John Calipari sent the message out to his more than 1.5 million Twitter followers late on Sunday night, complete with the logistical information to specifically place the Kentucky men’s basketball head coach and one of his assistants, Orlando Antigua.
After a day of travel from the West Coast, Antigua and Calipari ate at Dominick’s Restaurant, an old-school Italian eatery in The Bronx in New York City.
Calipari even mentioned the street that Dominick’s is located on, just in case you ever wanted to visit the restaurant in Little Italy yourself.
While the social media message was just the latest breadcrumb left by Calipari as Kentucky’s coaches fan out across the country as the college basketball recruiting period continues, it also confirmed UK’s intent to recruit an emerging group of basketball stars in New York City, a location that has proved fruitful for the Wildcats in the past.
A list of past UK basketball stars from NYC is topped by Jamal Mashburn, an All-American who scored nearly 2,000 points in just three seasons in the early 1990s, as part of UK teams that returned to the postseason after NCAA sanctions, like the 1993 Final Four squad.
Mashburn came to Lexington from Cardinal Hayes High School in The Bronx.
Now more than 30 years later, UK is once again at Cardinal Hayes in pursuit of another top basketball talent.
For now, Ian Jackson is the most sought-after player in the class of 2024. The 6-foot-4, 185-pound shooting guard is currently ranked as the No. 1 player in the class by the 247Sports Composite.
Jackson, who received a UK scholarship offer in June, is also a strong candidate to move up a year and reclassify to the class of 2023, but he told the Herald-Leader last month he would make that decision after his junior high school season finishes.
Regardless of when Jackson does move on from high school, he is viewed as a can’t-miss prospect with elite athleticism and an undeniable flair when playing basketball.
“His vertical and the way that he moves and just how quick he is allows him to play bigger than (he is) and gives him some versatility on the defensive end,” Rob Cassidy, who covers recruiting nationally for Rivals, told the Herald-Leader. “When people talk about Ian, they talk about the dunks and his ability to finish at the rim, but he’s become a better shooter too, and a better defender.”
While Kentucky will be at Cardinal Hayes this week to visit Jackson, it won’t be the first time Antigua and Calipari watch Jackson play in person.
Jackson was part of the United States team that won the FIBA Under-17 Basketball World Cup in Spain this summer, an event that Antigua and Calipari traveled to watch in person.
According to Cassidy, Kentucky and North Carolina are the two programs to watch in Jackson’s recruitment, with a potential reclassification to 2023 working in favor of the Wildcats.
“I think if he goes down, I think it works in favor of Kentucky, because they just need a guy like that in that class right now,” Cassidy said. “I don’t know exactly how the relationship is with North Carolina. I know that he likes them, I know that he likes Hubert Davis, but if I was monitoring that recruitment, those are the two teams I would watch the closest right now.”
Jackson told the Herald-Leader what Calipari’s recruiting pitch has been.
“Coach Cal said he thinks I can go in there and help them win a national championship. (He said) I have all the keys and tools in my game to, if I was to go there, help them win a championship,” Jackson said.
But even before Kentucky was in New York City to see Jackson, they were in the NYC suburbs to see his friend, Boogie Fland.
A class of 2024 combo guard, Fland is also a five-star recruit who is ranked as the No. 10 player in his class by the 247Sports Composite. Fland was also part of the gold medal-winning U.S. youth squad this summer in Spain.
UK was in last week to see Fland at an open gym at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, an outer suburb located about 30 miles north of New York City. Calipari himself stopped by to see Fland on Monday.
Fland, like Jackson, earned a UK scholarship offer this summer.
“Just hearing from (Kentucky), hearing from everybody, everything is just a blessing,” Fland told the Herald-Leader last month. “I’m just grateful for the opportunity. Being from New York, not many of these opportunities come. To be one (of the people) that it came to, I put in the hard work. … Every kid in New York, if you’re watching this, know that hard work pays off … trust your work.”
That sentiment conveyed by Fland — and spoken at a practice gym on the 17th floor of a high-rise in Chicago’s Fulton Market neighborhood — helps explain the magnitude and meaning of blue-blood programs like Kentucky recruiting basketball stars from New York City.
“Being a kid from the Bronx, we’re living in hard times right now, so just being from there and being able to have all of these opportunities to go to Chicago and everywhere, I just want to say it’s a blessing,” Fland said. “It’s every kid in New York’s dream, just to be putting on for our city. People like to say basketball in NYC is dead, but Ian and I are keeping it alive and keeping it going.”
Most of Kentucky’s recent recruiting success in New York City has come with players originally from the area, but who left to further their basketball profiles elsewhere.
Hamidou Diallo, Dakari Johnson, Doron Lamb and Nick Richards all claim New York City as a birthplace or one-time residence, but all finished their high school careers at schools outside of the state.
The same is true for current Wildcat Jacob Toppin.
This is different for Fland and Jackson, two New Yorkers who have chosen to stay home.
“It means a lot,” Jackson said of representing The Bronx through basketball. “I take a lot of pride in where I come from, especially because it’s not often that you see kids play at this level from New York. So me being one of those kids, inspiring kids younger than me and even older than me, it definitely means a lot.”