. Kentucky had a front-row seat to Wilson’s games with Nightrydas Elite, a star-studded EYBL team that also features the aforementioned Boozer twins.

Wilson began this Nike EYBL season playing for the Georgia Stars program, before joining Nightrydas Elite.

“I like unselfishness, and I also like winning,” Wilson said about why he changed EYBL programs. “I knew that playing with a team like Nightrydas I would get coached, which is something I really want to do because next year I know it’s college basketball. No one’s going to be patient. You go into college basketball with them knowing, or wanting, you to know everything.

“If I want to be looked at and perceived as a freshman who can play, I want to get that knowledge now.”

Wilson put on a show for Pope and company in Indiana: He scored 13 or more points in three of his four games played, including a 13-point, nine-rebound effort that also came with two assists and a steal in a Sunday morning blowout win over All Ohio Red.

“My mom always tells me, ‘The way you do one thing is the way you do everything,’” Wilson said. “I compete on the court just like I compete everywhere else in life.”

“My catch-and-shoot game has gotten way better,” Wilson added about his on-court growth. “And really just playing off the catch. I really wanted to work on that, and I feel like it’s getting better the more and more I’m able to do it, and really defense.”

There’s interest from Wilson in being recruited, again, by Kentucky, even if he hasn’t heard yet from Pope.

“I think this is their first time getting eyes on me. I really haven’t heard from them at all,” Wilson said of the new UK staff. “… Good program, definitely high-caliber. I still like it.”

Despite the seismic coaching changes for Kentucky this offseason, Wilson said he has watched film of Pope’s BYU teams and already has an understanding for how the new UK coach likes to run things.

“I would like to hear from them,” Wilson said about potential recruiting interest from Kentucky. “It’s an SEC school, it’s a very good conference. I feel like it’s somewhere I could play. They have games close to home, so I really like it.”

Caleb Wilson, left, Darius Acuff Jr., center, and Jasper Johnson attend Big Blue Madness at Rupp Arena on Oct. 13, 2023. All three are class of 2025 college basketball recruits.
Caleb Wilson, left, Darius Acuff Jr., center, and Jasper Johnson attend Big Blue Madness at Rupp Arena on Oct. 13, 2023. All three are class of 2025 college basketball recruits.

Caleb Wilson talks recruiting interest from Auburn, Tennessee

Whether or not Kentucky is able to regain its previous standing in Wilson’s recruitment, there’s a good chance Wildcats fans will notice his on-court presence in a few years’ time.

Wilson spoke extensively to reporters about the relationship he has fostered with two other SEC schools in his recruitment: Auburn and Tennessee.

“Auburn has a really good Georgia pipeline,” Wilson said. “I definitely respect them. They’re becoming a Nike school soon, which is something I like. Coach Bruce Pearl is a good coach, (he) coaches with intensity and I feel like I’ll learn there.”

When it comes to Tennessee, Wilson singled out Volunteers assistant coach Gregg Polinsky and head coach Rick Barnes in his answer.

“Really two cool guys, I talk to them almost every day,” Wilson said. “… Just good coaches. Good offense, and they take pride in defense, which is something I’m really starting to do.”

Wilson said that Barnes is one of the two college coaches that he has the closest relationship with right now, along with Georgia Tech’s Damon Stoudamire.

Wilson also listed Arkansas — a program now featuring Calipari and several ex-Kentucky assistant coaches — among the schools most involved in his recruitment.

But for all the talk of current recruiting and relationship leaders, Wilson is still approaching his recruitment slowly.

He said he doesn’t have any visits currently planned, and he plans to evaluate new schools who could be interested in recruiting him following last weekend’s live period.

Wilson — who cited three-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic as his favorite player to watch — is skipping this weekend’s fourth and final regular-season Nike EYBL session. Instead, he is participating in the USA Basketball Under-18 national team training camp in Colorado. Twenty-eight players are taking part in that training camp, with the goal of earning a spot on the 12-member team that will compete in June’s FIBA Under-18 Men’s AmeriCup, which is being held in Argentina.

At the end of that event, Wilson will have time to further assess his recruiting landscape. By that point, we should have a better indication of how much of a factor Kentucky will be in it.

Class of 2025 college basketball recruit Caleb Wilson dunks during the Under Armour Next Elite 24 event in August 2023 at the CORE4 Atlanta facility in Chamblee, Georgia.
Class of 2025 college basketball recruit Caleb Wilson dunks during the Under Armour Next Elite 24 event in August 2023 at the CORE4 Atlanta facility in Chamblee, Georgia.

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