For Kentucky basketball fans it’s not very common to see a player’s name emerge, seemingly out of nowhere, before committing to the Cats.
It’s even more out of the ordinary when that prospect plays the point guard position. But that is exactly what happened with Nolan Hickman. The 6-2, 185-pound prospect from Mount Pleasant, UT pledged his allegiance to Kentucky today, making him the first commit for John Calipari’s 2021 class.
Who Knew? ♂️ #BBN pic.twitter.com/3IdMkbldu6— Nolan hickman (@Nolanhickman2) August 22, 2020
If this caught you by surprise, you weren’t alone. Hickman never had a formal offer from Kentucky made public and most believed he would remain somewhere out west to play his college basketball.
Schools like Kansas, Oklahoma, UCLA and Arizona all had extended offers and were considered to be leading his recruitment, specifically the Jayhawks.
Instead, he becomes the first piece of UK’s 2021 class as John Calipari and his revamped staff aim to add some other names to join Hickman.
Known as a guard with good size and a wide variety of tricks in his bag. Hickman has a reputation for proactively getting his teammates involved on offense and is said to be a willing on-ball defender.
When I reached out to some folks for feedback about Hickman’s game I received similar responses littered with optimism about the role he could play in 2021. A strong mental approach to the game will be one of the bigger tangible assets that he brings with him to Lexington.
How does he compare?
As far as his rankings go — Hickman’s are all over the place. Rivals lists him as the 13th best point guard and 76th overall prospect in the class of 2021, while the insiders over at 247 Sports have him way up the rankings as the third-best point guard and 30th player nationally. That’s quite the disparity between the two services, but based on the other schools that were showing interest in Hickman, it leads me to believe that he’s closer to that top 30 player mark.
It’s unclear just how much high school basketball will be played this winter so there is no telling how much opportunity Hickman will have to improve his ranking. But it goes without saying that John Calipari has an eye for talent and can tell when a player will be a good fit in his program.
Now how did we get here?
This is a great question because as mentioned previously, even as little as week ago, Hickman was not a household name among the Big Blue Nation. After doing some digging I was told that he likely had a silent offer for some time now but nothing was made public. So the two parties were familiar with each other and likely had previous discussions about what an ideal scenario for Hickman may look like if he chose to come to Lexington.
The pieces began to move into place last week when five-star point guard and long time UK target, Kennedy Chandler, passed up on the chance to play for John Calipari and instead chose to commit to the Tennessee Volunteers. Had Chandler’s name still been in the mix with UK then it’s very unlikely that Hickman is a Wildcat today.
How will he fit in?
It’s always a slippery slope when attempting to project Kentucky basketball rosters from year to year. The turnover is always greater than anticipated and it’s never an exact science to make educated predictions.
It’s very possible that freshman point guard Devin Askew returns for his sophomore season in 2021, giving him the likely nod to handle the starting point guard duties. But I’m hearing that Askew has looked terrific since arriving on campus, and considering he is 6-4 and still growing, a scenario where he leaves after next year is very plausible.
As far as other 2021 players go, Kentucky has been turning up the heat over the last few days. Both Hunter Sallis and Bryce Hopkins recently received offers and Jaden Hardy is another combo guard with UK high on his list. The Cats saw tremendous success last season rolling with a three guard offense, so maybe that is something we could see repeated.
There is still a lot to be determined before it’s all said and done, but overall, adding Nolan Hickman should be a solid piece to the 2021 class.
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