A week ago today, Kentucky picked up its first basketball commitment for the class of 2021, as four-star guard Nolan Hickman chose the Wildcats over offers from Kansas, Oklahoma, Arizona, UCLA and Washington, among others.
Without knowing an official offer was on the table, rumors of a potential commitment began to spread Friday evening, with the surprise announcement coming the following afternoon.
So how did things come to fruition, especially so quickly?
This week, the 6-foot-2 point guard out of Seattle, Washington joined KSR’s Sources Say Podcast to break down his commitment, how excited he is to be a Wildcat, and what he hopes to bring to the table in Lexington next season.
Check out the complete interview below.
What went into your decision to shock everyone with a surprise commitment?
You know, with the surprise commitment, it was supposed to be the day of my Give Back Camp on [August] 24th. With things getting out in the media, things moving faster than I thought, I had to put it out the day before on August 23. I wanted to make it as unique as possible.
Four weeks back when they did offer me, I didn’t say anything or bring it to the media or put it on my socials. I kept it to myself and to my family. I did that for a reason, Kentucky being the big of the big, the Big Blue Nation. If things did get out of wraps, it would have [brought too much attention]. I just kept it to myself and my family, and after I realized I was going to go there, I wanted to do it on my camp date.
When did you give Kentucky the nod that you were coming?
UK actually offered me four weeks ago, and I would say I gave them the nod about two weeks ago. Their reaction was awesome, Coach Cal was stoked, it made his day. It made his whole month, I think. He was in the midst of a hurricane so he couldn’t really give his expression the way he wanted to, but he sounded stoked. After the hurricane, he gave me a call, it was great. The whole coaching staff was stoked, I was stoked. BBN, here I come.
What makes your Give Back Camp so special to you?
Yeah, man. The Give Back Camp is so huge for me. It’s something I’ve been building for so long, I’ve been brainstorming about it for so long. Giving back to these kids and seeing the adrenaline, the excitement go through their eyes when they see a person who has just committed to Kentucky. A hooper coming out of Seattle. Seeing that excitement to see me drop off their swag bags to their houses, seeing me do the drills with them, seeing that excitement go through their eyes, it warms my heart. It’s something that I’m definitely going to be doing for years, it’s great.
How excited were they to talk to a future Kentucky player?
So that’s the thing. When I got the swag bags, I made swag bags for every kid who signed up for the Zoom call. I was delivering them, and this was even before I was able to make my commitment. But the kids were still so hyped to even see me, so it makes me excited to know that they like me in my natural form and not just because I’m a Kentucky commit. That’s a plus, that warms my heart.
Would you consider the camp to be a complete success? Looking at pictures and videos from it, it looks like there were a ton of participants.
We had people in Canada, people in Indonesia, United Kingdom, people in all sorts of different countries and different states. It wasn’t just local, it was definitely everywhere. I’m grateful for everyone who joined, thankful for you guys, I would definitely consider it a huge success. I thought I did great, I thought everyone on it did great, my team did great. Teaching fundamental basketball, that’s the key. A lot of people don’t get that nowadays. Just giving back to my community as best as I can, that’s where I fit in.
What was Kentucky’s ultimate pitch to you? Why were they so excited to get you on board?
Their ultimate pitch to me was that they wanted someone who was interested in Kentucky, someone who has been dreaming of coming to Kentucky for so long. They said they think of me as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander because of how he came up late on the scene, was high-rising. Right when they said that they really wanted me and Coach Cal showed serious interest in me, I felt like I was wanted, I was needed. It felt like the right fit for me.
UK’s coaches have said Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, your coach said a mix between Tyler Ulis and Rajon Rondo with a better shot. Who do you model your game after?
I take bits and pieces from every point guard I make contact with and see. I try to take a little bit from it, I watch a lot of basketball. Honestly, I form my game for myself, I’m my own player, create my own game. I feel like I’m unique, I do everything on the court. I feel like I’m one of a kind. No offense to other hoopers, but I just feel like that’s what I’ve been going with for so long.
It means a lot to me [my coach thinks of me in that way], it’s crazy to me. Even being in the talk with the greats like that is crazy. I would have never thought, a better shot than an NBA player? It means a lot to me.
Is there any part of your game you think you need to work on in particular?
Definitely my athleticism, that’s something I need to work on. I feel like my passes need to be more crisp, I need to work on that as well. Everything in my game, you can never stop getting better. I’m always in the gym.
How much did you miss playing on the EYBL circuit this year? There was a lot of talk behind the scenes that this was going to be your breakthrough summer in terms of national publicity.
It was. It really did suck, but it saved a lot of lives, I’m gonna be real with you. It saved lives, kept people safe [by not having events like that] because of the coronavirus. I was really coming after every single one of them, though, I’m not even gonna lie. I was definitely coming after everybody’s head. I was definitely going to keep rising. Not just me, but my team too, we were coming for that Peach Jam spot. With the coronavirus taking everything away and it all being so sudden, it hurts, but we have to deal with it. I’ve got faith that everything is going to be okay.
People at Kentucky think you could have ended up being the No. 1 point guard in the class of 2021 if there was an EYBL season this year. How important is it for you to earn that status as the best in the nation?
I never worry about rankings, things will come to light, things will show. I’m not a fan of the rankings, I can see where I am right now. I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder, no matter when I step on the court. Just having that chip, maintaining that, I’m going to shoot for that No. 1 spot at my position. That’s my goal.
What would you say separates your game from those other elite guards?
I’m not just a point guard, I’m also a combo guard, I can play the one and the two. I’m a facilitator, I’m a scorer, I can pass it, I’m tall, I can play defense, I can get the ball off the glass for you, I can block a shot, I can hustle. I’m a really unique player, one of a kind in my eyes. I hope people see that when they see me for the first time.
Would you say you’re prepared for the Kentucky spotlight?
100 percent. I have never shied away from any matchup, any event, any big stage, that’s one thing my pops has always been telling me. “There’s no such thing as being nervous. Just go in there and hoop, there’s nothing to be nervous about, nothing to be scared about. You’ve been doing this your whole life.” I’ve been doing this since I was three, so I just go in there and have fun. That’s what hooping is all about.
Who else are you recruiting with you to Lexington?
Yeah, I’ve been pushing the tempo with [five-star forward] Patrick Baldwin. I’ve even tried pushing the tempo with my guy Paolo [Banchero], even with him being committed to Duke, I’ve been trying to talk that BBN in his ear. He picked the wrong shade of blue. I’ve been reaching out to Moussa [Diabate] at IMG, trying to reach out to him.
I’ve been doing anything I can as a point guard, reaching out to everyone I can to help this team flourish and be the best it can be. We’ve got to get this tenth [title]. I skipped nine for a reason, this squad is going to go out there and do their thing.
What are you like off the floor? What do you do that you think would surprise fans?
I’m a huge Office fan, I love the show The Office. That’s something not a lot of people know about me. I play a lot of video games, I’m a [Call of Duty]: Modern Warfare fiend, love any Call of Duty game to death. Fortnite, that’s going downhill, but that’s definitely something I was good at too, don’t get it twisted. When that was popping, I was definitely the GOAT at it.
What are three words you would describe Nolan Hickman as?
Hm. I’d say driven, hard-worker, and winner. That’s just point, blank, period.
Do you have a message to the BBN you’d like to share?
Let’s win. I’m ready to win, I’m ready to rock out. BBN, let’s take this thing to the tenth [title].