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Homesickness, coaching changes paved way for Nolan Hickman Jr.’s decommitment from Kentucky, says father

(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)


(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

No, Kentucky doesn’t have numerous home run signings in the works at the point guard position, a string of moves designed to load up the depth chart and ultimately push 2021 signee Nolan Hickman Jr. out the door. No, John Calipari didn’t cut ties with the five-star guard after the coaching departures of Tony Barbee and Joel Justus, Hickman’s two lead recruiters. The senior guard standout decommitted from Kentucky on Friday for several key reasons, none as complicated as you may think.

On the surface level, yes, Barbee’s move to Central Michigan to take over as the program’s head coach hurt, just as it did when Justus signed on to become Bobby Hurley’s top assistant at Arizona State. Barbee was Hickman’s lead recruiter, and Justus was right in the thick of things during the heat of his recruitment, as well.

“The connection with Tony Barbee, the rapport he developed with the coaching staff, that definitely had something to do with it,” Hickman’s father, Nolan Hickman Sr., told KSR on Friday. “We love the entire staff, with Calipari as well, but with Tony being his lead recruiter and not being there, and then Joel (Justus) being his second recruiter, it just made things rough.”

When you dig below the surface, though, homesickness was a key factor – and maybe even the most significant – in Hickman’s decision to decommit from the program after committing just over eight months ago. Spending the past year at Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, Utah – nearly 1,000 miles away from his hometown of Kent, Washington – Hickman rarely got to see family, friends, classmates, and even teammates at times due to COVID-19.

“It was rough with COVID, you’ve got to be away from the family again. COVID has played a part in peoples’ lives way more than you think. I don’t think we took into consideration that, he was allowed to have a season, but me and his mom, we were in tune with our child but we weren’t as in-tune with our child as we needed to be,” Hickman Sr. said. “We sent him to Mount Pleasant, Utah, away from the city, friends and family, FaceTime isn’t enough. And then you go through stretches, having a season almost hindered his growing and his capability alike, because he wasn’t able to play. When he’s not able to play, they’re not able to meet with other students on campus. He had to sit in a room for five days at a time to test. It was modern-day jail for a kid at his age. Just not having connections with people.

“Even though he was with his teammates, sometimes he wasn’t even able to mingle with the team because he had to stay in the room with whoever his roommate was. That’s just what it was until they figured it out and said, “OK, you’re clear. No COVID.” And this was every time they left the campus. He really struggled with those parts of the COVID situation, and it’s not going anywhere.”

Scheduled to leave for Kentucky in one month – Hickman’s family was set to fly out to Lexington the last week of May to begin the move-in process – the five-star guard wasn’t ready for another extended lockdown period on the other side of the country, this time almost 2,500 miles away.

“He was like, “Dad, I can’t do it to myself.” More and more, he just felt like he didn’t want to be away,” Hickman Sr. told KSR. “He’s actually home for the week, and he was like, “I really have to think some things through. I can’t go through this again, being away, separated from you guys and family.” That’s how we got to this.”

His decision to decommit had nothing to do with Calipari or the Kentucky basketball program, it simply came down to staying close to home and playing for a coaching staff he’s familiar with. Hickman Sr. even offered to move to Lexington to be close to the standout guard prospect if he needed his dad at close reach.

At the end of the day, Hickman Jr. simply needed to take a step back.

“We were all in, never one foot in, one foot out the door with Kentucky. We were all in, loved Kentucky, everything about it,” Hickman Sr. said. “The fact of the matter is, I was even going to move closer, move down there to give him some normalcy. But after the season, he was like, “No dad, I can’t go back to (that).” That’s when it really hit. “Man, it just feels good to be around other students on campus, being treated as a normal student and not being secluded to a room or a hotel where we can’t even hang out with the other teams we’re playing against.” We just didn’t take any of that into consideration, what they had to go through to have a season.”

When news broke that Hickman had decommitted from Kentucky, many assumed it had to do with potential competition at the point guard position and the fact that UK seemed to add a new target in the backcourt every day. The five-star guard’s dad said his son was never concerned about the competition, ready to play with whoever Calipari and the staff added to the fold leading up to the season. After seeing Kentucky’s struggles at the position this past year, it was clear it would take more than one point guard to turn things around, no matter who they added.

“We knew they had to do it by committee. The pressures of Kentucky, you can’t control them looking into other point guards or them not thinking he was the point guard, we thought (Calipari) felt he was all the point guard (we think he is),” Hickman Sr. said. “This year showed that you have to have multiple ball handlers, you can’t just have one. So we knew it would be him and someone else, then Kellan (Grady) doing the scoring or (Marcus) Carr, whoever else they’re recruiting. The transfer portal deal, that didn’t have anything to do with it. … He was ready to come in with whoever.”

