Shortly after watching high school basketball standout John Petty play at a Nike event in Lexington in April of last year, UK Coach John Calipari extended him a scholarship offer to play for the Wildcats.
That made Petty — a 6-foot-5 wing from Huntsville, Ala. — the first player from the class of 2017 to receive a coveted UK offer.
At the time, it was a bit of a surprise. Petty was not a surefire NBA Draft pick, or even a top-10 national recruit — the kind of prospect who usually draws Calipari’s attention at the beginning of a recruiting cycle.
In Petty, the UK coach saw a team player, a budding talent who could do a little bit of everything on the court.
In the year and a half since, Calipari has offered more than a dozen other recruits from the class of 2017 — including a few who play Petty’s position — and the whispers out of Petty’s home state of Alabama indicated that the Wildcats have put their local star on the back burner, prioritizing other, higher-ranked players in the class.
At the same time, the talk out of UK’s camp indicated that Petty remained a major priority for the Wildcats.
The start of the fall recruiting period — when college coaches are allowed to meet with their top targets off campus — would settle the question of just how much UK wanted Petty, and the answer is now clear.
Calipari was in Huntsville on the recruiting period’s very first night, Sept. 9, for an in-home visit with Petty. On Monday afternoon, Calipari returned to Huntsville to meet with Petty at a local chicken wing joint, his second visit in less than two weeks.
Petty’s high school coach, Jack Doss, told the Herald-Leader that his star player is pretty quiet about his recruitment but confirmed that he’s been made to feel like a priority recruit by the UK coaching staff.
Last month, Petty released a “Top 5” list that included Kentucky, Alabama, Florida State, Kansas and UConn. Despite the inclusion of the latter three schools on that list, Petty’s recruitment is almost certain to come down to two.
“The two that have recruited him hardest are Alabama and Kentucky, so that’s probably enough said,” Doss said, when asked what other coaches have been by to see Petty this fall.
Alabama has generated some national recruiting buzz under Coach Avery Johnson, but Petty — the No. 31 overall player in the 2017 composite rankings — would be his biggest commitment yet, and the Crimson Tide are selling him on being the star for his home-state program.
Petty, who grew up rooting for UK, would likely be more of a role player, at least in his first season, if he picked the Wildcats. Still, he’d have an opportunity to make an immediate impact.
Alabama’s reigning Mr. Basketball, Petty averaged 19.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.8 steals last season, leading his team to a second consecutive state championship.
He’s a multi-tooled offensive player who can shoot from distance, create his own shots at the basket and handle the ball with comfort. He’s also an unselfish player and an exceptional passer for a guard of his size.
Petty has the potential to be a perimeter stopper on the defensive end.
“He’d probably be ranked higher than he is if he wasn’t such a team player,” Doss said. “He played with a very talented Penny Hardaway team this summer, and he’d give it up on the break and let ’em dunk. That’s just the way John is. He’s all about winning. It’s not about personal stuff. He could average a lot more than what he does.”
After switching to Team Penny midway through the summer, Petty finished out the Nike regular season by shooting 49 percent from three-point range. At the Peach Jam finals, he averaged 3.6 assists per game.
Hardaway — a former NBA star — told the Herald-Leader at that event that Petty was “a very unselfish player” who “does it all” on the court.
One of his talents could be especially useful to the Wildcats in 2017.
“We have him playing some point guard and being an assist man,” Doss said. “And he’s getting better and better. That’s what we want — somebody like a Magic Johnson that can come in and play 1, 2 or 3. Whatever the team needs.”
UK is targeting five-star recruit Trae Young as its primary point guard in the class of 2017, but the Cats likely will need help from someone else. Current ball-handlers Isaiah Briscoe, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk are all expected to go pro after this season, and senior Dominique Hawkins will be gone to graduation.
Young — or whoever UK lands as its 2017 point guard — can’t play 40 minutes every night, and the Cats’ other shooting guard targets — Hamidou Diallo and Lonnie Walker — aren’t known for running an offense.
Doss, one of Alabama’s most decorated high school coaches, said he had no doubts Petty could play the point in college.
“Without question,” he said. “Whoever gets him is going to have a coach on the floor. And he’s all about winning championships — that’s all he’s known here. That’s what he expects.”
Petty has a busy high school season ahead of him.
Mae Jemison (Ala.) is scheduled to play in the Marshall County Hoopfest in Western Kentucky in early December, as well as the City of Palms Classic in Florida and the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass. — three of the premier events in the country.
There’s no timetable for a college decision from Petty, who took an official visit to Alabama last month but has not yet scheduled one for UK.
Doss acknowledged that Petty often hears from home-state fans wanting to sway his decision, and he’s likely to get the same treatment from UK fans in Marshall County if he shows up at the Hoopfest still undecided in December.
“I think there are always people saying something to him,” Doss said. “They all want him to go to their school. If you’re good, there’s always going to be some pressure.
“But he and his mom will decide what’s best for him. It won’t be because of pressure from anybody else.”