There are few high school basketball players in the country rising as quickly as Dereck Lively II.
The COVID-19 pandemic sure didn’t do him any favors in that regard, and neither did a cruel foot injury that forced him off the hardwood for his entire freshman season. But now heading into the summer before his senior year, Lively is on a collision course for superstardom.
On Thursday, Lively, who is listed at 7-foot-1 (which might actually be an under-sell) and around 220 pounds, received a massive bump in his overall ranking by the Rivals recruiting service. Living out of Bellefonte, PA, Lively shot up 31 spots in the class of 2022 rankings, earning five-star status as he cruised to being tabbed as the No. 14 overall prospect. He figures to see a similar upward path in his rating once 247 Sports updates its own database, where he currently sits at No. 42.
What makes Lively so tantalizing is his size mixed with offensive potential. Defensively, he has a chance to be a legitimate rim protector thanks to his all-around length, but it’s his ability to stretch the floor on the other end that could make him a special project. Seven-footers who can run the floor and shoot a face-up jumper can change the entire trajectory of a college program. Lively embraces the obviously lofty expectations of comparing himself to Anthony Davis.
The Kentucky coaching staff has been on Lively long before the recruiting experts saw the potential we are now witnessing. An offer hasn’t come through just yet, but he told KSR at last month’s MADE Hoops event in Indianapolis that his recruitment with the Wildcats was “going great” and that he talks with them “almost every week”, specifically assistant coach Bruiser Flint. Coach Flint has been the one recruiting Lively since the Wildcats first started going after him.
Kentucky has seemingly been a tad bit more aggressive in recent weeks as far as extending offers and setting up Zoom calls, suggesting Lively could hear from John Calipari and company sooner rather than later with a scholarship offer ready to go.
With that in mind, KSR spoke to Rob Brown on Thursday, who is the director of Lively’s AAU program, Team Final, which is one of the most successful and talented AAU teams in the country. You might have recently heard of Team Final as they just managed to bring Emoni Bates into the fold, considered one of the top two players in the class of 2022. Bates joins Lively and fellow Team Final teammate Jalen Duren, who is the other prospect viewed as a top-two player in the class of 2022 and is also a Kentucky target.
Together, along with a slew of other four- and five-star recruits, Team Final is ready to wreak havoc on the summer circuit. Duren and Lively, in particular, have been suiting up alongside each other for years now and have established a reputation of creating a lethal frontcourt. The two took different paths to get where they are now–Duren has long been an elite-level prospect while Lively has just recently come onto the big stage–but could end their high school careers as a pair of the most sought-after players in the country.
“(Dereck’s) been with us since Jalen’s been with us,” Brown told KSR. “They’ve been with each other since the seventh grade. What happened with Dereck, he obviously developed at a different pace than Jalen. Jalen was very big and strong and athletic early on and Dereck was a backup to Jalen. So when Jalen was playing up 16U–he was playing up an age–Dereck was playing on 15U but during Dereck’s freshman year at Westtown, he broke his foot and it was in the summer after his eighth-grade year going into ninth grade. So he didn’t play his whole freshman season. He missed all of that developing and exposure that a guy of his size and skill would have got throughout his freshman year.
“When he played 15U that spring and summer he was really coming off of an injury and not really sure of his body and not sure of his abilities and stuff like that. Where Jalen has always been a confident young man. Dereck’s evolution was just at a different place and obviously, last year not having a season in AAU, I think Dereck would have blown up last year if he played. But because we didn’t play, a lot of people didn’t know who he was… Dereck, I think him looking at rankings before he just blew up recently, I think that fueled his fire a little bit and made him work harder and now his national ranking is reaping the benefits of his hard work.”
No freshman season due to injury and an incredibly limited junior season in terms of exposure has kept Lively in the 30-40 range throughout his high school career when it comes to his national ranking. And yet here he is, quickly making a name for himself as COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted across the country and more eyeballs are able to watch him thrive in person.
“There’s a lot to talk about with Dereck Lively,” Brown said. “I don’t think there’s one thing that sticks out. Obviously, the way that he can move and run with elite level size–he’s 7-1, 7-2 running like a wing, that’s unlike anyone else in high school basketball. He’s got good timing, he’s coachable, he’s talkative on the court, he doesn’t let anything get him too low, doesn’t get too high. I believe a lot in all of his abilities.”
Lively told KSR in April that he is constantly working on his outside game. He said he wants to “be more guard-like for the new NBA game” that is heavily reliant on long-distance shooting and rangy big men who can handle the ball. Couple those two traits together and out pops a perfect mixture for one of basketball’s next unicorn. Lively isn’t there yet though, but he’s purposefully working on getting to that point.
“He wants to continue to refine his jump shot even though it’s very strong now,” Brown said of Lively. “And probably physical size just in the weight room, continuing to put on mass. When he was young he was very thin. Not that he’s rail-thin now but he’s gonna have to move around some pretty big dudes in the paint at the next level.”
The last time a lot of evaluators and scouts were able to watch Lively, he was only 15 and 6-foot-10. Some, including Brown, say that he could be closer to 7-foot-2 right now. If the shooting touch carries over to college and beyond, there’s no reason he can’t make an immediate impact after high school.
“I don’t think as a coaching staff our guys would let him shoot if he couldn’t shoot,” Brown added. “If he missed it was a shock to him. If he steps on a court the first shot that he shoots is a 3-pointer. He’s very adept at facing the basket and shooting from long distance. I think he had three 3-pointers in our championship game at the Southern Invitational so he is very adept at shooting 3-point shots.”
Kentucky certainly isn’t the only school to notice Lively’s intangibles, either. North Carolina and Duke are in the hunt, with official visits already in place for June 8 (UNC) and June 29 (Duke). The Tar Heels are the only school of the three that have actually extended an offer. Could a trip to Kentucky be in the works?
“I believe that they’re working on a visit,” Brown said about Lively and UK. “It probably already is done or close enough to be being done.”