Which programs are the top 2019 recruits leaning toward?


Jeff Borzello
ESPN INSIDER

It was a whirlwind three weeks on the recruiting front. Coaches crisscrossed the country -- perhaps for the last time, depending on what new rules are proposed by the NCAA -- hoping to find the future of their respective programs.

Now comes the hard part: actually securing commitments. Over the next couple of weeks, prospects will narrow their lists and set official visits for the fall. Recruiting boards will be cemented a little further and priority targets will be determined.

So who's going where? Here's the buzz on the top five players in the 2019 class and a handful of other noteworthy prospects.

James Wiseman, C, No. 1

For the No. 1 player in the class, Wiseman's tweet over the weekend that he cut his list to eight schools didn't draw much attention ... mostly because no one thinks he's actually considering eight schools. (Sorry, Kansas, Arizona, North Carolina, Florida State, Texas and Vanderbilt.) This has been considered strictly a two-team battle between Kentucky and Memphis since Penny Hardaway took over for Tubby Smith with the Tigers.

John Calipari and the Wildcats were the leaders for most of Wiseman's recruitment, but Hardaway coached Wiseman on the high school and AAU circuits. Wiseman was also expected to play the final July period with Hoop City Elite, a grassroots program formerly known as M33M, which was sponsored by Memphis assistant Mike Miller and coached by Miller's cousin. That Wiseman didn't actually play the final period isn't relevant to the narrative of Memphis hoping to box him in and keep him in the state for college.

One thing to watch: where Wiseman plays his final year of high school ball. If he stays at East High School in Memphis, that's another plus for Penny.

Vernon Carey Jr., C, No. 2

Carey had his fair share of matchups during July, going up against the likes of Wiseman, Armando Bacot, Trayce Jackson-Davis and others, and he held his ground in every single one, averaging 23.0 points and 10.4 boards at the Nike Peach Jam.

He's down to five schools: Duke, Michigan State, Miami, Kentucky and North Carolina. Carey already has taken an official visit to Michigan State, and he has dates scheduled to Duke and Kentucky in October. Miami, where his father played football, has gone four-deep for him at games more often than not for the better part of his high school career.

Who's the leader? Duke was considered the favorite for a long stretch of his recruitment, but the Blue Devils are also prioritizing Isaiah Stewart and renewed their interest in Armando Bacot. Miami still harbors hopes of keeping him home for school. Kentucky is very much in there, but the Wildcats also want Wiseman. Michigan State is also a legitimate contender, while North Carolina coach Roy Williams has been at Carey's games consistently.

Cole Anthony, PG, No. 3

There's not a more consistently productive player in the 2019 class than Anthony, the best guard in the country. At the Nike Peach Jam, Anthony averaged 26.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and two steals while shooting 89.8 percent from the free throw line and 37.9 percent from 3-point range.

Very little is known about Anthony's recruitment. North Carolina's Williams and Oregon's Dana Altman were regulars at his games during July, and both schools are clearly in a solid position moving forward. Duke is recruiting him, as are Kansas, Notre Dame, Louisville and Villanova. He also took a couple of unofficial visits last week to Wake Forest and North Carolina. With Anthony heading to Oak Hill Academy (Virginia) for his senior season of high school, expect his college recruitment to progress more quickly in the coming months.

Jaden McDaniels, PF, No. 4

Arguably the biggest breakout star from the beginning of the grassroots season until now, McDaniels has maybe the highest ceiling of anyone in the 2019 class. He's long, athletic, can handle the ball, make shots from the perimeter and is active defensively and on the glass. McDaniels had three double-doubles in five games at the Nike Peach Jam, including an 18-point, 11-rebound effort against five-star junior N'Faly Dante in which he also buried three 3-pointers and blocked three shots.

Two schools were noticeable at McDaniels' games all month: hometown Washington and San Diego State, where his older brother Jalen McDaniels plays. Mike Hopkins and all three assistant coaches made their presence felt, while Brian Dutcher and multiple assistant coaches were also consistently in attendance.

McDaniels admitted earlier this month his mother wanted him to stay closer to home for college, which can only help those two schools. Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan, Arizona, UCLA, Oregon and Kentucky are among the other schools in contact.

Isaiah Stewart, C, No. 5

Stewart is down to 10 schools, and most of them watched him not only during the July live periods but also in Argentina in June, where he played for USA Basketball. He also took visits to Indiana, Notre Dame and Michigan State in June. At the Nike Peach Jam, Stewart said he planned to cut his list to five following the event and then set official visits. He was also expected to take an unofficial visit to Georgetown this past weekend.

Stewart has emerged as Duke's most likely big man commit over the past few months, and the Blue Devils have been a steady presence at his games all month. Duke is in good shape on this one.

