Kentucky basketball’s 2021 recruiting class grew to two members Monday evening when four-star forward Bryce Hopkins announced his commitment to UK, choosing the Wildcats over offers from Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Providence and Wisconsin, among others.
Hopkins, a 6-foot-7, 220-pound forward out of Oak Park, IL, is considered the No. 30 overall prospect in the 2021 247Sports Composite Rankings.
Known as a versatile, skilled forward with a pure knack for scoring, the newest Wildcat commit was a Chicago Sun-Times All-Area selection as a junior, where he averaged 24 points, 10 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game to lead Fenwick High School.
What is Kentucky getting in the standout forward?
Off the floor, he’s a “high-level” person with a good head on his shoulders.
“As a person, he’s a great kid,” Fenwick head coach Staunton Peck told KSR. “He’s got two great parents. Sometimes you get parents who are over-involved, but that’s never been the case with Bryce. He’s got great family support. He’s crazy talented as a basketball player, but as a person, he’s high-level. That’s not by accident, he’s got great parents.
“As a kid, he gets along with everybody at school, always has a smile on his face. For as good a player he is, he still walks through the hallway with humility and treats everybody he talks to with respect. There’s no ‘big time’ with his personality.”
On the court, there’s a reason he held offers and interest from over 20 schools.
“Once he gets on the floor, Bryce in many ways is like today’s version of a positionless basketball player,” Peck said. “He’s about 6-7, he’s got huge hands, about a 6-10 wingspan. He’s got a big body, but he’s got guard skills. He handles the ball like a point guard.”
Hopkins’ versatility is something that made him a mismatch nightmare as a junior, finishing with four 40-plus-point games en route to the single-season scoring record at Fenwick, one former NBA veteran and McDonald’s All-American Corey Maggette has held since 1998.
“When smaller guys are on him, we send him to the post and they can’t guard him. When bigger guys are on him, they can’t handle him on the perimeter,” the four-star forward’s coach told KSR. “I think in terms of a basketball player, offensively, he can play one through four at the next level. He’s got that strength to get inside, but he’s got the other skills. He’s got a really good shot for a bigger guy.”
As for the specific performances, Hopkins’ superstar outings came against the best of the best on Fenwick’s schedule, including high-profile in-state matchups and during tournament play.
“Last season he had four 40-plus-point games, and he’s hitting threes and attacking the rim in those games,” Peck said. “We didn’t play a national schedule, but we played Simeon, which is a Chicago power, beat them pretty handily. Bryce had 41 points then. In our holiday tournament, he was runner-up for MVP, but only because we lost in the semifinals. In the third place game, he had 44 points and a buzzer-beater to win the game.
“Against big opponents, he’s played really well. As a junior last year, he was First-Team All-State, broke the single-season scoring record for Fenwick High School, scored 835 points or something. That broke Corey Maggette’s scoring record, and he broke it as a junior. He can score, and he can score against good competition.”
Night after night, the opposition focuses its entire scouting report on how to stop Hopkins, but are never able to slow down the skilled forward’s scoring efforts.
“The scouting report for our team a lot of times, teams are trying to stop Bryce, and when you have a whole team and coach figuring out ways to stop you and you still score a lot, that’s a good sign for his abilities at the next level,” Peck told KSR.
Putting up elite numbers every time he steps on the floor, it’s fair to wonder if Hopkins – who is ranked as high as No. 30 in the country – is a bit underrated. In head-to-head matchups with the top players in the state, he’s winning. Playing alongside elite talent at various camps and events this summer, he was arguably the best player on the floor.
“If he can be underrated, yeah, he’s underrated. We played Max Christie last year, who is ranked the No. 1 junior in the state of Illinois, and Bryce had 36 and Max had 30 or something. He plays – I’m biased, I’m his coach – but I don’t think there’s a better player we played than Bryce. … I think if he had had the spring and summer seasons with Mokan [Elite], it could have opened even more eyes. For the people that came and watched him play last year, they came away pretty impressed. I think he’s gotten better. Talking to the people at the Mokan workouts [this summer], they think he was the best player there.”
Regardless of rankings, Peck stresses that he’s just getting better and his upside is through the roof.
Right now, he’s physically overwhelming defenders with pure size and skill, but Hopkins is not considered an elite athlete. When college strength and conditioning coaches get ahold of him, his head coach believes he could develop into one of the best players in college basketball, even if it takes a few years to get there.
And then from there, the possibility for the NBA is certainly on the table.
“I think he’s got tremendous upside, I don’t think he’s reached the potential he can reach. He can get even stronger and more athletic with a college strength and conditioning program, which will make him even better,” Peck told KSR. “… I know with Kentucky, the one-and-dones have been big news for them. Bryce, I don’t think that’s absolutely what he’d be, but I do think he’s an NBA talent. His upside is huge, so I wouldn’t be surprised if by his sophomore or junior year, he was one of the best players in the country. That’s my feeling.”