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UK inks three of nation’s top recruits on Wednesday; Calipari signs Collins, Hopkins and Hickman


By Deb Moore
University of Kentucky

During a year in which much has changed, one thing has remained a constant: University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari and his staff have again started to build one of the nation’s top recruiting classes.

UK signed three of the nation’s top players in the early fall signing period on Wednesday. Highly rated prospects Daimion Collins, Bryce Hopkins and Nolan Hickman have all inked national letters of intent with UK.

All three players are consensus four- or five-star prospects and all are ranked in the top 50 by at least one major national recruiting service. They will join the program for the 2021-22 season.

John Calipari

“Our fans have heard me talk a lot about what it means to be ‘Built Different.’ When you talk about this fall class, you’ve got three kids who are built to play here at Kentucky,” Calipari said. “They wanted to be a part of this culture. They wanted to play against other really good players. They didn’t need any promises or guarantees – only the promise that this is going to be the hardest thing they’ve ever done and that we will challenge them to become the best version of themselves.

“This place isn’t for everybody and it takes a certain type of player – a ‘Built Different’ mentality – to come here and be in this competitive environment. These three are ready to take that step.”

With the spring signing period still to go, UK is going to be in the mix for one of the top classes in the nation yet again. Rivals and 247 Sports currently rank UK at No. 3 with the three fall signees.

In every season in the Calipari era, the Wildcats have signed a top-three recruiting class according to the Recruiting Services Consensus Index, which tallies major recruiting rankings and plugs them into a formula to calculate a consensus ranking. With the fall additions, Kentucky has signed 61 top-50 recruits, 47 top-25 players and 26 top-10 players (according to Rivals) in what will now be Calipari’s 13 recruiting classes at Kentucky.

The fall signing period began Wednesday and concludes Nov. 18. The spring signing period begins April 14.

Upside and a high ceiling are the first two things that come to mind when recruiting analysts talk about Collins, who has shot up the recruiting rankings over the last year. Collins, who has an impressive 7-foot-4-plus wingspan, is an elite rim protector and can impact the game in a multitude of ways.

He verbally committed Oct. 31.

“I’m really excited for Daimion and his family to join our program,” Calipari said. “Daimion is an incredible young man with a bright future – someone who has only begun to realize just how good he can be. Our fans know I don’t like to make comparisons to our other guys, but Daimion has that type of length, the athleticism and the versatility that have separated our players from others. He wanted to be pushed and to be in a competitive environment to help him reach his full potential. The staff and I cannot wait to help him grow.”

At 6-foot-9, Collins is explosive and plays above the rim. He finishes with strength and has range offensively. Defensively, Collins is an exceptional shot-blocker who can step out and defend on the perimeter. He averaged 24.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 7.7 blocks per game as a junior at Atlanta High School. The Atlanta, Texas, native was a third team all-state selection by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches.

The five-star prospect is tabbed the No. 10 overall player in the 2021 class by Rivals. He’s ranked as the No. 19 overall player by 247 Sports and the No. 24 player by ESPN.

UK recruit Daimion Collins

“I wanted to go somewhere that has developed players that have similar skills as me,” Collins said. “I felt that Kentucky was the only place for me.”

Hickman is simply a playmaker. With Calipari known for utilizing multiple ball-handlers on the floor, Hickman has the ability to play with or without the ball and has the reputation as being one of the best lead guards in the country. He was the first commitment in this class, announcing his intentions on Aug. 22.

“I had the chance to see a lot of Nolan in the year or so before the pandemic hit,” Calipari said. “I am really excited about his ability to play the point guard position. He has speed, vision and scoring ability. One of the best things about Nolan is his competitive spirit. He plays to win, which our best guards I’ve coached do. Nolan is someone who can play multiple positions in the backcourt, who can fly in transition, and most importantly can create for himself and his teammates. Our guys will love playing with Nolan as he is a team-first player who is incredibly mature.”

At 6-foot-2, Hickman also adds a 6-8 wingspan that gives him length to guard a number of positions. A physical player, the Seattle native owns a versatile offensive game and his tenacity makes him a tough defender as well. He averaged 17.3 points, 3.4 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game for Eastside Catholic last season. Hickman also connected on 38 percent of his 3-point field goals. A first team all-state selection by Scorebook and a Class 3A Associated Press first team honoree, Hickman will play his final high school season with Wasatch Academy.

Hickman enters his senior season ranked as high as the No. 30 overall player by 247 Sports and the No. 3 point guard. He’s rated No. 43 overall by Rivals and No. 52 by ESPN.

“Kentucky was upfront with me from the start,” Hickman said. “I felt welcomed right from the jump and I could feel their honesty. They didn’t make any promises. They want to help me get to the highest level of basketball and challenge me off the floor and in the classroom.”

An offensively versatile combo-forward, Hopkins is a mismatch nightmare. He has the ability to score in a variety of ways and can do so with ease on all three levels.

Hopkins announced his intentions to join the Wildcats on Oct. 26.

UK recruit Bryce Hopkins

“Bryce has the skill set and the versatility for where our game is going,” Calipari said. “It’s positionless, high-skilled basketball, and Bryce has both. He can play multiple positions and attack other players in different ways. His ability with the ball allows him to play on the perimeter, but he also has the size and the toughness to play at the basket.

“Bryce’s dream was to play on the biggest stage in college basketball. He will get to do that here at Kentucky.”

At 6-foot-7, Hopkins is a physical player who has a willingness to impact the game on both sides of the floor. The Oak Park, Illinois, product averaged 24.1 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game for Fenwick High School as a junior. The News-Gazette tabbed Hopkins as a First Team All-State selection and the Illinois High School Association honored him as a first team 3A all-state pick following his junior campaign. He also finished fifth in the Illinois Mr. Basketball voting a season ago.

A four-star signee, Hopkins is ranked as high as No. 30 overall by Rivals. ESPN rates him at No. 32 and 247 Sports lists him at No. 39 overall.

“When you look at what Kentucky has done under Coach Cal, it’s clear they develop their guys better than anyone else for the next level,” Hopkins said. “They put their players’ dreams first. I wanted that and I wanted to be with a winning program with a family culture.”

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