A busy few days of recruiting for the UK coaching staff sent Orlando Antigua out west Monday.
The reason for his visit to Phoenix was class of 2014 forward Zylan Cheatham, an under-the-radar recruit who’s currently unranked by all of the major services.
Anthony Ray, founder of ArizonaPreps.com, was at Westwind Academy for Antigua’s visit. And Ray told the Herald-Leader on Tuesday that the UK assistant was impressed with Cheatham’s game.
“He really liked him,” he said. “Thought he had a lot of pop and thought he was a high-wire athlete. He basically said he wants to continue to watch him, especially through the spring and summer. I’m sure they want to see him against the nation’s best prospects and see how he fares.”
Ray, who is also the president of the Arizona Magic summer program, acknowledged he was surprised when he learned Antigua was coming to see Cheatham, a 6-foot-8 native of Phoenix.
Ray said Arizona is “always highly under-recruited” and couldn’t recall the last time Kentucky actively scouted a player from the state. But he described Cheatham as a “Rudy Gay type,” that should rise in the rankings once he gets more exposure.
“(UK) had heard a lot of promising stories about the kid,” Ray said. “They’re going to need an athletic wing, they said, in that class. So they just wanted to come out, take a look, and follow his progress.”
Most of the prospects on UK’s 2014 radar are guards and post players. The only small forward with a scholarship offer from the Cats is Stanley Johnson, a 6-foot-6 Californian.
As for Cheatham’s lack of presence in the recruiting rankings, Ray has a couple of theories.
The first is geographical.
“It’s Arizona. It’s just not a place that a lot of guys flock to for basketball,” he said, pointing out that many players in the state don’t play in the high-profile Nike EYBL league and don’t get to attend the major national camps. Cheatham competes for Arizona Magic in the summers.
The other is positional.
Ray said Cheatham has played every position except for center over the last few months, and the scouts that have seen him didn’t really know how to evaluate him. His most natural position, and the one he’ll likely play in college, is the 3.
“He played everywhere last year. … A lot of guys thought he was a 4 just because that’s where he was playing last spring and summer.”
When some of the same scouts came back to see Cheatham a few months later, he was playing point guard.
“People were like, ‘Wait a minute. We didn’t know he could do that,’” Ray said.
Ray is hoping Cheatham gets to participate in some of the bigger national showcases next spring and summer, and is expecting the player to settle in at the wing position during his junior season.
Ray hosted an event last month and said Cheatham showed up and “dazzled everybody” there, winning the dunk contest with a slam that started with him jumping from the free-throw line. He called Cheatham a “super athletic wing” that can handle the ball and possesses a “very good” mid-range game.
“He’s a tremendous talent and I think everyone is starting to realize just how good this kid can be,” Ray said. “He’s got a tremendous upside.
“I think, as we start to do the spring and summer for 2014, he’ll be one of the hottest guys in the West.”
So far, Pac-12 schools like Arizona State, Oregon State and Colorado are among the most prominent to extend scholarship offers. Ray said Arizona is also “keeping close tabs on him.” Other than that, Kentucky is the only high-major program outside the area to see him play.
That could be big for John Calipari and company if Cheatham blossoms into the type of player many are expecting.
“A lot of times, they want to see someone else rank him a little higher than a three-star. Get that buzz going,” Ray said. “And then they’ll be able to say, ‘Hey, we were in here early,’ once he blows up. And he definitely will.
“With Zylan, like any other kid, the opportunity to go to Kentucky would be tremendous. So the recruiting would pretty much be theirs for the taking if they wanted to go at him.”