Sweet Sixteen puts Holmes guard Bolden on radar of Kentucky, others

broberts@herald-leader.comMarch 16, 2013 

This time last year, a relatively unknown high school point guard named James "Beetle" Bolden was putting up shot after shot in a Covington gym.

He would practice before school, after school, on the weekends.

He would spend four or five hours a day on the court — usually by himself — working on his ball handling and shooting until his arms got tired.

Before the season started, Holmes Coach Jason Booher tried to give his 9th Region counterparts a heads up.

"I told them when we had our pre-season meeting, 'You all might not know about Beetle now, but you'll know about him by the end of the year,'" Booher told the Herald-Leader. "I already knew by this past summer he was going to be able to dominate games. It was just a matter of time before everyone knew who he was."

Nobody listened to Booher then, and Bolden's name wasn't among the eight players chosen as the best of the 9th Region.

Now, every high school coach in the state knows about "Beetle" Bolden.

And soon, he'll be getting national exposure.

The 5-foot-11 sophomore has had a whirlwind couple of weeks.

He led Holmes to the 9th Region title and later went basket for basket with Dominique Hawkins in an overtime thriller in Rupp Arena.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari and assistant Orlando Antigua were at that game to evaluate Hawkins.

Afterward, they waited outside the Holmes locker room to talk to Booher.

"They said they were looking forward to watching Beetle progress over the next couple of years," Booher said. "He's probably good enough to play for the team he's got right now — that's what Cal told me.

"That was a pretty good compliment to Beetle."

On Saturday, Bolden was back in Lexington for his first practice with Travelers Basketball, the Nike-sponsored Elite Youth Basketball League team that will play against the best players in the country this spring and summer.

"I'm just excited to be getting all this recognition, because I truly worked in the gym all summer to have a breakout season like I did," he said.

"It's been a dream come true. I can't really explain it — it's just exciting."

Antigua has called Booher twice since the state tournament ended, and Bolden talked to the UK assistant on one of those occasions.

He grew up as a fan of the Wildcats and called UK his "dream college" after Holmes defeated PRP on the first day of the Sweet Sixteen.

Bolden said Antigua asked if he could come back to Lexington for a visit later this spring, and he was also told that UK would continue to recruit him over the next couple of years.

He wasn't aware of Calipari's presence at the time of the Madison Central game. Booher informed Bolden later that day that the UK coach had been there, and he also passed along Calipari's remark about being good enough to play for the Cats this season.

"I was overwhelmed," Bolden said.

UK isn't the only school to show interest.

Xavier offered Bolden a scholarship a few days before the start of the state tournament, and Cincinnati, Butler, Purdue and Iowa State have all called about him.

More schools will surely join them in the coming months, especially now that Bolden will be getting more exposure on the EYBL circuit.

Andy Rines, the Travelers' team director, said Bolden's addition to the roster was a bit of an accident.

He and another team official traveled to Cincinnati to evaluate a different player, and they decided to stop off in Covington to see Bolden after hearing good things about the guard.

"We were just blown away," Rines said. "He took us totally by surprise. It was a very pleasant surprise.

"He is a tremendous young prospect. His potential is unlimited. His work ethic is great and I think the sky's the limit with him."

Bolden now has the opportunity to hone his skills against the likes of Tyus Jones and Emmanuel Mudiay — two class of 2014 point guards who already have scholarship offers from Kentucky.

"This is going to be a humbling experience for anyone who plays on this circuit, because you play against the best," Booher said. "That's exactly what he needs. He needs to find out what he needs to work on. And there's no better place to do that than playing against the best point guards in the nation."

It will be a season full of new experiences for Bolden, who said he's only been on an airplane once in his life — a basketball trip to Florida last summer.

Next month, he'll fly with the Travelers to Los Angeles for the opening session of the EYBL. After that will be trips to Virginia, Texas, Minnesota, Missouri and possibly South Carolina.

He's excited by the thought of so much travel.

But it's the competition that drives Bolden the most.

"He always looks forward to those challenges," Booher said. "Whenever we play someone like a Dominique Hawkins, who's supposed to be Mr. Basketball, he takes that as, 'Look, I need to go out and show that I'm better than these players who are more heralded than I am.' He thinks he's better than everybody when he steps on the basketball floor. And that's the kind of attitude you've gotta have. You can't be scared to death or nervous or intimidated."

"He thinks he deserves to be on the floor with them. ... And hopefully this experience will make him an even better point guard."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com

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