When it came time to officially back away from the table, Hickman Sr. said Calipari was a “consummate professional” and “gave Nolan his blessing,” a gesture the family appreciated. The five-star guard has been released from his letter of intent and is now free to sign anywhere in the country.

“Calipari is a consummate professional, we have nothing bad to say. He was great and he understand what we’re dealing with, COVID,” Hickman Sr. told KSR. “He has kids, he knows when you coach kids in it (like he did last year), he had to manage the people and the kids more than he had to manage them winning games. When you consider the mental health aspect, kids not being able to be themselves or do kid things, young adult things, that’s a huge part of growing as a person.

“To be somewhere new, and it’s not regular, you’re used to routine, you know? Go to the gym when you want to, play video games, hang out with other kids, all that plays a part in the off-court stuff. He was good, he understood, definitely respected where we stood with it. He gave Nolan his blessing, and that’s all we could ask of him.”

As for what’s next for Hickman, the former Kentucky commit doesn’t necessarily have a plan, but the expectation is that he’ll be “staying close to home.”

“Honestly, we don’t even have a plan, but I assume (he’ll want to stay home). If I had to say anything, he would probably be staying close to home,” Hickman Sr. said. “I don’t know if it’ll be at home or how far he’ll go, but it’ll probably have to be a straight flight wherever he is for us to reach him, for sure.”

As for Kentucky, Hickman Sr. believes the program is certainly in good hands, easily being able to fill the point guard position with the pieces they’re going after in the transfer portal. No panic at all from Calipari and the UK coaching staff.

“We didn’t see a sense of panic, they have more than enough feelers, offers, you know the way they go about it,” he said. “All the upperclassmen in the transfer portal, I would have to assume that they have some teeth in the game. I think some of the upperclassmen weren’t considering (UK) because of the fact that Nolan was the point guard, “Not going to have the ball in my hands as much, they have the young guy with the ball in his hands.” I think that played a part of it. I think they’ll get who they want, who they’re recruiting out of this, as well.”

At the end of the day, it was a breakup with no hard feelings on either side.

“With the coaching staff changing and him not being familiar, seeing the direction, on top of the coaches leaving, he was just like, “I don’t know. I know Calipari is rooting for me and he’d push me in the right direction, but I want a rapport with who brought me here.” That was all,” Hickman Sr. told KSR. “Just being so far from home, but the coaches (leaving) really was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

57 Comments for Homesickness, coaching changes paved way for Nolan Hickman Jr.’s decommitment from Kentucky, says father

  1. JT55
    9:22 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

    We’re in deep trouble.

    • WatchutalkinboutWillis
      10:01 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

      No “we” are not. If your hopes were on a four star freshman pg then you were already in trouble. You are a troll or incredibly negative. You must be a blast at parties.

    • Miller45
      5:22 pm May 1, 2021 Permalink

      Undeniable that things are definitely not going in an upward trajectory though

    • HighBallScreen
      10:39 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

      Can we re run that “Loaded Team Next Year” story again? LMAO!

      I wish this kid well and he is not a major loss. There will he 2 Guards brought in better than him. But at some point even a knucklehead can figure out you better start developing you own players.

    • UKFanSC
      3:01 pm May 1, 2021 Permalink

      He’ll probably go to Tennessee and turn into the next Ja Morant

  2. FinnaGoHAM
    9:23 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

    West coast signee does it to us again.

    • FinnaGoHAM
      9:25 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

      And I’ve wondered about that with Ty Ty as well since he’s from Arizona.

  3. Cletis75
    9:26 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

    Good luck, Nolan!

    • Bluehender
      9:37 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

      I second that Cletis…

  4. chris43
    9:27 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

    Well we’ll isn’t that just great!

  5. BlueCat22
    9:28 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

    Kentucky isn’t for everyone. Hope he finds a good spot for him.

  6. BCO
    9:30 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

    Nothing against the Hickman family, but I just don’t believe 80% of anything that recruits or their families say nowadays.

    • UKCatAttack
      9:38 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

      Let’s see where he ends up going to school… if he ends up 1000 miles away I’ll be right there with you on calling BS.

  7. the scourge of KSR
    9:30 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

    Better to do it now than in December. Best of luck to the kid.

  8. mrknowitall1981
    9:32 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

    Washington isn’t coming. Carr is ready to make money. Miller is going to LSU. Hardy, forget it. Looks like we are taking Wheeler. Good grief!

  9. cllikeky
    9:33 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

    Things are changing in college basketball and the world. COVID has changed everything. You can’t blame a kid for making this decision. Bless him and his family. UK need to shift recruiting strategies.

