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Top center prospect Moussa Cisse picks Memphis. Is Kentucky done recruiting for 2020?

Ben Roberts, Lexington Herald-Leader on

Published in Basketball

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The college decision is in for five-star center Moussa Cisse, and it's not the choice that was expected coming into the summer.

Cisse -- a 6-foot-10 prospect from the West African nation of Guinea -- announced his commitment to Memphis on Wednesday, picking the Tigers over fellow finalists Kentucky, Florida State, Georgetown, Georgia and Louisiana State.

LSU had long been seen as a clear favorite in Cisse's recruitment, though ongoing speculation over how the NCAA will handle recruiting allegations against Tigers coach Will Wade might have played a role in Cisse pushing back his final decision until this week. Cisse announced in late May that he was reclassifying from 2021 to 2020 in order to play college basketball this coming season. Rivals.com installed him as the No. 13 player in that class, and 247Sports ranks him as the No. 11 prospect in 2020.

Cisse averaged 23.2 points, 14.2 rebounds and 8.7 blocked shots per game this past season, leading Lausanne Collegiate School to a Tennessee state title. It was his first year at the Memphis high school after moving from New York City last summer.

At the time of Cisse's reclassification decision, a college announcement was thought to be imminent and LSU was viewed as the undisputed frontrunner until just a few days ago.

Instead, he'll stay in his new home and play for coach Penny Hardaway, who assembled the nation's No. 1 recruiting class in the 2019 cycle but has struggled with top prospects in the 2020 class. Prior to Cisse's commitment, Memphis' only other pledge from a 2020 recruit came from three-star power forward Ahmad Rand.

The Tigers do have high-profile transfer commitments from DeAndre Williams and Landers Nolley, though neither is a lock to receive immediate eligibility to play in the 2020-21 season.

Cisse will be the star of Hardaway's incoming class.

Rivals national analyst Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader that Cisse is one of the best post defenders he has scouted in recent years.

"From a defensive playmaking standpoint, I'm not sure you can do better than him," Evans said. "He's someone that can really change the entire complexion of a game without having a single play called for him. He has that Nerlens Noel mold to him. There are questions about his offensive abilities at times, but, defensively -- his instincts, his timing, his quick leaping skills, his motor -- it's all there."

Kentucky made Cisse a priority recruit, and John Calipari took multiple trips to Memphis to see him play this past season, but UK was never seen as a serious threat for his commitment.

It's unclear whether UK, which has spent this offseason attempting to bolster its frontcourt, will add anyone else to its incoming group of players.

 

Kentucky already has the nation's No. 1-ranked class, which features highly touted power forwards Isaiah Jackson and Lance Ware in the frontcourt. The Cats also have a transfer commitment from former Wake Forest standout Olivier Sarr, who will be UK's starting center if the NCAA grants him a transfer waiver to play right away in the 2020-21 season.

The process to approve Sarr's waiver request is ongoing, and an initial ruling from the NCAA is expected soon.

"We feel confident," Calipari said this week. "But you never know until, you know, you hear it's good to go. He's got a great case. But, you know, we'll wait to hear."

If Sarr is eligible, Kentucky would be projected as a top-five team for next season and likely would have all it needs for the 2020-21 roster. If the NCAA rules against Sarr, who has said he would pursue professional options rather than sit out a year of college in such a scenario, the Cats would likely need some more help in the frontcourt next season.

If that happens, there aren't many instant-impact options.

Cisse and fellow five-star post players Makur Maker and Efton Reid have been the players most recently mentioned as possible additions to UK's frontcourt for the 2020-21 season, but Cisse is now committed to Memphis, while Maker committed to Howard University this month, and Reid recently announced that he will stay in the 2021 class instead of making the move to 2020.

Unless a late transfer option arises -- or, even less likely, someone of UK interest unexpectedly makes a late jump from 2021 to 2020 -- the Cats will be out of options for next season's roster.

(c)2020 Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)

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