As the college basketball recruiting calendar turns into the ever-important month of July, a promising big man from Nigeria is increasingly associated with the Kentucky Wildcats.
Ugonna Kingsley Onyenso – a 7-footer with a wingspan of 7-5 – has risen rapidly in the 2023 rankings in recent months. He jumped 60 places – from #86 to #26 overall – then the Rivals.com list has been updated a few weeks ago. Around the same time, On3.com raised him even more — all the way to No. 5 in the 2023 class, making him the highest climber in that ranking†
Onyenso is number 22 in the new 247Sports ranking – he was not on that list at all before – and he clearly has the potential to rise even higher.
“Kingsley is a very gifted physical talent,” 247Sports analyst Travis Branham told the Herald-Leader. “Really good size, really long arms and a promising frame. He’s a great athlete. He’s shown some flashes of the ability to score with his back to the basket as well as with his face to the rim. He’s got it ability to stretch the floor.
“Just a lot of talent, a lot of benefit – to just come on campus and keep working.”
While he’s showing more signs offensively, it’s his rim-protection skills that set Onyenso apart at this point in his development, trailing as one of the top greats in the 2023 class.
Amid this rise, a consensus has emerged that Kentucky is the team to beat.
Last week, Rivals.com analyst Travis Graf, who does the national recruiting for that website, posted a FutureCast forecast for the UK on Onyenso’s page. Over the weekend, Branham put a Crystal Ball pick in favor of Kentucky† And earlier this week, On3.com national analyst Jamie Shaw made a prediction from Onyenso to the Wildcats†
“I don’t think it’s imminent, but I do like Kentucky’s chances,” Branham said. “It’s something I’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on in the month of July, and I think we’ll get a lot more clarity in the coming weeks about what’s going to happen.”
Reclassify to 2022?
If Onyenso is indeed leaning towards the UK, that would raise two big questions.
Second, could Onyenso be able to reclassify this summer and join the British program in time for next season?
It was remarkable that Branham also had a pro-Kentucky forecast for Bradshaw – the first on that player’s Crystal Ball page – less than 48 hours after he did the same for Onyenso. At first glance it seemed a bit strange. It’s rare for two 7-footers—possibly the top two centers in the class—to end up in the same school.
But either way things look good for the UK and Branham thinks it could work.
“I don’t see why there would be a big problem with it, to be honest,” he said, adding that if one of the two can show the ability to stretch the floor offensively, they could even play at the same time. “Cal isn’t afraid to play two bigs. As long as one of them can take down a 15-footer, and as long as they’re able to defend the position, then he’s willing to do it. So I don’t see why it would be such a problem.”
And then there is the matter of reclassification.
“Something I’m going to look for at Kingsley is the ability to reclassify,” Branham said. “…I think there’s a chance, sure.”
This idea has emerged publicly in recent weeks, with those close to the situation shelling out the possibility behind the scenes. However, the rumor clearly still has legs, and it would make sense on both sides.
Onyenso, who will turn 18 in September and could complete his secondary education this year, is currently at Putnam Science Academy (Conn.), the same school that spawned Hamidou Diallo, who left for the UK midway through his postgraduate degree. and played for the Cats the following season. Onyenso also played with the NBA Academy in Africa for two years before coming to the United States.
Fit with Kentucky?
UK doesn’t need much help in the frontcourt this season. National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe is back, and last season he averaged 32 minutes per game. Onyenso has the long-term potential to play the “4”, but his skills outside the basket will have to evolve for that to happen. Kentucky also welcomes McDonald’s All-American power forward Daimion Collins, who Calipari says should be “one of the cornerstones” of the 2022-23 roster. And junior power forward Lance Ware returns as well and should provide some meaningful minutes in the paint.
Those three players, plus the presence of talented wings Chris Livingston and Jacob Toppin – both capable of playing the “4” in certain formations – leave little room for playing time in the frontcourt, as long as everyone is healthy.
Branham pointed out that Tshiebwe will likely be gone after this season, Collins could very well pop up as an NBA Draft pick in year two, and he said he wasn’t sure if Ware would return for a fourth season.
“There’s a lot of transition going on in that frontcourt,” Branham said.
Onyenso jumping on board now would give him the chance to compete for an entire season in training against Tshiebwe and the others with no pressure to play right away. That would ideally put him in a better position to produce immediately in 2023-24. And with huge turnovers likely to come to the UK’s frontcourt rotation, there should be more than enough playing time for both Bradshaw and Onyenso in a year’s time.
This has yet to be played out in the coming weeks.
Onyenso is scheduled for an official visit to the Oklahoma State campus this weekend, although Louisville and Memphis are the two schools other than Kentucky that are currently generating the most buzz.
With the basic schedule ramping up this month and Onyenso emerging as one of the top stars on the Adidas circuit, that will be the focus for the time being. The first day of autumn classes in the UK has been set for August 22.
“We’ll just continue to learn more through the month of July,” Branham said.