Bracing For Kentucky's Madness

Five of the nation’s top 26 prospects in the senior class are among several high-profile visitors expected for Kentucky’s “Big Blue Madness” on Friday at Rupp Arena, including the No. 1 player for 2015.

Marietta (Ga.) Wheeler small forward Jaylen Brown,’s top-rated senior, highlights a star-studded group that will take in the Wildcats’ annual celebration signaling the approach of the college basketball season.

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The expected visitor list also includes Mississippi shooting guard Malik Newman (Scout’s No. 10 prospect), Ohio power forward Carlton Bragg (No. 11), Las Vegas center Stephen Zimmerman (No. 14), North Carolina small forward Brandon Ingram (No. 26) and UK’s lone verbal commitment to date in the senior class, Chicago wing Charles Matthews (No. 62). Antonio Blakeney, a five-star Florida wing ranked No. 25, was originally expected to be in town as well, but said Wedenesday that he had to reschedule his UK visit.

There will also be a handful of stars from the junior class, including elite point guard Derryck Thornton, the No. 6 prospect, and five-star wing Tyus Battle, who comes in at No. 9 overall for 2016.

Don’t be surprised if a few additional names pop up between now and Friday as well.

No matter what the final headcount reads, it will be one of the larger groups of players that UK coach John Calipari has brought in for Madness during his time in Lexington. Coach Cal has cast a wider net than usual for this particular class due to the massive amount of talent on his current roster and the uncertainty of exactly who will be back in blue following what could be another Final Four run this season. The Cats are expected to open the season with the No. 1 ranking and are widely considered favorites to cut down the nets again, so the NBA will likely come knocking for several UK players next spring.

Brown, a dynamic 6-foot-6, 200-pound wing with elite athleticism and impressive all-around skills, will command a lot of the Big Blue faithful’s attention. He has UK listed among his final five with UCLA, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Kansas. North Carolina has also been fighting hard to regain a spot on his list.

Why all the fuss?

"He’s a man among boys," said Evan Daniels, Scout national director of basketball recruiting. “He uses his size, length, athleticism and strength to take defenders off the dribble and either get to the basket or pull-up and bury jumpers. He uses his elite physical tools and mental makeup to take it to whoever was defending him.”

Newman is player who was once considered the top prospect in his class, but settled in at No. 10 after a summer which saw him slip a bit and others rise. Still, he’s widely regarded as one of the best pure scorers, regardless of class, in the entire country and is rated the No. 1 shooting guard.

He’s had an on-again, off-again recruitment when it comes to UK, but that seems to be “on-again” now. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound Newman has been coy about a top five list or potential leaders, but schools like Kansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Georgetown, North Carolina, Arkansas and Florida State have been in the mix.

Bragg, a 6-9 forward in the Patrick Patterson mold, has long been considered by many recruiting observers to be a solid lean to the Wildcats. UK still has a lot of competition for the No. 3 power forward, though, in the form of Arizona, Illinois, Kansas and UCLA.

Zimmerman, a 7-footer with a terrific offensive skill set rarely seen in young big men, is considered to be a very strong possibility to join UK’s 2015 signing class. The Cats are expected to lose several big men after this season, and Calipari is selling the Las Vegas standout on the opportunity to step right in and make an immediate impact.

The No. 6 center in the senior class, Zimmerman’s list currently includes UK, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, Notre Dame, UCLA and UNLV. He has yet to name a leader, but don’t be surprised if the Cats emerge even stronger after this visit. His mother, Lori, put out a picture on the Twitter social network earlier this week of her fingernails painted blue and white with UK logos.

Last but not least, especially in terms of potential, is Ingram. The wiry Tayshaun Prince clone (6-8, 180) is the No. 6 small forward in the senior classs. A lot of people think it’s going to be hard to get him out of his home state with Duke, NC State and UNC being strong possibilities, but UK fans have learned never to count out Calipari when it comes to recruiting.

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