Kentucky added its first piece to the class of 2021 this weekend, as four-star point guard Nolan Hickman announced his surprise commitment to the Cats on Saturday over offers from Kansas, Arizona, UCLA, Oklahoma, and Washington, among others.
At the time, most UK fans had no idea the 6-foot-2 guard was even on Kentucky’s radar, let alone on the fringe of a commitment. As for knowing his game and what he’s expected to bring to the table in Lexington, that was even more of a question mark for most.
We can look at the measurables – 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, with a 6-foot-8 wingspan – his stats – he averaged 17.3 points, 3.4 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 2.0 steals, and 2.0 blocks per game as a junior – and watch his highlights, but what will be his true day-one impact at Kentucky?
If you ask, his Wasatch Academy head coach, Paul Peterson, UK fans can look forward to a controlled, skilled, two-way threat when he makes it to Lexington next summer.
“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,” Peterson told KSR.
As skilled as he is, Peterson feels his competitiveness is what separates his game from other top point guards in the nation, specifically on the defensive end of the floor. That’s what makes him a true Kentucky point guard.
“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,” said Peterson. “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.”
On the other end of the floor, he draws comparisons to former Kentucky star point guard Tyler Ulis.
“He’s like a mixture of a bunch of different guys, he’s not just one guy,” Peterson told KSR. “He’s smooth like [Tyler] 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.”
Regardless of the player comparisons or hype, the four-star guard’s coach believes Calipari will fall in love with his ability to do whatever is asked of him on the floor at any given time. Whether it be scoring, passing, defense, or taking a step back to let others thrive, he can do that for your program.
“The awesome thing about him is that he’ll do whatever you need him to do,” the Wasatch Academy head coach told KSR. “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.”
Looking at his rankings, Hickman comes in anywhere from No. 30 overall (247Sports) to No. 76 (Rivals). Without AAU basketball and high-profile recruiting events this summer, the newest Wildcat has not yet picked up the national publicity and opportunities needed to make a significant jump in the rankings.
When that time comes, Peterson believes Hickman will prove he is the best point guard in high school basketball.
“I think he has the potential to be the number one guard in his class,” Peterson told KSR. “Luckily for us this year, with our schedule this year (playing the likes of Montverde, Oak Hill, La Lumiere, and Sunrise Christian), 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.“