Quade Green — UK’s point guard of the future — stood in the corner and caught a pass from fellow Wildcats signee Nick Richards during Tuesday’s McDonald’s All-American practice.
Green squared up and sank the three-pointer, but it’s not the Philadelphia native’s outside shot that has Coach John Calipari excited.
While the ball was still in the air, Green shouted, “Good pass, Nick!” to his teammate, words of encouragement for the five-star center he’ll share a court with at Kentucky next season.
A little earlier in the practice, another UK commitment — small forward Jarred Vanderbilt — made a nifty move on a defender and nailed a mid-range jumper.
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“That was smooth!” Green yelled at him.
A little later in the practice, Richards got the ball on the wing in a one-on-one drill against Mohamed Bamba — one of the best defenders in the country — and showed the slightest hesitation.
“Go to the bucket on him!” Green, standing nearby, yelled at Richards.
Richards did just that, slashing across the lane and scoring with a runner.
“And one!” Green yelled, hopping excitedly. “And one!”
Calipari is not only getting one of the best point guards in the country — and arguably the best passer in the entire 2017 recruiting class — next season. He’s also getting a floor general who brings a bundle of positivity to the basketball court.
“He doesn’t talk down to players,” said PJ Washington, the other UK commitment at this McDonald’s All-American Game. “He’s always trying to pick somebody up and make them better. That’s why everybody likes him. He’s going to be good for us.”
Green — generously listed at 6-1 — doesn’t have the size of other recent Calipari point guards, such as John Wall or Andrew Harrison. He doesn’t have the freakish speed or athleticism of De’Aaron Fox. And he’s not the how-did-he-do-that wizard with a basketball like Tyler Ulis.
But there’s no doubt he’s a leader on the court, and when he yelled above the din of the gym Tuesday — whether he was getting his teammates in defensive position or shouting out more words of encouragement — other players listened.
That’s just what Calipari wants.
“He wants me to come in there and do my job,” Green said. “That’s my job — being a leader, and being a vocal leader. … I bring that swagger with me. It’s business on the court, but we’re also going to have fun though. That’s the main thing: Have fun and take things personal.”
Don’t mistake Green’s positive attitude on the court and ear-to-ear smile off the court as a lack of edge. He’s got plenty of that.
When the ball is in play, that smiling face takes on the look of a bulldog about to bite. Green can’t get enough of the competition, whether it’s in a game situation — he averaged 21 points and eight assists, leading Neumann-Goretti to a state title this season — or a practice setting like Tuesday’s, the final prep for the McDonald’s Game on Wednesday night.
“He definitely plays with a chip on his shoulder,” said Bamba, the top uncommitted recruit in the country and one of Green’s teammates on the Nike circuit last summer. “It’s beyond him being the smallest guy on the court. It’s just where he’s from. He’s from the mean streets of Philly. This is kind of why we bond so much. I’m from Harlem. He’s from Philly. And basketball is our way out. And that’s how we play on the court.”
Green, who is also close friends with UK freshman Hamidou Diallo, has clearly endeared himself to his future teammates, and he has the skills and demeanor to step up as the team leader next season, depending on who leaves the current UK squad for early entry to the NBA.
Bamba — the No. 2 recruit in the country — is still weighing his own college decision. The opportunity to team up again with a guy like Green might be too good to pass up.
“You definitely want to go somewhere where people really care about you,” Bamba said. “That’s starting with the coach. And right after the coach is the players. He’s just a dude that I love being around.”
McDonald’s All-American Games
Girls: 5 p.m. (ESPN2)
Boys: 7 p.m. (ESPN)