Bryan Antoine, SG, No. 9

Antoine is further along in his recruiting process than most five-star prospects, as he has already set four official visits. He'll start at Florida on Sept. 15, then go to Kentucky and Duke the next two weekends before finishing up at Villanova on Nov. 3. Kansas is the lone school in his top five without a set visit date yet.

"I'll probably take the visits, then take a couple weeks or months to evaluate everything," Antoine said earlier this month. "Talk to my parents and my coaches and see how the visit went, see how I fit in the program."

Most of the Antoine intel has centered around Duke and Villanova, with the Blue Devils the perceived leader.

Scottie Lewis, SF, No. 10

Lewis trimmed his list to seven schools in June, leaving Villanova, St. John's, Kentucky, Duke, Florida, Harvard and Stanford vying for his services. There are several directions this recruitment can go. Lewis has scheduled two official visits so far: Florida the weekend of Sept. 7, John's the weekend of October 5. He's expected to make an official visit to Kentucky in late September. Lewis, Antoine and AAU teammate Aidan Igiehon also took an unofficial visit to Stanford this past weekend. Villanova has recruited Lewis for a long time, and Jay Wright made Lewis the first target he watched after returning from the ESPYs during the second live period.

One wild card in this could be Mike Rice, his head coach on the AAU circuit. Rice has been discussed as a potential assistant coach at multiple colleges this spring and summer, sources told ESPN, and that could impact Lewis' decision.

"Narrowing it down, trying to see where I fit, and where I'm going to get the most love and get the best out of it, from the learning experience, from a social experience and from a basketball experience," Lewis told ESPN at the Hoop Group Elite Camp earlier this month.

Kahlil Whitney, SF, No. 14

Whitney's recruitment changed as much in July as any five-star prospect. He entered the month with a variety of schools on his list, with Louisville, Illinois and Georgetown. And then the athletic forward had one of the better starts to July of anyone in the country. At the Peach Invitational during the first July live period, Whitney had 20-plus points in five straight games -- including 23 points and eight rebounds in front of Kentucky. Not long after, the Wildcats offered, and within days, Whitney set an official visit to Kentucky for this coming weekend.

There was plenty of speculation he could commit to the Wildcats on his visit -- joining a recruiting class that already includes five-star Tyrese Maxey and in-state wing Dontaie Allen -- but the trip came and went without an announcement. He did cut his list to eight last week, with Georgetown, SMU, Louisville, Florida State, Miami, Illinois, Kentucky and Oregon making the cut.

Nico Mannion, PG, No. 20 (ranked in 2020 class)

Mannion became the latest in the growing reclassification trend earlier this month when he decided to move from the 2020 class into 2019. It had been speculated for a long time, but Mannion made it official.

"I felt like it was better spending a year in college than another year in high school," Mannion said. "Getting to college a year early will help me develop, get me ready."

He plans on cutting his list to five or six after July, and admitted Arizona, Duke and Villanova are very likely to make his final list. Two new schools entered the mix in July, with Kentucky and North Carolina both calling him, shortly before his reclassification announcement.

"Calipari was just saying there's no promises at Kentucky," he said. "If you're good, you're gonna play."

Armando Bacot, C, No. 20

Bacot announced his final five on Saturday, with Duke, North Carolina, Georgia, Oklahoma State and VCU remaining on the big man's list. Long thought to be a North Carolina lean, the Tar Heels have been a mainstay at his games for months.

Duke might have thrown a wrinkle into the equation late in July, though, as the Blue Devils showed renewed interest in Bacot. They had been involved in his recruitment earlier in the process, but they seemed to cool on him as they prioritized other targets in the 2019 class. However, they were four-deep at one of his games in Las Vegas and are sending the message that they're back involved. At this stage, North Carolina still appears to be the favorite, but Duke is turning up the pressure.

Bacot was one of the most dominant players all month, going toe-to-toe with Wiseman, Carey, Stewart and others en route to a Nike Peach Jam championship game in which he went for 14 points and 14 rebounds to lead Team Takeover to a title.

C.J. Walker, PF, No. 45

The breakout player of July, Walker made his case for five-star status at the Nike Peach Jam, averaging 18.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and two blocks in five games -- including a 28-point, 10-rebound effort against Carey and Nike Team Florida. He also showed an improved perimeter game, knocking down four 3-pointers.

Unsurprisingly, colleges took notice. Memphis, Providence, NC State, Louisville, Ole Miss, Missouri, Texas, Pittsburgh and Arizona all extended scholarship offers this month, adding to a list that already included a host of high-major programs. Memphis had some initial buzz after the Tigers reached out earlier this month, and Alabama is a strong contender, but there's a long way to go in this one.

He cut his list to 12 on Friday: Arkansas, Memphis, NC State, Ole Miss, Alabama, Texas, Oregon, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Miami and Arizona.