LEXINGTON — For the second consecutive offseason, change is coming to John Calipari’s Kentucky basketball staff.
UK assistant coach Jai Lucas is reportedly leaving Lexington for a spot on the staff of new Duke coach John Scheyer. The news was first reported by 247Sports and later confirmed by Calipari. Lucas has spent the last two seasons on Calipari’s staff. He was first hired in Aug 2020 in a support staff role as as recruiting coordinator but was quickly promoted to fill one of the three on-court assistant coaching spots.
“Yesterday, Jai informed me he was taking a promotion at another school,” Calipari wrote in a statement posted to Twitter. “I asked where and when he told me Duke, he expected me to be mad. I support what he thinks is best for his family. He’s been loyal, terrific on the road and great for our players, and I want what’s best for him, so I’m good with it.
“I am not surprised that there was interest in Jai because there is always interest in our staff. This year, all of our assistants have been approached about other opportunities. When you have a great staff, that’s what happens.”
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A McDonald’s All-American as a high school player, Lucas was one of Kentucky’s top recruiting targets in the high school class of 2007 alongside Patrick Patterson. Following the departure of Tubby Smith for Minnesota, Lucas elected to sign with Florida instead of UK and new coach Billy Gillispie. Lucas spent one season at Florida before transferring to Texas.
Lucas’ play never matched his recruiting hype — he averaged just five points per game in his college career — but he has developed into a key recruiter as an assistant coach.
During his time at Kentucky, Lucas helped strengthen a pipeline to Texas, landing five-star prospects Daimion Collins and Cason Wallace. He also played a key role in the recruitment of point guard Sahvir Wheeler, a Texas native, as a transfer from Georgia.
“He’s super relatable,” Wheeler said of Lucas last summer. “We can relate to him as a player, just a person, college student. Not just an athlete, college student. He knows all that we’ve been through.
“…He’s a super cool cat. Just being around Jai makes life easier. He’s always willing to joke and smile with you. He’s also willing to keep it straight. That’s something you’ve got to respect. I think that comes from his dad because his dad is super blunt, super straight forward.”
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Lucas is the son of John Lucas, a former NBA coach who has run youth basketball camps in Texas for years.
Per the terms of a contract that was set to expire at the end of June, Kentucky paid Lucas $300,000 last season. He was likely in line for a raise on a new deal had he stayed at Kentucky.
Lucas was recruiting for Kentucky last weekend during an evaluation period for spring AAU basketball.
Email Jon Hale at [email protected]; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ.