2021 four-star point guard Nolan Hickman is officially a Wildcat, choosing Kentucky over the likes of Kansas, UCLA, Oklahoma, and Washington in a surprise commitment on Saturday afternoon.
Relatively unknown as a UK target heading into the weekend – Hickman kept his offer from the program hidden from the public for three weeks – the 6-foot-2 guard originally out of Washington is now gearing up for his final year in high school before making the move to Lexington next summer.
What do you need to know about the commitment and what the No. 30 overall prospect in the 247Sports player rankings will bring to the table at Kentucky? What kind of impact can he make on and off the floor from day one?
Wasatch Academy head coach Paul Peterson spoke with KSR following the announcement to break down his star point guard’s game and why the Big Blue Nation should be excited about his addition.
Check out the entire conversation below:
Did you know about the commitment to Kentucky? Where did the secrecy come from?
I’m still on cloud nine that I have a Kentucky commit on my team. It was a surprise to me too. I had briefly heard about it, but I was leaving all of his recruiting up to his parents and the Seattle Rotary (his AAU program), because they know him best. They know his fit and everything best. I didn’t have anything to do with that because they know him best, so I was just as surprised and excited as everybody else.
What does it say about his personality that he wanted to keep things under wraps?
I know it’s a tight-knit family and they have a very small circle, even with people he works out with. It was only right that only his circle knew about it, because that’s how they’ve always been.
What did you know about Kentucky’s interest beforehand?
I do know they saw him a couple times, specifically when they went to see Paolo [Banchero]. Nolan showed out and that’s how they got their first sighting of him. I don’t think it was just one game they saw him, I think it was multiple games. Nolan showed out multiple games for Coach Cal and his staff.
How did his transfer to Wasatch Academy come to fruition? How did you get your hands on one of the fastest-rising guards in high school basketball?
We had known about him by watching him on the EYBL, and then we tried tracking down his dad, and it took a while to get his dad on the phone because he’s a busy guy. But once we got him on the phone, it was like we had known each other forever. We spoke about an hour the first time we talked, and I was thinking in my head, “Man, I hope we can stay friends even if his son doesn’t come to Wasatch.” Just a good guy, really enjoy talking to him. Even now with Nolan here, we still talk once or twice a week.
And then after the virus stuff happened, we had them out for a visit to see the campus, they fell in love with it. (2022 four-star guard) Richard Isaacs Jr. was there for his visit, showed him around and let him know how campus life was. They fell in love with it.
Where do things stand in terms of getting him on campus and seeing him in workouts? Have you gotten to see him yet?
We did a couple workouts while he was here, and I was just blown away. When the altitude hits people, they usually shut down and can’t do anything. The altitude hit him, and he just wanted to keep going. His handle was still tight, his shots were still falling even though the altitude hit him. He’s working out with powder-white lips because he can’t breathe, but he just kept going.
It was impressive seeing him in the workouts, and then seeing him on film in games, that’s his pace. He plays at his own speed, own pace, whether it needs to be fast or needs to be controlled, he sticks with it. He doesn’t let anyone speed him up.
For Kentucky fans unfamiliar with his game, what makes Nolan Hickman special? What makes him a Kentucky guard in your eyes?
Well, number one, he competes. Kentucky fans know how Coach Cal is and how he makes every kid compete and earn their stripes, and that’s one thing [Nolan] is not shy about. He competes about everything. He might not express it vocally or yell at people, but he competes.
Another thing is that he’s going to get down and play defense. With his 6’8” wingspan, he’s not shy about playing defense and using his arms like a Rajon Rondo defensive style. He’s really up in you, picking your pocket, picking you from behind, things like that, he really uses his arms.
Offensively, he resembles a 6-foot-2 Tyler Ulis. What would be your best player comparison for him?
That’s an interesting one. He’s like a mixture of a bunch of different guys, he’s not just one guy. He’s smooth like Ulis, ball screens like Ulis, but I think he’s a better shooter than Ulis. But he does play defense like Rondo. I would say he’s a mixture of both with a better shot, no disrespect to either of them, obviously, but just a better jumper and pull-up.
The awesome thing about him is that he’ll do whatever you need him to do. If you need him to run the show and facilitate, he’ll do it. If you need him to score 30, he’ll do it. Need him to score 30? He’ll do it. Need him to guard the other team’s best player? He’ll do it. He’s a utility guy, he’ll do whatever his coach asks of him.
There are rumblings behind the scenes he could end up being the No. 1 guard in America at the end of the day. Do you buy the hype?
Absolutely, I think he has the potential to be the number one guard in his class. Luckily for us this year, with our schedule this year, he’ll be able to match up against some of those guards that might be ranked ahead of him and prove it to the whole country. He can prove that he’s the best guard in his class.
I’ve seen it in person, I’ve worked him out, I’m gonna go see him this weekend. Just don’t sleep on him. Those rankings don’t mean anything. Obviously I’m a little biased, but I’ve seen him, studied him, did my due diligence recruiting him. I really believe he’s number one.
Who are the other guards he’s going to be going up against?
We’ll match up with Oak Hill this year, we’ll match up with La Lumiere, Montverde, Sunrise Christian. Those are considered all of the top guards in the class, with the teams all being top 25 in the country, so it’ll be exciting to see him against the elite guards, elite big men, real NBA guys.
Would you say he’s ready for the spotlight at Kentucky? How will he fit in personality-wise?
Yeah, the biggest thing is he doesn’t care. He’s not afraid of the moment, he just plays. He just looks for the matchup, doesn’t get rattled in the game or the stage, he just hoops. He just plays ball. He’s not worried about dunking on a certain guy or turning it personal, he just plays ball.
The other thing I’m really excited about is not a lot of kids get to play with other high-level players. Our backcourt consists of a top-25 guard that’s on Team USA too named Richard Isaacs, “Pop Pop” is what they call him. I think that will help him going into college where everyone in the world knows he’ll be playing with other elite players at Kentucky.
We play a style where the ball doesn’t stick, we try to move the ball from side to side as much as we can to keep the help defense off-balance. It’ll be the same way as bringing the ball up, it’ll move side to side, never sticks. For us, same as Kentucky, you’re never going to be a 20-dribble-per-possession guy, you become accurate and efficient with your touches.
If there is one thing for Kentucky fans to get excited about Nolan’s addition, what would that be?
He’s not like this big superstar that’s not approachable. I’m being honest. We all know what he can do on the court, but off the court, he’s personable, he wants to help as many people possible, he wants to help kids. A lot of times, these stars are not approachable, they’re not nice people. I look forward to everyone communicating with Nolan off the court and getting to know him. He’s got his head on straight, great family, so I think that is one of the biggest things he will bring to Kentucky.