Wildcats get Booker but lose Blackmon to Hoosiers

broberts@herald-leader.comOctober 31, 2013 

Two sons of former college basketball players chose to take their own paths Thursday.

The first of those decisions led to celebration among Kentucky fans. They didn't much care for the second one.

Devin Booker announced his commitment to UK just hours before James Blackmon Jr. surprisingly said he would play for the Indiana Hoosiers.

Booker — the son of former Missouri star Melvin Booker — had visited Mizzou's campus twice in the past two weeks, leading some to believe he would choose his father's alma mater over the Wildcats.

But it was Blackmon who provided the eyeball-in-the-punch-bowl ending to John Calipari's Halloween night.

The son of former UK point guard James Blackmon was seen as something of a lock for the Wildcats going into the day. Then the rumblings surfaced that he might choose Indiana, which was the school he originally committed to as a high school freshman.

That speculation proved correct, as Blackmon told a national audience that he liked the way Hoosiers Coach Tom Crean recruited him "as a main priority."

"I think I can get them back on top and where they need to be," he said.

The Cats missed out on Blackmon — a 6-foot-2 guard considered by many to be the best shooter in the Class of 2014 — but they got a good one with Booker.

The 6-foot-5 prospect from Moss Point, Miss., had scholarship offers from Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State and several other top programs.

In the end, he chose to be a Wildcat.

"The history of Kentucky, Coach John Calipari," Booker said of his reasoning. "I'm a show-me type, and Coach Calipari showed me a lot of things he does with big guards."

Blackmon might well be the best shooter in the senior class, but Scout.com national analyst Evan Daniels said Booker is right at the same level.

"He's a really hard worker," Daniels said. "He likes to compete, and he's a guy who spends a lot of time in the gym. And he's a guy who's going to get better. The guys who love the game and love spending time in the gym are the guys who get better."

Daniels pointed out that when Booker took his official visit to Lexington in August, he stayed in the Joe Craft Center until 2 a.m. putting up shots with fellow recruits Tyler Ulis and Jahlil Okafor.

"That says a lot about them," Daniels said.

Ulis committed to the Wildcats a few days after that visit, and he said at the time that his first priority would be convincing Booker to join him in Lexington.

The two players first teamed up on the camp circuit last summer and became close friends despite Ulis living in the Chicago area and Booker being on the Gulf Coast in Mississippi.

Ulis said Thursday night that Booker actually told him of his intention to commit to the Cats a couple of days earlier. The point guard kept the news to himself.

"I was really excited and couldn't wait until he announced it to the public," Ulis told the Herald-Leader.

There's a good chance Ulis and Booker could be UK's starting backcourt next season, with Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison and James Young all projected to go to the NBA after one year at Kentucky.

Ulis said the two guards clicked immediately when they were paired together on the summer circuit. He praised Booker's shooting ability, joking that his friend was the best shooter in the country after himself.

"I love Book's game," Ulis said. "He's a shooter and he's great at it. He shoots the ball lights out.

"We've always clicked when we have played together, so we will play even better as we practice with each other, because he loves to shoot and I love to pass. That's a great combination."

Scout.com ranks Ulis as the No. 29 overall prospect in the senior class, with Booker at No. 31. Not only should they make an immediate impact at UK, but they're both likely to stick around for more than a season.

"You've got a guy in Tyler Ulis that's going to be around for four years," Daniels said. "And he's not just going to be an average four-year player. He's going to be a very good four-year point guard that you can trust. And then you throw in a guy like Booker that is a very good shooter and can bring scoring to the table, I think it's going to provide them with some consistency.

"Just because they're not one-and-done players doesn't mean that they're not going to have major impacts. I think those guys can be very impactful on Kentucky's program. And I think they can do it early on."

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

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