By LARRY VAUGHT
Just as he did a year ago, Kentucky coach John Calipari has managed to persuade a player most thought was headed to Duke to commit to UK.
Kevin Knox Jr. was perceived as a likely Duke commit last year even though Knox or his family ever labeled Duke as the favorite before he picked Kentucky.
Today Georgia five-star forward E.J. Montgomery, also considered a Duke lean, announced he was committed to Kentucky.
Knox was around several UK signees at the McDonald’s All-American Game before he picked Kentucky. Same with Montgomery as he was around UK signees Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley at the McDonald’s Game and he also knows UK’s other signee, Tyler Herro.
Duke landed R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson in the 2018 recruiting class — all players Calipari pursued. Duke also got Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden and Marvin Bagley in recent recruiting battles with UK. But just as he did with Knox, Calipari got Montgomery — a one-time Auburn commit.
The 6-10 Montgomery not only looks like former UK All-American Tayshaun Prince, but he plays like him with his ability to hit outside shots, run the court, rebound and block shots. He joked at the McDonald’s Game that he didn’t know Prince but knew of him because of all he had heard from UK fans. Montgomery’s father said then it was high praise to be compared to Prince.
“We are just sitting back and trying to analyze the best situation for me and what I feel like is the best time, then I will commit,” Montgomery said in Atlanta during the McDonald’s Game.
He apparently decided trying to play the same position as Williamson at Duke might not work for him. He indicated at the McDonald’s Game that UK’s ability to put players his size into the NBA impressed him — and his father said the same thing.
He had narrowed his college choices to UK, Duke, North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Georgetown and Georgia and said Monday he felt UK was the “best” place for him even though UK could return P.J. Washington, Wenyen Gabriel, Nick Richards and Jarred Vanderbilt.
“I think E.J. will be another piece to the puzzle because he brings a piece that they don’t have. He is a 6-10 power forward with the skill of a small forward,” ESPN recruiting director Paul Biancardi said. “Most teams don’t have a guy like E.J. He got on the (AAU) circuit when he was really young. When he was like 14 and 15 he was playing up in the 17’s and I think that kind of was too much, too soon.
“He jumped up early in rankings because he was so tall and so long and he was playing up but then he he kind of plateaued off because he wasn’t playing enough as much as he should have. He went back to his original age level and really improved his senior year. The speed of the game and the physicality, he got comfortable with.”
Biancardi calls him a “wonderful kid” who adds versatility that coaches dream about having on a team.
“He puts the ball on the ground. He scores from 15 to 17 feet. Blocks shots. Rebounds. He can go to the midpoint and he can face up. There’s just nothing not to like about him,” Biancardi said.
ESPN has Montgomery ranked 16th in the 2018 class. 247Sports Composite has him No. 12 overall and No. 3 among power forwards. He joins Johnson (No. 6), Quickley (No. 17) and Herro (No. 25) in what is now the No. 2 recruiting class nationally behind only Duke.