College Basketball

Whiteville recruit caught between NC State and Kentucky

N.C. State’s pursuit of in-state basketball recruit Shaun Kirk got complicated after Kentucky got involved.

Kirk, a 6-6 small forward from Whiteville, visited N.C. State on Monday and was offered a scholarship. Kirk, a three-star prospect who had previously been pursued by some mid-major programs, told the N.C. State coaches he was going to commit to the Wolfpack.

But Monday night, Kentucky coach John Calipari called Kirk, according to Whiteville coach Jerry Singletary, and offered Kirk a scholarship.

“I think he’s very interested in what Kentucky has going on out there,” Singletary told the Lexington (Ky.) Courier-Journal on Tuesday. “He’s just overwhelmed a little bit, because when you talk to a person like Calipari on the phone, he was like, ‘Wow, coach, I didn’t know this could happen.’

“I love N.C. State, but when you go home and – from a business aspect – Kentucky calls you, I know what I would do.”

Kirk is an athletic, small forward who averaged 18.6 points and 5.0 rebounds per game as a senior at Whiteville last season. He’s rated as a three-star prospect by Rivals and Scout. He had drawn preliminary interest from Charlotte before a strong showing at an AAU tournament in Indianapolis this past weekend with Team Loaded.

Team Loaded, which features class of 2016 stars Dennis Smith Jr. and Edrice Adebayo, drew a crowd of coaches at the adidas-sponsored event in Indiana. Smith, a point guard from Fayetteville, and Adebayo, a forward from Pinetown, are both ranked in the top 10 of the junior class and both are being pursued by N.C. State.

But it was Kirk’s standout play this past weekend that caught the attention of both N.C. State and Kentucky, two schools in need of a wing player.

N.C. State has West Virginia transfer Terry Henderson penciled in to start at one wing spot and either of the Martin twins at the other. But with only seven scholarship players on the roster, the opportunity for regular playing time is there for Kirk with N.C. State.

The Wolfpack has to replace senior guards Ralston Turner and Desmond Lee and lost junior guard Trevor Lacey to the NBA draft.

Kentucky lost seven underclassmen early to the NBA draft after starting the season 38-0 but losing to Wisconsin in the Final Four. The Wildcats have the second-ranked recruiting class coming in, according to ESPN, with commitments from forward Skal Labissiere and guards Isaiah Briscoe and Charles Matthews. Kentucky’s also in the running for small forward Jaylen Brown, the No. 4 prospect in the class.

N.C. State and Kentucky both missed out on high-profile recruits Malik Newman and Brandon Ingram. Newman chose Mississippi State and Ingram opted for Duke, leaving the Wolfpack and Wildcats to turn to Kirk.

Now Kirk is suddenly in a position to choose between the two. Since Kirk has not signed a National Letter of Intent, he can change his mind without any recourse from the NCAA. Singletary said Kirk is really torn between the offers.

“Shaun’s not been on the radar like he should have been,” Singletary said. “But I guess good things come to those who wait.”

Giglio: 919-829-8938