Despite a summer of uncertainty and zero in-person recruiting, Kentucky has managed to identify its top point guard target in the class of 2021 in five-star prospect Hunter Sallis.
Sallis, a 6-foot-5 guard out of Omaha, Neb., is considered the No. 6 overall player and No. 1 point guard in the Rivals recruiting rankings. After weeks of rumored interest and contact this summer, the Kentucky coaching staff made it official with a scholarship offer back on Aug. 21.
“That feeling was great, growing up watching big schools like that,” Sallis said in an exclusive interview with KSR. “Knowing you have the opportunity to go there, play there in front of a lot of people, it’s a dream come true. I was very excited about that.”
Just two days after the Kentucky offer, the five-star guard cut his list down to 12, with UK, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Alabama, Auburn, Creighton, Iowa State, Kansas, Michigan, Oregon and UCLA remaining in contention. Indiana also offered to close out the month of August, with Sallis’ Millard North coach Tim Cannon confirming that the Hoosiers have also been unofficially added to make it a baker’s dozen.
Despite the long list of remaining suiters, Sallis singled out a handful of programs that are prioritizing him the most at this point in time, headlined by UK.
“I feel like Kentucky is one of them, Gonzaga, Iowa State, Oregon, North Carolina really is, Kansas, and there are a couple more,” Sallis told KSR. “Those are the schools that are showing them they really want me and they have a really big interest in me.”
So what is it about the Wildcats, who have recently picked up four Crystal Ball picks over at 247Sports and two FutureCasts at Rivals, that has piqued the 6-foot-5 guard’s interest?
UK’s versatile system that allows its guards to play both on- and off-ball, one that doesn’t have a single true point guard.
“I could see myself playing both [guard positions], especially in a system like Kentucky,” Sallis said. “We’ve been watching, there’s not really one designated point guard, one of the guards just gets the ball and they just run. That’s a system I feel like I could fit in well because I could have the ball and I could also be without it. Coach Joel told me those are the types of guards that they recruit, the really versatile ones. I feel like it’s a good fit.”
“Hunter has told me, and he told me early, that he likes their style of play,” Cannon added. “I think he looks at [UK] being a good school, along with their style of play. He definitely wants to play in the NBA, but that’s not the only thing. He wants to go to a Final Four also. He’s got a lot of things in mind, and he knows Kentucky is a good spot for those things.”
Kentucky – led by assistant coach Joel Justus – is using that as a direct pitch to the versatile prospect, comparing Sallis to players like Jamal Murray who have thrived playing both guard positions both in Lexington and in the NBA.
“Part of their pitch is that they play such a fast-paced game with a lot of perimeter players, and he likes that style of play where it’s very guard-oriented,” Cannon told KSR. “It’s a lot of guards, a lot of fast breaks. Now, I think a lot of people play that way, but [Hunter] did say specifically that he really likes that style of offense and the ability to fast break, not have things clogged up in the middle, stuff like that. He definitely likes their style of play.”
“They were just saying I was an underrated passer, that I can really pass,” Sallis added. “Really versatile, can score, play defense. They like the way I defend, they said they don’t recruit kids who can’t defend, so little stuff like that.”
Kentucky’s offer comes without ever seeing the five-star guard play in person, something John Calipari and the UK staff have refused to do before this summer. With in-person recruiting barred until 2021, UK has had to rely solely on game film to make gut calls on offers.
In Sallis’ mind, though, it’s an even trade-off, as recruits also have to go through their recruiting processes and make decisions potentially without ever visiting a college campus. He feels it creates an added trust factor to his recruitment, knowing the same schools taking a chance on him are the same ones he will have to return the favor with when it comes time for a decision.
“It means a lot. They told me they heard nothing but good things about me, asked me to send them highlights and also full games, good games and bad, trying to be able to see me play live. They really just like my game,” Sallis told KSR. “It means a lot because I basically know how they’re feeling, I have to choose which school I want to go to without seeing all the campuses. I feel how they’re feeling, because they have to recruit kids without seeing them, and it’s hard. It’s a weird time and we basically have to do it that way now.”
Speaking of the “weird time” we’re living in with recruiting, the Omaha native says he has to get a bit creative to learn more about the schools on his list, reaching out to current players on the various campuses to get their genuine thoughts on each school.
“It’s a big transition, going from being able to be on campuses and actually being there, experiencing what the college life would be. Now, you see everything virtually,” Sallis said. “It’s a big difference, it’s hard to know what to believe because you’re not there. Everybody can make something look good over the phone, so the most difficult thing about all of this is not being able to see the campuses and meet the players, see them play, stuff like that.
“Really [it’s about] relationships, how genuine they sound,” he continued. “I’ll talk to some of the players on campus, ask them what they think are the most difficult things they’ve had to go through on campus, good things they do, stuff like that, just to get a feel because I can’t be on campus right now. Little things to help me get a better feel for it.”
What will be the ultimate deciding factor when choosing a school, Sallis says relationships and playing style will be important.
“Really just the relationship with the head coach, relationship with the players,” he said. “How I feel about the campus. Then really how I fit in the playing style, stuff like that.”
As for when that decision could come, the plan is to wait till the spring in hopes of in-person recruiting visits opening up in the coming months.
A new list cut is expected in the very near future, though.
“As of right now, I’m planning on deciding in the spring. I think another list could come sometime this month or next month, sometime soon. As of right now, I doubt [I’ll sign in the fall], just because we want to get out and see places. We’re praying they start opening things back up.“