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.
When he listed five schools in early August, Kentucky wasn’t mentioned then, either.
But here we are in mid-November and the 6-foot-3 Roselle (N.J.) Catholic point guard has just committed to the Wildcats on ESPNU. Kentucky, the preseason No. 1 team and prohibitive favorite to win the 2015 NCAA championship, only began actively recruiting Briscoe in late August.
“Everything about Kentucky made me want to attend the school,” he said on ESPNU. “Playing with great players as my experience from USA Basketball, I think I can handle playing with great players. And right now Coach Calipari has a machine going on with getting point guards to the NBA, like John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and Derrick Rose. So I could see myself in that mold and being the next point guard to come out of Kentucky.”
Briscoe reiterated that he won’t sign his NLI until the spring.
The No. 1-ranked point guard in the nation by 247 Sports composite rankings, Briscoe spurned local schools St. John’s and UConn in favor of playing for coach John Calipari, who has sent 19 players to the NBA in the last five seasons.
“It was tough,” he said. “I’m a city kid, I love the city and my fanbase and it’s pretty much where I’m from. I’m not downgrading any other school, I had just had to make the best decision for me and my family.”
Briscoe, projected as the No. 8 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft by Draft Express, is the third elite player from New Jersey since 2010 to leave the area for Kentucky, following Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in 2010 and Karl-Anthony Towns in 2012.
He is also the second Roselle Catholic player to pick an SEC school this fall, following 6-9 forward Chris Silva, who signed with South Carolina.
Briscoe has made no secret of the fact that he wants to be a pro, and he felt Kentucky was the best route to that goal.
“[Calipari] said his job is to get people in the NBA, ultimately that’s everybody’s goal is to get to the NBA,” Briscoe told SNY.tv in September. “Last year, he had six people [who could go] in the first round, this year he had eight. And it’s just like the lineage and the steps. This wave go to the NBA from Kentucky, and then the next wave goes. And that’s something I want to be a part of. I want to be a part of those waves that go to the NBA, where the starting five and two people coming off the bench are saying, ‘We’re now in the NBA.’ Every day at practice you’re going against [McDonald’s All-Americans].”
Briscoe joins 6-6 Chicago St. Rita guard Charles Matthews and 6-10 Memphis big man Skal Labissiere in Kentucky’s 2015 recruiting class, but he may well help draw other elite players to Kentucky come spring.
The Wildcats are involved with his close friend Antonio Blakeney, who is considering Kentucky along with LSU, Missouri and others. They are also courting Malik Newman, another point guard, as well as small forward Jaylen Brown and numerous bigs, including Ivan Rabb, Stephen Zimmerman, Caleb Swanigan, Carlton Bragg, Cheick Diallo and Brandon Ingram. All except Ingram are expected to commit late.
“He’s not really a point guard, but he’s a very good passer,” longtime New York recruiting expert Tom Konchalski said of Briscoe. “And you don’t want to take away his scoring because that’s probably what he does right now best of all. But of all the kids in the senior class, he might be the most tapped into social media, so hopefully he’ll be a good recruiter for them. He’ll attract other good players, not just because he’s talented, but because he’s a likable kid.”
Kentucky will likely return freshman point guard Tyler Ulis and remains in the mix for Newman, meaning Briscoe will have to earn his playing time next season.
“If he picks Kentucky, he’s just another McDonald’s All-American who can help their program,” Konchalski said. “But look how many McDonald’s All-Americans they have in their program…so it’s not like he’s going to step in and he’s going to be given the ball right away. He’s going to have to wait his turn.”
For Steve Lavin and St. John’s, it is a heartbreaking turn of events.
The Johnnies recruited Briscoe for several years, targeting him as the centerpiece of their 2015 class, along with Long Island forward Diallo and Louisiana guard Brandon Sampson.
Now Lavin must try to assemble a five- or six-man class without a lynchpin to attract other players.
Lavin and St. John’s now face a duel challenge going forward.
They must get the current team into the NCAA Tournament — a goal senior guard D’Angelo Harrison said would be a failure if they don’t accomplish.
And they must simultaneously recruit for 2015 and beyond.
They will do that now without the momentum of a Briscoe commitment.
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.