    • UKCatAttack
      9:35 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

      Agree we need to recruit more regionally like we do football. Bring 18 and 19 year old kids into this pressure cooker and having them 2000 miles away from their family has a high likelihood of failure.

    • WatchutalkinboutWillis
      10:03 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

      I think Chin will help get more Chicago kids.

    • kjd
      9:39 am May 1, 2021 Permalink

      Cllikely: Blame it on Covid. Hilarious.

  10. UKCatAttack
    9:34 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

    Bad news… is it too late to get Devin Askew back? Lol

  11. Brady
    9:35 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

    UK is gonna b just fine folks , wait & c ..! Splash IS coming ..!GUARANTEED!!

    • JT55
      10:36 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

      Lol. Ok

  12. blueballs80
    9:46 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

    Bunch of BS about home sickness. He committeed knowing before. Barbee left so that’s the main reason.

  13. CALfacts
    9:53 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

    Wow, didn’t see that coming! Well better get someone before everyone is signed! Is Mintz coming back?

  14. Stop Hammer Time
    10:07 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

    Got to think Cal has someone lined up. Otherwise, we are going to be butt cheeks next year. Cal needs to have Nike start dropping bags for us again.

    • 4everUKBlue
      8:01 am May 1, 2021 Permalink

      A comment only a troll would post.

    • kjd
      9:41 am May 1, 2021 Permalink

      So, Hamner, told the kid to take a hike, I’ve got someone better. Hilarious.

  15. AugustSoprano
    10:13 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

    Listen I understand a kid making the best decision for him but c’mon… you’re a 5-star division 1 basketball recruit, it’s not going to be easy. You can’t stay close to home for the rest of your life near your family. Kentucky would have put him in a great position to be in the NBA, every player’s dream. I wish they had just said, “Nolan’s lead recruiters left and he didn’t want to be at Kentucky without him. plain and simple

    • The Big Lebowski
      12:57 am May 1, 2021 Permalink

      I’m not far from ya.

      If he goes to the NBA, it’s a job.

      Gotta look at College the same way.

      But he wasn’t prepared properly by his family.

    • zod
      7:17 am May 1, 2021 Permalink

      COVID brought a new level of homesickness for these kids. NBA dreams have taken a back seat to family survival. Juzang was homesick, but it was also at the start of COVID, so that factors in heavily. Every kid on that team and headed for the team knows what happened with KAT. These are not normal times. Last year was not a normal basketball season. We’ve got to cut these kids some slack. They’re not emotionless machines, just kids with a dream. At their age, many are thinking about their families first. That’s a lot of pressure. Put a pandemic on top of that, you will have some that change their mind.

    • kjd
      5:43 pm May 1, 2021 Permalink

      Zod: Covid made him change his mind. Hilarious! Maybe he had no connection to Cal.

    • ibescootch
      3:38 pm May 1, 2021 Permalink

      So what’s your point? Yes, he’s a 5-star with plans to go pro someday, and he committed knowing that would be the case. He’s not allowed to change his mind? He’s not allowed to do some self-reflection on his goals and his own maturity level? He’s not allowed to be home-sick?

      That’s all just part of life. We go through situations and we get a taste of what it could be like going forward and we decide, “hmmm, maybe I don’t really want to do this…”. That’s all he did. I can’t blame the kid one bit.

    • satcheluk
      4:35 pm May 1, 2021 Permalink

      He’s not a 5 star.

  16. Kojohnson
    10:20 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

    Hope we get TyTy and Hardy or transfer

  17. VirginiaCat
    11:11 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

    I would like to think that Cal has an ace or two up his sleeve and that he will end the recruitment/transfer period with a winning hand. My concern is that consecutive lackluster seasons and last year’s 9-16 debacle has seriously diminished his mojo. The expression “trust in Cal” has lost a lot of its meaning. I hope he knocks it out of the park as it once did, but, lately, he seems a pale version of his former self.

    • Blue Dog
      3:25 pm May 1, 2021 Permalink

      Consecutive? We had one of the best teams in the country in 2020 before the pandemic shut it all down. Last year we sucked. No doubt. But it was just last year.

  18. snoopjdawg
    11:25 pm April 30, 2021 Permalink

    I mean, who cares? I’d much rather have Antigua than Barbee recruiting no matter what player leaves the program. We need stud recruiters. I only wish Kenny Payne would come back too.

    I’m glad to see Coach Cal realize he needs to make some moves and not too proud to do it.

    • T-Town Cat
      1:17 am May 1, 2021 Permalink

      I’m not sure Orlando and Chin are the answers. Illinois’ 2021 recruiting class currently consists of players ranked 97, 101, and 158. 24/7 Sports has that class ranked 28 in the country; however, UK is now ranked 30th.

