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Monday / October 21.
  • Kentucky visits Jonathan Kuminga, No. 1 player in 2021 and projected No. 1 pick in 2022

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    By ADAM ZAGORIA

    HILLSIDE, N.J. — Kentucky coach John Calipari has made a habit of recruiting some of New Jersey’s best players out of The Patrick School.

    In recent years, Calipari has pulled Dakari Johnson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Nick Richards out of the program formerly known as St. Patrick.

    But when Calipari and associate head coach Kenny Payne walked into the school on Monday afternoon, it was to visit arguably the best player the school has featured since Kyrie Irving played at the school’s old Elizabeth location a decade ago.

    Jonathan Kuminga, who transferred from Our Savior New American on Long island, is a versatile, explosive 6-foot-8 forward ranked No. 1 in the Class of 2021. He is the projected No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, according to some mocks. Kidd-Gilchrist was the No. 2 overall pick in 2012.

    With every major college coach in the nation watching at Peach Jam in July, Kuminga made an emphatic case while playing with the NY Rens that he’s the best high school player in American regardless of class.

    Calipari and Payne met with Kuminga at the school and then watched, along with a handful of other coaches, as the native of the Congo slashed to the rim, threw down a menagerie of dunks and generally overwhelmed his teammates in an open gym.

    “It’s just like everybody be saying, we want you,” Kuminga told me of Kentucky’s message. “It’s not like they’re begging you to come. Everybody wants you, so you got to just make the right decision.”

    Kuminga added: “[Calipari] just said I would fit, just like in the situation they are putting people. Certain players, that’s a good fit. He said it’s a good fit, too.”

    Calipari is coming off landing another New Jersey player, power forward Lance Ware of Camden High School, along with Brewster (N.H.) Academy shooting guard Terrence Clarke. The Wildcats now have four committed players for 2020.

    Clarke and Kuminga are close friends — “We’re good,” Kuminga said — and it probably doesn’t hurt Kentucky one bit that Clarke is committed there and will reclassify to 2020.

    “At first I didn’t know, but I’m just happy for him,” Kuminga said.

    Asked if he might like to join Clarke at Kentucky, Kuminga said, “I don’t know about that right now.”

    A parade of high-major schools has come through the New Jersey school for Kuminga (and their other players), who also has the option of reclassifying to 2020. Nebraska and LSU both had their full staffs in last week. Maryland was there as well. Washington head coach Mike Hopkins is expected in this week, too.

    Duke has been heavily linked to Kuminga as well.

    “Yeah, they’re going to come, but I’m not sure when they’re coming,” he said.

    For now, Kuminga is keeping his options open.

    “I mean, it’s not just about Duke, it’s about everybody,” he said. “I like everybody.

    Chris Chavannes, the Patrick School head coach, said Kuminga has the option of reclassifying to 2020 but “hasn’t made the decision as far as what direction he will go. He’ll have to decide that fairly soon because of the academic component to it.”

    Kuminga said reclassifying didn’t come up with Calipari and Payne.

    “They haven’t tell me that, they just recruiting me,” he said.

    He added: “I’m not considering going next year. I’m just in high school, still playing, having fun, working on my game and stuff.”

    Chavannes has seen his share of talented players. There are retired jerseys in the gym for Irving, Kidd-Gilchrist, Johnson, Shaheen Holloway, Dexter Strickland and several other players to come out of the program.

    But he admits he’s never seen anyone like Kuminga.

    “I definitley haven’t seen anybody before like him in our program,” Chavannes said.

    “I’ve had to deal with him more as a person than as a player because I haven’t had the chance to coach him or work him out or anything like that. And he’s an amazing person thusfar in the short time that I’ve had to interact with him on a day-to-day basis.”

    Chavannes thinks Kuminga “needs to become a little more selfish in his play,” and take over more instead of passing or deferring to his teammates.

    “He said in the locker room, ‘Don’t just pass me the ball all the time, you guys have to make plays sometimes,'” Chavannes said. “While that’s great and all, he has to find that middle ground in there to be more effective because a lot of times these guys sit around and watch him and he is a show.”

    But Kuminga wants to help his teammates become better, not just dominate himself.

    “I mean, I’m trying to get guys involved all the time,” he said. “You can’t just be a selfish player, you gotta involve everybody in the game.”

    “We’ve had strong guys but never with his skillset,” he said. “I remember watching LeBron when he used to come into New Jersey to play. And it’s almost like LeBron, the power, the speed. He just does a lot of things. [On Sunday] he drove baseline and finished left, I’ve never seen anything like that before. So I’ve not seen any players like him. We’ve had a lot of great players.

    “Kyrie is very different, very special in his own way, and I think [Kuminga] is going to define himself to be very different and very special in his own way.”

    Asked if he modeled himself after James or any current NBA players, Kuminga said, “No, I want to be like myself.”

    St. Patrick won five New Jersey Tournament of Champions titles under former coach Kevin Boyle, and in 2017 Chavannes and Mike Rice led The Patrick School to its first title.

    Now with Kuminga playing alongside other high-major players like Noah Farrakhan and Adama Sanogo, the school will be favored to win it all again.

    “Yeah, that’s the school goal so I gotta help them to win those games and win the title,” Kuminga told me. “It would be a great thing and a big thing for the school and everybody that goes here.”

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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.