Kentucky basketball signees earn All-American honors
John Calipari and the Kentucky basketball program reloaded again with pair of McDonald’s All-Americans in five-star center Daimion Collins and four-star point guard Nolan Hickman making the “Golden Arches” roster today.
The Wildcats overhaul their roster yearly with players headed to the NBA or transferring out. With the current season having just two regular-season scheduled games left along with the Southeastern Conference Tournament and barring any additional miraculous post-season invite eyes are beginning to look ahead to next fall.
Welcome news came as Collins and Hickman’s names were announced as the latest”Burger Boys” on Tuesday as part of the 24-player roster. They would have squared off against each other with Collins on the East and Hickman on the West if there was a game, but due to Covid, it has been canceled for the second year in a row.
They both inked letters of intent during the early signing period in November along with fellow early signee Bryce Hopkins and mid-season transfer Oscar Tshiebwe who is already on campus and practicing with the current team.
All three signees are consensus four- or five-star prospects ESPN, Rivals, and 247Sports currently rank UK’s class No. 1.
This makes for a solid incoming class to go with whoever decides to stay from the current squad. The spring signing period begins April 14 and Kentucky is in the mix for others.
With Calipari feeding players to the NBA, it’s no wonder he now has signed 39 McDonald’s All Americans which is more than any other school in the country during this time period. Some classes have had multiple players garner the All Americans honor, including five each in 2013 and 2017.
Since its inception in 1977 Kentucky has signed 71 McDonald’s All Americans including current Wildcats Brandon Boston Jr. and Terrence Clarke.
Heading up the class this year Michigan had three signees lauded as McDonalds All-Americans while the Wildcats and Duke each had a pair.
Collins, who hails from Atlanta, Texas stands 6-foot-9, 210-pounds and has a 7-foot-4 wingspan was courted by teams like Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, LSU, and Texas Tech. Although the strength and conditioning coaches will add some weight and bulk to him he will be a future force down low.
He is ranked No. 10 overall and the No. 3 power forward in the 2021 class by 247Sports. Rivals have him the No. 10 overall and the No. 4 forward and No. 17 overall player by ESPN.
Calipari should be salivating at the chance to develop Collins under the basket, and Tsheibwe should but a big asset as well.
"“I’m really excited for Daimion and his family to join our program,” Calipari said at the time of the signing. “Daimion is an incredible young man with a bright future – someone who has only begun to realize just how good he can be. Our fans know I don’t like to make comparisons to our other guys, but Daimion has that type of length, the athleticism, and the versatility that have separated our players from others. He wanted to be pushed and to be in a competitive environment to help him reach his full potential. The staff and I cannot wait to help him grow.”"
Collins was also included as one of the 25 players on the midseason team for the Naismith Trophy High School Player of the Year earlier this year. He finishes with strength and has range offensively.
On the defensive end, Collins is a tenacious shot-blocker who can step out and defend on the perimeter as evidence by the 35 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, and six blocks as a senior.
Hickman is just what Calipari needs – a true point guard who can do it all with or without the ball.
He hails Seattle but is playing for Wasatch Academy in Mt. Pleasant, Utah is listed at 6-foot-2, 185-pounds and was coveted by teams from the east coast to the west coast including Gonzaga, Kansas, UCLA, Arizona, Michigan State, Baylor, Auburn but ultimately selected Kentucky way back on August 22, 2021.
With a 6-foot-8 wingspan, he should be able to be a very versatile player. A lock-down defender is also his forte which is lacking on this year’s team.
Calipari talked about what he sees in Hickman.
"“I had the chance to see a lot of Nolan in the year or so before the pandemic hit. I am really excited about his ability to play the point guard position. He has speed, vision and scoring ability. One of the best things about Nolan is his competitive spirit. He plays to win, which our best guards I’ve coached do. Nolan is someone who can play multiple positions in the backcourt, who can fly in transition, and most importantly can create for himself and his teammates. Our guys will love playing with Nolan as he is a team-first player who is incredibly mature.”"
In his senior season, Hickman is averaging 16.6 points per game, 5.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds, and is knocking down 38.6% of his shots from the 3-point range. Another weapon the Wildcats need.
As a junior, he averaged 17.3 points, 3.4 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game for Eastside Catholic where he was made good on 38 percent of his 3-point shots.
Last month in an interview with SI he gave a glimpse into what BBN might see saying coaches have casually compared him to former Wildcats point guard Tyler Ulis with both being smaller balls of energy who score in bunches, masterfully run the show and play with a chip.
"“Not even being cocky or anything like that, but I just don’t think I’m comparable to anyone else. I don’t feel like anyone else has that big a chip and plays with that fire like me.”"
He is ranked No. 30 overall and the No. 3 point guard in the 2021 class by 247Sports and is ranked No. 28 by ESPN.