Those who follow Kentucky basketball recruiting know all about Julius Randle, James Young, and the Harrison twins.
On Thursday, UK will make its first contact with another 2013 prospect who just recently caught the eye of John Calipari.
Assistant coach Orlando Anitgua will travel to New Jersey to watch 6-7 forward Tyler Roberson, a top-30 recruit who could be on the verge of a UK scholarship offer.
Though UK’s coaches have yet to meet with Roberson, they’ve already made quite the impression.
Roselle Catholic coach Dave Boff said Antigua told him that Roberson reminded the UK staff of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who Roberson played against while in the same New Jersey high school league.
Though the two have different styles, it was their drive to win, Antigua told Boff, that tied them together.
“They both end up accomplishing the same thing, which is helping their team win and having a great desire to win,” Boff told the Herald-Leader. “Anytime you hear a coach compare one of your players to a player that just got drafted No. 2 overall, you know they like him a lot.”
They like him so much that Calipari will travel to Roselle Catholic next week for a follow-up (sometime between Tuesday and Friday, Boff said). That trip will include an in-home visit with Roberson.
The New Jersey school has been a busy place the past few days. Boff said eight of the 10 schools on Roberson’s list — Syracuse, SMU, Rutgers, Alabama, Florida, Seton Hall, South Carolina and Villanova — have already been by to watch him play since the contact period began Sunday.
Kentucky and Kansas are the only two that haven’t visited. Both will be there Thursday, with KU assistant Joe Dooley joining Antigua. Kansas coach Bill Self is expected to make the trip next week.
UK was late to Roberson’s recruitment, but Boff doesn’t think that will work against the Cats.
“I think that Tyler has always tried to take this situation as, ‘Whatever is the best fit for me is the place I’m going to choose,'” Boff said. “I don’t think he’s the type of kid that would hold it against a school if they didn’t recruit him as long as some of the other schools.”
It was Roberson’s play on the summer circuit that drew Calipari’s attention. Boff said Roberson was injured for much of his junior season and slipped in the recruiting rankings. After a slow start to the AAU schedule, “he exploded in July and then everyone just fell in love with him.” Now he’s ranked among 2013’s top players by Rivals (29th), Scout (46th) and ESPN (24th).
Antigua first contacted Boff a few weeks ago and has been in touch ever since. Roberson does not yet have a scholarship offer from UK, and Boff said no one at the school has made any promises that one is on the way.
But the Roselle coach doesn’t think the UK staff would be wasting its time if they weren’t serious about his star player.
“There’s a lot of places where Orlando and Coach Calipari could spend their time over the next couple of weeks,” he said. “To go see a senior, you would think that there would probably be an offer at some point.
“I feel like when people are around this late in the game, they usually don’t do it unless they’re planning to put a scholarship on the table. … But, again, I’ve had no guarantees from anyone at Kentucky that there will be an offer.”
Roberson doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to make a decision. Boff said they would probably sit down in the next few weeks to figure out where he’ll take official visits. Roberson has previously said that SMU, Syracuse and Kansas are likely to account for three of his five officials.
As far as picking a school, Boff said Roberson could make a fall commitment if he’s “100 percent comfortable,” but would also be OK with holding off until the spring.
So what’s Roberson looking for in a school?
“I know that style of play is very important to him. He says that a lot,” Boff said. “He wants to make sure that the style the coach plays fits him. He’s fantastic in transition. He can defend well. He’s a rebounder, shot blocker. He can shoot it out to 25, 26 feet at 6-8. He can handle it like a point guard.
“So he’d fit in most systems pretty well. But I think the schools that give you freedom on offense and let you get out in transition are the places that would fit him the best.”
Boff added that Roberson “really enjoys defending,” a trait Calipari relishes. He also said Roberson’s defense and hustle were two things that Antigua specifically mentioned as areas that caught UK’s attention over the summer.
And Boff is sure that Roberson still has plenty of room to grow.
“I think that his best basketball is in front of him. I think that whoever gets him is going to be beyond excited,” he said. “And I’m talking the coaches, his teammates, the fan base, the media. Everyone is going to be so excited. … I think he’s going to be that good.”
That, too, sounds like Kidd-Gilchrist.
Boff couldn’t help but pass along Antigua’s comparison of MKG and Roberson.
That left UK’s newest recruit speechless.
“He got that smile on his face he gets sometimes where he just doesn’t know what to say,” Boff said. “Tyler’s such a good kid. He just has no sense of entitlement, which sometimes gets attached to kids that are recruited at this level. They get that sense of entitlement, that sense of, ‘I don’t have to work hard.’ And he has never gotten that.
“He has no sense that he’s any different or special than other kids on our team. So, things like that, he almost doesn’t know what to say because he’s so humble. He just doesn’t know how to react to a comment that nice.”