For as long as recruiting analysts have been ranking the best basketball prospects in the 2022 class, Chris Livingston has been at the top of the list.
When the first set of 247Sports composite rankings for that group came out — back in September of 2019 — those ’22 recruits were still several weeks away from entering their sophomore seasons of high school ball.
In the nearly two years since those initial rankings, Livingston — a physical, athletic 6-foot-6 wing from Akron, Ohio — has never dropped below the No. 4 spot, remarkable consistency in an environment that’s ever-changing with new players rising up the lists as their games evolve.
Livingston, who is expected to be on Kentucky’s campus this weekend for an official visit, relied on a power game to make a name for himself in those early days of his high school career. But he hasn’t rested on those attributes. He, too, has evolved on the court, and that’s why he remains one of the most coveted basketball players in the country.
“What separated him early as a prospect is he’s always been extremely mature physically,” 247Sports analyst Travis Branham told the Herald-Leader. “He stands about 6-foot-6, and he’s just an absolutely explosive athlete. He’s strong. He’s physical. And when he’s attacking downhill — given that athleticism and strength — he’s a force to try to stop.
“But he’s more than just a slasher. He can also make shots. So he is a three-level scorer and can be a really, really good defender when he gets locked in and engaged on that end. As well as a positional rebounder. He’s just very naturally talented, and there aren’t many better athletes at the high school level.”
Branham said “power” is a good descriptor for Livingston’s game. On both ends of the court, he overpowers his opponents with that strength and fearless physicality. Most of the players he goes up against during his high school season in Ohio are woefully overmatched. The stats tell the story there.
This past season, Livingston averaged 31.1 points, 15.8 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 4.7 steals and 4.5 blocks per game while shooting 71 percent from the field. MaxPreps.com named him to the junior All-America First Team, and he took home state player of the year honors, as well.
Along with that power comes a game that’s growing with finesse.
Branham said Livingston continues to expand his skill set on the court, especially in regard to his jump shot. Though he can still be a bit of a streaky shooter, his ability to hit from deep keeps defenses honest. And he’s capable of heating up from the perimeter.
When that happens, he’s just about unstoppable.
“Once he gets a bit of a rhythm and turns it on, he can really take over a game. On both ends of the court,” Branham said. “If he gets hot from three, it’s a difficult combination to try and cope with as the opposition.”
Chris Livingston to Kentucky?
With the NCAA’s dead period now lifted, and high school players once again permitted to travel to college campuses, Livingston is getting his first real taste of the recruiting process.
Last weekend, he took his first official visit to Kansas. This weekend, he’ll be in Lexington.
More trips are expected in the near future, and Livingston technically still has 10 colleges on his working list of options, a group that also includes Alabama, Florida, Georgetown, Louisiana State, Memphis, North Carolina, Ohio State and Tennessee State, in addition to the possibility of turning pro right out of high school.
“I still think there’s a ways to go with his recruitment,” Branham said. “I think that — while he is vetting these college options — the pro route is going to be heavily in consideration. To me, personally, I think the pro route is probably the favorite right now, if I had to handicap it. But he’s obviously going through this process. He’s trying to figure out what is going to be best for him in the long run. So, we’ll see. It’s a little too early to tell.”
If Livingston doesn’t go the preps-to-pros path, Memphis is the school that has been getting the most buzz behind the scenes over the past couple of months. While there are zero predictions on Livingston’s Crystal Ball page, there are a handful of picks in favor of Penny Hardaway’s Tigers over at Rivals.com, including one from Jamie Shaw, who covers recruiting nationally for that website.
Still, the fact that Kentucky is getting an official visit so soon after the NCAA lifted its recruiting dead period has to be viewed as a positive sign for the Wildcats, who have clearly made Livingston a priority recruit in this 2022 class.
John Calipari and his revamped coaching staff will surely make a point to watch Livingston on the court during the upcoming evaluation periods, the first time college coaches will get an in-person look at the players they’re recruiting in more than a year.
Meanwhile, the professional option will loom large in the pursuit of Livingston, though this tour of official visits — and an early one to Lexington — shows he’s taking the college path more seriously than many in the recruiting world previously thought. And maybe Kentucky has a chance.
“It seems to be leveling out when it comes to the handicapping of, ‘What is the favorite at this point?’” Branham said. “So, it is a little too early to tell what the ultimate destination for him will be.”