No one enjoyed being at the Marshall County Hoop Fest last week more than 6-10 power forward Billy Preston of Advance Prep International of Dallas.
“I love playing in Kentucky. We came last year came to play at McCracken County. I loved both experiences. I love how the fans and whole city comes out,” said Preston. “Playing on ESPN is special and a blessing for a high school kid to be on national TV. It is exciting and I love exciting games, so it is all good for me.”
Preston, a junior, has a bevvy of scholarship offers from schools such as Arizona State, Baylor, Connecticut, Fresno State, Kansas, New Mexico State, Oregon, UCLA, Southern Cal and Utah. Most recruiting analysts think Preston, a California native, will stay in the west to play college basketball.
However, he said during Hoop Fest that Kentucky is still on his radar.
“Me personally, I have not heard anything (from Kentucky) but my parents have talked to the coaching staff there. What I have been told, but I am not sure, is that Kentucky doesn’t recruit players until end of their junior year. I am not saying that is what it is. I am just not sure,” the athletic Preston said. “I just keep working on my game. It would be a blessing to be recruited by Kentucky. What player wouldn’t want to be recruited by them? I just keep working and hope they start recruiting me hard.”
Preston considers UK one of the top schools in the country and says any player would have interest in coach John Calipari’s team. Calipari came to Marshall County to watch him and others play Sunday.
“It is Kentucky. When you think of college basketball, Kentucky is definitely one of the teams you immediately think about. Last year they went 38-0 and the amount of professional basketball players they produce each year, you have to know about Kentucky,” Preston said. “You can’t not know about Kentucky. It would be a blessing to be recruited by that school.”
API coach Ray Forsett calls Preston a “big-time talented kid” and says there is little he cannot do on the court.
“He can handle, shoot, pass, rebound, do it all. That helps us win,” Forsett said. “When he is locked in, we are locked in and it makes us a better team. Just like every kid, he has to work on playing hard every play. Everybody can always work on shooting the ball better. For the most part, he is a great talent but still a work in progress. If he would play hard every play, I don’t think anybody in the country could stop him.”
ESPN national recruiting director Paul Biancardi, who worked two games shown on ESPN at Hoop Fest, says there is no junior in the country more talented than Preston.
“He is so gifted. He can pass, handle, shoot, push the ball, rebound, block shots, anything. But he doesn’t always play with a high motor, doesn’t always practice well. That’s why he has ups and downs,” Biancardi said. “But he can flat-out dominate games when he plays.”
His teammate, junior point guard Trevon Duval, is ranked the best at his position in the 2017 recruiting class and in the top five by many recruiting analysts.
While he does not yet have a scholarship offer from Kentucky, he noted in a recent blog he wrote for USA Today that Kentucky has played well and he said here December 3 that UK has stayed in contact.
“They contact me every so often. I am interested in Kentucky like a lot of other schools because they are a really good school and produce professionals,” the 6-3 Duval said.
He also knows UK freshman Isaiah Briscoe well.
“He always talks to me about Kentucky and how he has improved and how he likes it,” Duval said. “I knew Isaiah would do pretty good. He has tenacity to work hard and be better than whoever he has to go against. I knew he would rise to the occasion. He never lacks confidence, either. One of his biggest skills is being really confident.”
He says Kentucky is a school he “definitely” plans to visit.
“Coach (John) Calipari is really confident in his players and what he does. He also gets players to the NBA. I like that,” Duval said.
Duval is a confident player, too. He considers himself the best player in his recruiting class.
“I would say getting inside the lane and creating for teammates inside the defense is what I do best,” he said. “I loved our game here (Thursday). It was fun playing on national TV (on ESPN) in a different state.
Arizona, Kansas, Louisville, Maryland, Syracuse, UConn, Seton Hall and Rutgers are among teams that have offered Duval.
“I love his ability to be a playmaker. I like how he creates shots for himself but how good he is at also creating better shots for other players,” Biancardi said. “He navigates the pick and roll well. He gets separation off ball screens. He just loves to play.”
Forsett says Duval has great court vision even under pressure and handles the well under pressure, too.
“You put all that together and you have a special guard and special player. He is a better kid off the court as well. Quiet, humble, just loves to work and try to get better. Him seeing the floor and being able to find people and score, that’s a dynamic guard,” Forsett said. “He is explosive around the rim. He knows how to get up and he’s aggressive, so that helps.”
The coach enjoys what Duval is writing for USA Today.
“He is a sharp kid and takes care of business academically. That is all him (doing the blog). To who much is given, much is required. He handles it well. I trust he will say the right thing. I don’t even check. I am reading it just like everybody else when it gets out there,” Forsett said.
Duval says he enjoys the writing.
“I do it every so often whenever they need a post or whatever. It is pretty cool,” Duval said.
Fan Reaction Grows When UK Airs on ESPN
When Kara Lawson works a Kentucky basketball game for ESPN, she notices one thing every time.
“I definitely got a lot more reaction on Twitter when I am doing Kentucky games versus any other college basketball games I do,” said Lawson. “I get a lot more feedback. Kentucky fans have such a passion for the sport. I started doing Kentucky games a couple years ago and noticed immediately an uptick in my social media for those games.”
Lawson scored almost 2,000 points during her four-year career at Tennessee before playing in the Women’s National Basketball Association. She won a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.
Kentucky fan Amy Wilton Yates found a way to squeeze through fans waiting for UK coach John Calipari’s postgame radio show after a recent game at Rupp Arena to have her picture taken with Lawson.
“She’s great, and knows her stuff. I love her,” Wilton said.
Another UK fan, Johnny Hayes, agrees with Wilton.
“Prefer her to many of those lousy ex-coaches that work for ESPN,” Hayes said.
Lawson understands fans have “subjective views” on what she says about Kentucky.
“I understand you have a right to like or dislike what I say,” Lawson said. “I never get all positive reviews but Kentucky fans have been overwhelmingly positive.”
UK’s 2015 Football Collapse and 2016 Recruiting Class
Kentucky’s collapse that left coach Mark Stoops’s team at 5-7 for the second straight season has many fans wondering how the touted 2016 recruiting class will hold together.
One of the key players in that class is Paintsville linebacker Kash Daniel. He’s already been named the Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year as well as the Paul Hornung Award given to the state’s top player by the Louisville Quarterback Club.
He says Kentucky’s commits talk a lot about the season that just ended and what lies ahead.
“We are not sugar-coating anything,” Daniel said. “We kept up with each other when we were playing. Now that our seasons are over, we talk about when we are taking our official visits and talk about getting to campus and how excited we are to play for Kentucky. We want to show we will do whatever we’ve got to do to help coach (Mark) Stoops.”
The commits also hear the fan noise. Do they view that as a good thing that shows the passion of UK football fans or a bad thing that fans are questioning the direction of the program?
“It has both sides to it. When you see the fans are frustrated, nobody is going to lie. It was a frustrating season. We all expected Kentucky to go to a bowl. We didn’t do it. Nobody was happy with the season and not going to a bowl game, and should not be happy,” Daniel, who will play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio in January, said.
“But there’s also another side where you can’t take a negative attitude if you want things to get better. If you are negative and all you do is pull the program down. If you bad mouth and say you need a new coach and different players, you are not going to make sense. Some fans just do not know what it is like to do coach Stoops’s job or be a college player. For somebody to run their mouth about Kentucky football, they just should not go overboard with it.”