    • ibescootch
      3:41 pm May 1, 2021 Permalink

      ****Illinois recruiting class**** Ummm, yes. They’re a different school that isn’t exactly on KY’s level. If you’re the best recruiter in the country, do you think you’d have an easier time recruiting kids to KY or Illinois?!

    • kjd
      5:45 pm May 1, 2021 Permalink

      Snoop: So Cal is not the draw to KY/ NBA? At 9 mil he should be.

  19. The Big Lebowski
    12:11 am May 1, 2021 Permalink

    I re-enlisted to come home to Fort Knox, Kentucky because I was homesick way back in 1988.

    One of the dumbest things that I did in my youth.

    I should have gone East to Korea and traveled Asia while there.

    15 years later, I found myself in Asia. Traveling all around and listening to stories about the good old days when it wasn’t that touristy, and all that blah blah blah. I had opportunity to be in that mix…but I got homesick.

    Youth is illiterate. Age brings wisdom.

    He’ll be ok.

    I don’t know about Kentucky. It seems to be shaping up to be another difficult year for Kentucky Basketball.

    May the Gods intervene and bring us a stellar PG.

  20. Rick_S
    12:56 am May 1, 2021 Permalink

    This is not a huge loss UNLESS he wanted to stay 3-4 years..I’m not buying the homesick crap..his new list could include schools from the Big East ..LMAO…
    TyTy is much better…bigger, stronger, better shooter
    PS I hope Justus getting fired leads to Skyy decommiting also..there are many better players than Skyy

  21. Irish son
    6:50 am May 1, 2021 Permalink

    Cal has managed to do what BCG didn’t even do. He made us into a football school, all while fleecing to the tune of 9 million a year

    • T-Town Cat
      3:50 pm May 1, 2021 Permalink

      It seems ironic that the sport we are most known for – Men’s Basketball – appears to be the least stable of the entire Athletic Department at this time.

  22. UKFanSC
    7:35 am May 1, 2021 Permalink

    Here’s a newsflash for you, unless you’re living in mom and dad‘s basement being in Lexington is no different than being on the surface of the moon. Your day-to-day interactions are dominated with athletic and academic endeavors anyway, and with the invention of this new thing called an airplane you can get back-and-forth to any spot within two hours. Middle school excuse. If he’s not mature enough to relocate to a college campus, I’m not sure we want him running our team anyway.

    • 4everUKBlue
      8:06 am May 1, 2021 Permalink

      What’s he going to do if he makes it in the NBA? Hope to play for a team near home and only play home games? Best of luck to the young man wherever he goes.

    • timbo
      9:43 am May 1, 2021 Permalink

      Seriously, people? Are you spending money every other week to fly anywhere? Once a month? Such shallow comments. In the NBA, the paycheck will cover your (or mom & dad’s) flights. None of you are spending hundreds of dollars a week or month to fly back and forth anywhere. Try some empathy instead of self-righteous know-it-allism. I have little doubt that there are no (rare at best) direct flights from Washington to Lexington, too, meaning your “2 hours” is complete conjecture as well. College basketball isn’t a job that pays, these are unique times, try assuming the best about people because that’s what you’d want them to assume of you.

  23. DaveT999
    7:49 am May 1, 2021 Permalink

    I wish him nothing but the best and I think UK will be fine.

    At the same time, the homesickness excuse has always been a head scratcher for me with these west coast kids. Everyone that commits to UK (except the walkons) has dreams of playing professionally. Whether it’s NBA, Europe, or the G-league, they will spend almost no time at home for the good part of 5-20 years. You have to take the plunge at some point.

  24. satcheluk
    4:39 pm May 1, 2021 Permalink

    I left home at 17 and never looked back. Graduated from UK, then joined the Navy, then moved to Japan to work for nearly a decade. Time to start raising kids that are prepared to leave the nest.

  25. Kojohnson
    9:03 pm May 1, 2021 Permalink

    TyTy, Wheeler, Carr, Mintz. We will get 2 out of the 4

  26. JT55
    6:06 pm May 2, 2021 Permalink

    Ty Ty isn’t coming here. This team needs at least 2 more players to compete with the best in the SEC.

  27. indbybirthcatbychoice
    8:23 am May 3, 2021 Permalink

    His situation is different from every other player? He would only have to stay in Lexington until the season is over, then move back home in March. It’s not like these kids even see the inside of a classroom after December. I’m sure there are plenty of free agents in the portal, or a high school junior who is willing to skip his senior year, who would be glad to get a free stay in Lexington for 6 months to play basketball, then move on to that big G league payday. #playersfirst