By Jordan Brown
Wednesday was an eventful and exciting day for Kentucky Basketball fans. The Wildcats were able to add three players from the class of 2021 to Big Blue Nation. John Calipari is used to having success on national signing day, rarely losing players to decommitment or different schools. Calipari grabs an early start in an effort to bring in another number one recruiting class. The fall signing period concludes on Nov. 18 and the spring period begins on April 14.
John Calipari and his staff were about to start the recruiting and high school basketball year off by signing a five-star prospect and two four-stars. Top prospects Daimion Collins, Nolan Hickman and Bryce Hopkins made it official Wednesday. All three players are rated top 50 by at least one major national recruiting service heading into their senior seasons. With plenty of time before the spring signing period, Kentucky is expected to be considered the top class once again with this early start. Rivals and 247 Sports consider Kentucky to have the number three best class so far.
“Our fans have heard me talk a lot about what it means to be ‘Built Different.’ When you talk about this fall class, you’ve got three kids who are built to play here at Kentucky,” Calipari said. “They wanted to be a part of this culture. They wanted to play against other really good players. They didn’t need any promises or guarantees – only the promise that this is going to be the hardest thing they’ve ever done and that we will challenge them to become the best version of themselves.”
Daimion Collins verbally committed to the Wildcats on Oct. 31 and signed with the program just a few weeks later. Collins, whose wingspan reaches 7-foot-4 or more, is looked at as having one of the largest upsides in the class. He can impact the game in many ways but mostly as a rim protector. Collins is athletic and likes to play above the rim at 6-foot-9. He can also play some on the perimeter on both sides of the ball. The Atlanta, Texas native averaged 24.6 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 7.7 block per game as a junior at Atlanta High School. Over the past year, Collins has sprung up the rankings and is now labeled the number ten player in the 2021 class by Rivals and number 24 by ESPN.
Combo Guard Nolan Hickman was the first of the three to commit to Kentucky. He announced verbally on Aug. 22. Hickman is a scorer and playmaker that will thrive with the ball in his hands and running the show. Only 6-foot-2, Hickman has an impressive 6-foot-8 wingspan that allows him to guard multiple positions. The Seattle native thrives offensively, being physical and versatile, he averaged 17.3 points, 3.4 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.0 steals at Eastside Catholic last season. He can stroke it from outside shooting 38% from three on the season. He enters his senior season as the No. 30 overall player and No. 3 point guard according to 247 Sports.
The last of the fall signees is combo-forward Bryce Hopkins. He verbally committed to the Wildcats on Oct. 26 and is ranked No. 30 overall by Rivals. He has shown that he can score in many ways over his high school career. Last season playing for Fenwick High School, he averaged 24.1 points, 10 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. He is a native of Oak Park, Illinois, and finished fifth in the Illinois Mr. Basketball voting last season. As a wing with this skill level, I see Hopkins making an instant impact at the collegiate the level.
With Calipari already starting to build a team for next season, it is easy to forget about the talent we already have for this year. I think one of the downfalls of bringing in a talented class like this every year is that it can discourage players who are planning on coming back. It can lead to them leaving for the draft too early or even transferring. The pros clearly outweigh the cons as it leads to Kentucky being in championship contention almost every season. Ultimately if the players are team players and want to win, then they will block all that out and welcome in new teammates to the Big Blue culture.