It didn’t take long for James Young to know he would feel right at home in Lexington.
The UK signee committed to Kentucky the day before Big Blue Madness, and he arrived in town the following night to meet his future teammates, most of them for the first time.
It was an instant bonding experience.
“There was a lot of interaction, a lot of dialogue, a lot of humor, a lot of excitement around the possibility of what this team could look like,” Young’s godfather, Sean Mahone, told the Herald-Leader. “And I give the most credit to Coach Calipari, because that’s the environment that he’s facilitating. It’s about the team. It’s about the Kentucky family.
“It’s about team accomplishments, not necessarily individual accomplishments. Some programs, you can see it’s a lot of hype. But you know when you get on that campus and get within that program, that it’s not hype.”
Young dealt with the hype throughout his recruitment. The top-10 prospect burst onto the national scene with several dominant scoring performances over the summer on the Nike EYBL circuit. He publicly lobbied for a UK scholarship offer and then got one.
Like Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Young decided to announce his college decision on ESPNU’s nationally televised recruiting show.
With family members seated in the background, Young pulled out a blue Kentucky T-shirt and pledged his allegiance to the Cats.
“It was an unbelievable day for the family and particularly for James,” Mahone said. “We’re very proud of him. We thought he did a wonderful job, and its nice to have your family member, your boy, to be recognized in a way that, nationally, people are intrigued to see what he’s going to be doing.”
Young’s TV time didn’t stop with the announcement.
He was also featured on the second episode of ESPN’s All-Access Kentucky program, which followed him around on decision day and included interviews with Young and his family.
“That really optimized the opportunity,” Mahone said. “You know how they say, ‘Can it get any better?’ It’s already an A-plus day and then you have an opportunity where All-Access is following you around for most of the day. … It’s almost like when you’re in a rhythm and everything is just happening so positively, you don’t want to wake up. You want to pinch yourself.
“It’s things that families dream of, and you see it a lot on TV. But when you see it happening, it’s almost like an out-of-body experience. Like, ‘Wow, I saw that happen to other kids, and now our boy has the privilege and honor of going through this process.'”
Mahone said Young was settling in “seamlessly” at Rochester High School in Michigan. He transferred to the school over the summer after spending his first three years at nearby Troy High.
Now, he’s focused on academics and his upcoming senior season of basketball.
And, though he’s not yet actively recruiting any of his class of 2013 peers to join him at Kentucky, he is interested to see who else the Cats can land.
“There’s a fondness and an appreciation and an excitement among all the guys that have been at the top of the rankings,” Mahone said. “These guys have had the opportunity to play against each other, and there’s such an appreciation there. There’s always that mutual respect.
“But there’s been nothing in regards as active recruiting going on. I’ll tell you this much, he would love the opportunity to play with those guys. He’s very exciting about playing with the Harrisons, and would love the opportunity to play with other guys like (Andrew) Wiggins and (Julius) Randle.”
Who’s next in 2013?
Now that all five of the early commitments for 2013 are officially signed, UK’s full attention can turn to those who remain uncommitted.
Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and Dakari Johnson are all top-15 prospects, and all four have UK high on their list.
24/7 Sports analyst Jerry Meyer touched briefly on each of those players in an interview with the Herald-Leader on Thursday.
On Gordon, who narrowed his list to Washington, Arizona and UK on Thursday night: “I think you gotta beat Washington, so you’re playing catch up with Aaron Gordon.”
On Randle: “With Randle, it looks like it might be flipping a little with him,” referring to the recent buzz that Florida and Texas have overtaken UK as favorites.
On Wiggins: “With Wiggins, there’s some bounce now with him saying he wants other schools to recruit him. But I still think Kentucky’s the team to beat. To me, he’s the most likely one,” to commit to Kentucky.
On Johnson: “With Dakari Johnson, Syracuse is strong. And Florida. But I think Kentucky’s in that top three, so they might be able to land him as well.”
Huntington Prep is No. 1
USA Today released its first national rankings Thursday, and it was no surprise to see Huntington Prep at the top of the list.
The West Virginia school includes four players ranked in Scout.com’s Top 100 for 2013: Andrew Wiggins, Xavier Rathan Mayes (Florida State), Dominic Woodson (Baylor) and Moses Kingsley (Louisville).
“It’s exciting. … Now the tough part is you’re going to get everyone’s best shot,” Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford said. “There’s going to be a lot of eyes on them and they’re going to have to show up and perform. But we’ve got a good group and they’re very competitive.
“Everything we do is competitive. Our practices are brutal. We go at it. So, they’ll be prepared. But that’s not saying we won’t lose a game, because our schedule is tough.”
Huntington Prep will play Christian Faith Academy (N.C.) at Scott County High School in Georgetown at 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 and will be available at the door.
Other teams of note in USA Today’s Top 25 include: No. 6 Montverde Academy (Dakari Johnson and D’Angelo Russell), No. 7 Travis (Harrison twins), No. 11 Mater Dei (Stanley Johnson), No. 12 Archbishop Mitty (Aaron Gordon) and No. 14 Prestonwood Christian (Julius Randle).
Lee’s in good company
UK signee Marcus Lee is obviously dominant on the basketball court, as his five-star ranking attests. But it’s not his only sport.
Lee is also a standout on the boys’ volleyball team at Deer Valley High School in Antioch, Calif. The squad advanced all the way to the state semifinals last season, and the 6-foot-9 Lee is expected to return to the team after the basketball season is over for another run at the state title.
LeChet Phillips, the basketball coach at Deer Valley, also officiates volleyball games and said his school encourages its athletes to play multiple sports.
For Lee, volleyball provided the perfect fit.
“It’s one of those sports that helps kids work on their timing and footwork and it’s especially complementary to basketball,” Phillips said.
Lee isn’t the first basketball player to extend his skills to the volleyball court.
Phillips pointed out the NBA greats Wilt Chamberlain and Vince Carter were also volleyball standouts at one time.
Chamberlain, one of the most dominant centers in basketball history, was actually president of the short-lived International Volleyball Association. He was also a team owner and was named MVP of the league’s all-star game in 1977.
Here’s some video footage of the Big Dipper on the volleyball court.
And one to watch …
Roselle Catholic (N.J) senior Tyler Roberson will announce his college decision Friday night on ESPNU’s signing day special at 7 p.m. Roberson had a scholarship offer from Kentucky at one time, but he will choose between Syracuse, Kansas and Villanova.
He’s not the only big-time recruit at Roselle Catholic.
Sophomore guard Malachi Richardson has also drawn some early interest from North Carolina, Indiana, N.C. State and several other schools … including Kentucky.
Roselle coach Dave Boff told the Herald-Leader that he has spoken to the UK coaching staff about Richardson, who he called “a tremendous player who I think somebody’s going to be very, very lucky to get in a couple of years.”
The 6-foot-5 guard played as a freshman for former Louisville star Pervis Ellison at Life Center Academy, also in New Jersey.
Richardson is rated as the No. 21 overall recruit in the class of 2015, according to ESPN.
“The part of his game that’s the most refined is shooting the basketball. He is just an absolutely tremendous shooter of the basketball,” Boff said. “The thing that I’ve been most impressed with … is his ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. He’s been working on that in the summer. Now he plays above the rim.
“He’s gone from being one of the best — if not the best — shooter in the state of New Jersey to a guy who’s a real all-around great basketball player.”
And Boff doesn’t think his star underclassman is done growing.
“I think he’s going to be a 6-6, 6-7 shooting guard, which I bet will have a lot of people excited,” he said.