Ex-Cat Ron Mercer helping Nashville prospect handle bright lights

broberts@herald-leader.comFebruary 1, 2013 

Just hours after returning home from Kentucky's victory over Mississippi on Tuesday night, Orlando Antigua was back on the road to do some recruiting.

The UK assistant coach went to Nashville on Wednesday to see Jalen Lindsey, a 6-foot-6 small forward who has become one of the most recruited prospects in the class of 2014.

Christ Presbyterian Academy Coach Drew Maddux said UK has been in frequent contact since last season, but this was the first time anyone from the staff had traveled to the school's campus.

Though Kentucky has yet to offer Lindsey a scholarship, Maddux said his star player will keep the Cats on his list.

"Everybody kind of knows they take more of a wait-and-see approach, because they don't know what their roster's going to look like," he said. "... Jalen's willing to be patient."

Lindsey announced last week he was narrowing his interest to nine schools that have already offered scholarships — Louisville, Florida, Providence, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, North Carolina State, Auburn, Ohio State and Mississippi State. With that announcement, he made it clear he would remain in contact with UK and North Carolina in hopes of getting a scholarship offer later in the process.

"The hard part with them is that it's a numbers game," Maddux said. "You just never know year to year."

U of L has been one of the most visible programs in his recruitment. Lindsey attended home games against Syracuse and Providence in January, and Coach Rick Pitino was in Nashville to meet with him and his family last week.

Louisville was also the setting for what was possibly the best game of Lindsey's young career — an 83-71 victory over Ballard for the King of the Bluegrass championship in December.

Lindsey scored a career-high 44 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Pitino was among those in the crowd.

The Cardinals clearly want Lindsey to join their class of 2014, but Maddux says not to expect an early commitment.

"Not at all," he said. "That's an emphatic no."

To help guide Lindsey through his recruitment, Maddux called on one of his oldest friends: former Kentucky star Ron Mercer.

Mercer and Maddux grew up together in Nashville and were teammates at Goodpasture Christian before Mercer transferred to Oak Hill Academy (Va.) to complete his high school career.

Mercer went on to star for two seasons at Kentucky and was an NBA lottery pick in 1997. Maddux stayed in Nashville and became a four-year starter at Vanderbilt.

While their paths diverged in high school, the friendship never wavered.

"He and I, we consider each other brothers," Maddux said. "We're as close as you can be."

When Maddux realized Lindsey would turn into a much-coveted high school prospect, he thought Mercer would be the perfect mentor.

The coach introduced Mercer and Lindsey a couple of years ago, and the former Wildcat has been a constant presence at Christ Presbyterian ever since.

Mercer still lives in Nashville and attends most of CPA's games. Sometimes, he even laces up the sneakers to play in the team's pickup games.

Most importantly, he's there to share his experience and advice with Lindsey.

"I just thought that Ron could be an incredible resource and somebody that Jalen could really connect with. And they have connected," Maddux said. "(He's) just somebody that would understand, that had been through it before, had received a lot of attention and that was extremely talented. And he was kind of used to being in an environment that Jalen walks into every day.

"I think it's been a blessing for both sides."

Ben Roberts twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com

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