LEXINGTON, Ky. — Hamidou Diallo addressed the elephant in the room on Thursday at the University of Kentucky’s basketball media day: If other programs are paying top players to pick their school, as an explosive FBI investigation recently alleged, why would 5-star recruits come to Lexington for free?
Diallo laughed, leaned back in his chair and pointed to the ring of posters on the wall of the Wildcats’ practice gym. Most of the 31 players picked in the NBA Draft during coach John Calipari’s first eight years are on those posters — which are oversized trading cards — in their pro uniforms.
“That’s why we’re coming to Kentucky,” said the former top-10 recruit. “We’re coming to be great players, and hopefully one day we can hang our poster up in this gym.”
Teammate Sacha Killeya-Jones, another of the nine former 5-star recruits on Kentucky’s 2017-18 roster, nodded in agreement, pointing also to the eight national championship banners hanging on another wall of the practice gym. He added that more than 20,000 people, many of whom camped out for days to get tickets, will be in Rupp Arena on Friday night for Big Blue Madness.
All of that “is why we came here,” Killeya-Jones said. “It’s nothing like it in the country.”
Point guard Quade Green, one of the five McDonald’s All-Americans who signed with the Wildcats in their latest No. 1-ranked recruiting class, thinks it is funny that critics can’t understand why players would turn down cash payments elsewhere to play for the top NBA preparatory school in the country.
“If a 5-star don’t want to come here and get better against another 5-star, then I don’t know what to tell you when you get to the next level, because everybody at the next level is a 5-star,” Green said before making a bold proclamation about the FBI’s ongoing investigation, which has already entangled Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State, Southern California and rival Louisville.
“We don’t have nothing to worry about,” Green said. “None of us was in it. We did everything the right way, and that was that. We came here because of the right things.”
Freshman guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, whose AAU career included stops on both the Adidas and Nike circuits and who claims no sneaker allegiance, echoed that sentiment. Why should we believe he chose merely a college scholarship to Kentucky when others might’ve gladly given him a sack of cash?
“The honesty in this program and knowing that we will never get caught up in stuff like that,” he said. “And also knowing what Coach Cal and the coaching staff has done with guys and putting them where they want to go. That’s probably the biggest reasons.”
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