Jacob Toppin (above) left URI to join John Calipari’s assembly line in Kentucky.
By KEVIN McNAMARA
There are not many top 30, or even top 100, recruiting targets remaining in the Class of 2021.
Bryce Hopkins, a star at Fenwick High in suburban Chicago, is an exception and he’s including Providence College on his short list. Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana are the other four finalists.
While nearly all of the recruiting prognosticators (think about that bizarre role in life for a second) are pointing towards Hopkins following the well-worn path and heading to join John Calipari’s One-and-Done University in Lexington, Hopkins’ case seems a bit different. For one the 6-7 scoring forward could’ve popped for the Wildcats anytime over the last six weeks. There is some conjecture on the recruiting rumor wire that Cal and staff weren’t exactly ready to accept a verbal commit from Hopkins over that stretch, although that is very much not confirmed as fact.
Kentucky is always involved with many of the top 30 – even top 10 – prospects in the country. The Wildcats have lost a few of late and only have one verbal commit, point guard Nolan Hickman. There is certainly the believable possibility that Hopkins has struggled with his decision and/or awaited a window from Kentucky to commit.
But it certainly appears he’s struggling with the call, which is stoking sparks of optimism both in Friar Town and with the hometown Illinois fans. Hopkins spoke with Cooley on Saturday night. The Illini Pulse reported that Brad Underwood and staff held a Zoom call with Hopkins over the weekend.
These were not `nice knowing you, I’m heading elsewhere’ chats, according to sources. While there is a feeling that Hopkins’ recruiting saga is ending any day now with him already putting together his Kentucky commitment video, that is far from a confirmed fact.
“We’ve really liked getting to know Ed Cooley,” said Clyde Hopkins, Bryce’s father. “We speak all the time. He’s a first class person.”
While Hopkins clearly would own a chance at instant playing time as a freshman at Providence (and likely Illinois), he would be signing up for a major challenge at Kentucky. This is no shock. It’s what Calipari sells. You come here, compete against future first round pick pros and own a chance to become a star. It’s a recruiting pitch that is really only matched by one other program – Duke – in the country.
But here’s the flip side, a possibility that most prep recruits barely think of: you get beaten out, for multiple seasons.
Just look at Kentucky’s roster for this season. The Cats are filled with top 30 recruits and a few top transfers. One is Jacob Toppin, the long, talented 6-9 transfer from the University of Rhode Island. Instead of staying in Kingston and being one of the Rams’ top two or three players, Toppin rolled the dice and is competing as a redshirt this year with the hope of playing a key role in the 2021-22 season.
He’s not alone. Who knows if Hopkins is a small forward with shooting range or a combo forward who can also do damage inside. He apparently checks both boxes.
This year’s UK roster features a wave of forward/wing types. Big-time recruits Terrence Clarke (of Boston) and Isaiah Jackson are multi-dimensional players who may be One-and-Done, or may be back next season. St. Louis freshman Cam’Ron Fletcher looks like a carbon copy of Hopkins. Sophomore Keion Brooks owns a dose of experience and may just beat out all of these fresh-faced freshman. Then there is Lance Ware, a 6-9 forward from New Jersey who the Friars chased hard last fall only to see him get in the deep line at Kentucky.
So the point is at Kentucky everyone can’t play. Would that keep Hopkins in a developmental role for a year or two? Maybe Toppin barely plays until his final season or two of eligibility?
Calipari can guarantee little in the recruiting process but that doesn’t seem to matter. Kids queue up in Lexington year after year. Some transfer, few complain.
We shall see what Bryce Hopkins chooses to do but with Providence pressing all sorts of familial connections to Southern New England, Ed Cooley is just happy to be in this race until the end.