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How Tre Johnson climbed to the top of new Rivals rankings

A new — if potentially temporary — king in college basketball recruiting was crowned Wednesday, when Rivals released its updated rankings for class of 2024 players.

Texas-based shooting guard Tre Johnson moved from No. 3 to No. 1 overall in Rivals’ rankings for the class, with center Flory Bidunga continuing his quick ascent with a No. 2 ranking and former top player Ian Jackson slotted at No. 3 in the class.

Johnson is now the third different prospect to occupy the No. 1 spot in the class of 2024 rankings since Rivals debuted the list last year.

Both Jackson and Johnson are top recruits for the Kentucky men’s basketball program in the 2024 class, with members of the Wildcats’ coaching staff visiting both this week (it should be noted that Jackson is a candidate to reclassify to the 2023 recruiting class, but for now he remains in the 2024 class).

As is the case with most things in college basketball recruiting, a prospect’s ranking will be analyzed ad nauseam while the recruiting process plays out.

But the process of ranking prominent high school basketball recruits, and the discourse that determines who gets the coveted No. 1 spot, is anything but a snap decision.

In late August, while Rivals analysts were developing these new class of 2024 rankings, one of them spoke to the Herald-Leader to provide insight into the process.

Rob Cassidy, who covers recruiting nationally for Rivals, said three weeks ago that the internal debate at Rivals for the top spot in the class of 2024 rankings came down to Johnson, Bidunga and Jackson.

“Tre is probably the most polished from a skills standpoint. You can just tell he’s been really well coached. He shoots it better than the other two,” Cassidy said. “He’s a little bit more disciplined defensively. He doesn’t throw the ball into the stands as often as Ian does.”

Tre Johnson is rated by as the top prospect in the class of 2024, both for his current level of development and his potential upside. Under Armour

Tre Johnson competes on the Nike EYBL circuit and is the top basketball recruit from Texas in the class of 2024. Michael Clubb

But when assessing who the top basketball recruit in an age group is, current skill level isn’t all there is to go off of.

Cassidy explained that upside and future projections also play a role.

In this area, Bidunga had the edge over both Johnson and Jackson, given his already elite shot-blocking ability and emerging offensive presence.

In fact, when asked in late August who he thought the top player in the class of 2024 should be, Cassidy said Bidunga, citing the recent example of when Rivals made Michigan State commit Xavier Booker the top player in the class of 2023 rankings, ahead of UK commit Justin Edwards and UK recruit DJ Wagner.

“I’m a sucker for upside. We made Xavier Booker one in the class of 2023. … He’s not the best player in the class right now, but he’s the dude that NBA teams are drooling over right now,” Cassidy said. “My look is you can make a guy one and if he doesn’t develop then you can drop him.”

What about the debate between Jackson and Johnson, two players prioritized by Kentucky in this recruiting cycle?

“Ian plays at this breakneck pace, where sometimes it lends itself into mistakes that Tre won’t make. (Tre) doesn’t get sped up as much, he’s smarter with the ball in his hands right now,” Cassidy said. “He does a little bit better when it comes to coming off pick and rolls, throwing those passes like high screens, he does things that you can coach players to do. Whereas Ian has all this raw talent and raw athleticism that hasn’t really been honed, yet.”

This speaks to the core of the debate that occurs when crafting new recruiting rankings: Do you go with the more polished player, or the player with the higher upside?

Ultimately, the top spot in this edition of the 2024 rankings went to Johnson, who Cassidy described as “the most well-rounded player in the class right now.”

“Tre is just so skilled for his age and also brings the physical tools,” Cassidy said. “He’s got the length, he can shoot it. He does a lot of things really, really well.”

But upside is always part of the equation, both in order to rise up the recruiting rankings and to maintain a lofty spot in them.

So if Johnson is already such a well-rounded player, where does his upside lie?

“He’s a really good scorer. There’s no really taking that away from him, but sometimes you do have something to be desired on the defensive end, especially (since) he has the tools to be better. Sometimes he’ll just take some possessions off,” Cassidy said. “He’s not going to set the world on fire fighting for rebounds yet. He does a lot of things well, but the scoring is well ahead of every other part of his game.”

Tre Johnson is among a group of 2024 prospects who have received scholarship offers from Kentucky. Under Armour

Cameron Drummond works as a sports reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader with a focus on Kentucky men’s basketball recruiting and the UK men’s basketball team, horse racing, soccer and other sports in Central Kentucky. Drummond is a first-generation American who was born and raised in Texas, before graduating from Indiana University. He is a fluent Spanish speaker who previously worked as a community news reporter in Austin, Texas.

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