Top prospect Bragg picks Kentucky, er, Kansas … yeah, KU it is

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The hat said Kansas.

The mouth said, um . . . something else.

"Next year, I’ll be playing at the University of Kentucky," Carlton Bragg, a prep power forward, said Thursday afternoon at his high school in Cleveland.

One problem: He was putting on a red-blue-and-white cap with a giant "KU" logo on the front as he said it.

Pause.

"Kansas, I’m sorry," the teenager said, sheepishly, quickly correcting himself."

So it took a second, but it’s official. And huge. Not only did Jayhawks coach Bill Self score his first commitment for 2015, he beat out the likes of Arizona, Illinois, UCLA and — yes — Kentucky for Bragg’s services.

At 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, Bragg is an explosive leaper and finisher with a strong face-up game and a jumper that can stretch defenses and pull big men out of the lane. Scout.com ranks the Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School star as the No. 12 prospect in the country; the third-best power forward prospect, nationally; the second-best prospect in the Midwest; and the top prospect in Ohio.

Despite strong overtures from the Wildcats and Illini, Bragg said his comfort with Self in Lawrence and the sense of "brotherly love" in the KU program swung the tide.

"When I went to Late Night (in the) Phog (this past fall)," he told reporters, "that’s when everything changed. It was a great experience."

Kentucky and Illinois began Thursday with three commitments each for 2015. The Jayhawks have one, now, but it’s a damn good one:

The Jayhawks (12-2, 1-0 Big 12) are playing without a true rim protector this winter for the first time in several seasons, and Bragg could certainly help on that front, and quickly. He also could be joining a front line in Lawrence that includes Perry Ellis (a senior next winter) and Cliff Alexander (a sophomore) — or replacing one of the two, depending on their NBA inclinations.

So even if "Kansas" wasn’t the first word on his lips Thursday, it was the first one on his head. And, apparently, in his heart.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @SeanKeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.