Mr. Basketball sticking with U of L

Late interest from UK, Calipari doesn't sway Justice

jtipton@herald-leader.comApril 7, 2010 

Despite 11th-hour recruiting interest shown by Kentucky Coach John Calipari, Kentucky Mr. Basketball Elisha Justice has decided to stick with his commitment to walk on at Louisville.

"They followed me all year," Justice said of Louisville on Tuesday. "I know they've been loyal to me. I feel I was wanted more there."

Justice, who led Shelby Valley High School to the Kentucky state championship last month, acknowledged the pressure he felt from people in the Pikeville area to switch to UK.

"Everybody around here is a UK fan," he said. "But everybody started to say we'll support you no matter what."

Justice dismissed the importance of fan pressure.

"That didn't bother me," he said. "If they don't want to cheer for me, so what? I have to go where I want to go."

Attempts by fans to influence Justice's thinking continued Tuesday when the Shelby Valley team gathered at a Japanese steakhouse for dinner. Coach Jason Booher said that when the team got ready to leave after dinner, half the patrons chanted "U-K, U-K," and the other half chanted "U-of-L, U-of-L."

Justice, a 5-foot-10 point guard, averaged 20.1 points and 5.9 assists this season. He set a state record for career steals with 540 and finished with 2,086 points.

He committed to Louisville in October. The Louisville coaching staff, led by head coach Rick Pitino, attended at least two of Shelby Valley's games this season.

"He's got a really good relationship with the coaching staff," Booher said of Justice.

Calipari tested the strength of that relationship by calling Justice last Thursday and asking the guard to consider Kentucky.

Justice said he talked it over with his parents and decided to stick with U of L.

"I feel that will be a much better fit," he said. "After watching Louisville, I see Rick Pitino, he plays smaller guards like me. I just think that would be a better chance for me to play."

Booher also noted that Justice aspires to be a college coach someday and saw value in learning from Pitino.

"He's ready to get started," the Shelby Valley coach said. "He was ready to get it over with. He just didn't want to wait. He's excited to play for Pitino and play for Louisville and play in the Big East."

Justice could only speculate on why Calipari showed interest last week after the player heard nothing from Kentucky all season.

"There might be a lot of pressure to get in-state kids, especially a Mr. Basketball," he said.

Justice did not call UK to inform the coaches of his decision to stick with Louisville.

He did speak to U of L assistant Walter McCarty, who called this week to ask whether the Cardinals should worry about losing Kentucky's reigning Mr. Basketball.

"I said, no," Justice said.

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