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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Saturday / December 15.
  • As Kahlil Whitney heads on Kentucky visit, he’s become a top priority for John Calipari

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    By ADAM ZAGORIA

    The first time John Calipari saw Kahlil Whitney this summer was on July 14th at the Peach Invitational, the event that runs in Augusta, Ga., parallel to the Peach Jam.

    It was about that time that Dajuan Wagner began raving to Calipari about Whitney, too.

    Wagner, the former Camden (N.J.) High School star who played for Calipari at Memphis before becoming the No. 6 pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, couldn’t help but be impressed by Whitney, a hard-driving 6-foot-6 wing who, like Wagner, played his high school ball in the Garden State — at Roselle Catholic. Calipari was similarly impressed and soon began texting Roselle Catholic head coach Dave Boff to express his interest in Whitney.

    Calipari fell in love quickly and Whitney became the fourth Roselle Catholic player ever to receive a Kentucky offer, following Tyler Roberson, Isaiah Briscoe and Naz Reid. Of that group, only Briscoe, now with the Orlando Magic, chose to play at Kentucky.

    “It was as interested and excited as I’ve seen Coach Calipari about one of our guys,” Boff, whose team has won three New Jersey Tournament of Champions titles this decade, said of Whitney. “The first time that he had seen him, he was just extremely enthusiastic about Kahlil from the first game that he saw him.”

    By the following weekend (July 22nd) Calipari was courtside for both of Whitney’s games at Jimmy Salmon’s The Weekend event at Montclair State University.

    “It feels great,” Whitney told ZAGSBLOG contributor Orlando Cameron of Calipari watching him at Montclair State. “We have talked a lot the last four days.”

    “I think the thing that stood out first for Coach Calipari was just his compeitiveness and his drive and then you combine that with the physical tools and his continuing to develop skill set, he just thinks that Kahlil could be a really special player at Kentucky,” Boff said.

    Whitney quickly became Kentucky’s top target on the wing in the Class of 2019. When Whitney announced his final eight schools this week, Kentucky was among a group that included Louisville, Oregon, Miami, Florida State, Georgetown, SMU and his home-state Illinois.

    As Whitney heads into his first official visit to Kentucky beginning Friday, the Wildcats were widely seen as the favorite — and that was before fellow Class of 2019 wing D.J. Jeffries decommitted this week. (Memphis is seen as the likely landing spot for Jeffries).

    “Kentucky,” an assistant coach from one of the seven other schools recruiting Whitney said by text when asked where he thought Whitney would land.

    Asked if he thought the Jeffries decommitment makes Whitney more valuable for Kentucky, Boff said: “I guess it would make him more valuable for them but Coach Calipari was enthralled with Kahlil and had made him one of their top targets before Jeffries ever decommitted.”

    Whitney has also kept a calm outward demeanor in terms of his offers, but Boff said he’s fired up for the visit.

    “He’s very excited about the visit,” Boff said. “I think Kentucky has always been a place that has interested Kahlil. I think he wants a competitive environment and he knows that’s about as competitive an environment as you could be in and I think he was excited to get the offer and is excited to go down on the visit this weekend.”

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.