UK Men's Basketball

‘Awesome’ visit from Calipari the latest move in UK’s recruitment of in-state star

University Heights star KyKy Tandy is one of the top basketball players in the state.
University Heights star KyKy Tandy is one of the top basketball players in the state. cbertram@herald-leader.com

After hosting University Heights basketball star KyKy Tandy for a recruiting visit late last month, UK’s coaches let him know that they’d like to see him on the court sometime soon.

Conflicts with their own schedule prevented the Cats from checking out Tandy through the first two games of the 2nd Region Tournament, but — the coaches said — if University Heights made it to the region finals, someone from UK would be there.

Tandy and the Blazers did just that, rolling over Hopkins Central and Union County last week to earn a matchup with Christian County, a trip to the Sweet Sixteen in Rupp Arena on the line.

The someone from UK’s staff who was expected to be in Henderson County to see Tandy play for a region title was assistant coach Joel Justus, and he was there in the stands Monday night.

The unexpected guest was John Calipari, who reached out to the UHA staff earlier Monday and said he’d also be there to watch the 6-foot-1 shooting guard.

“I thought that was great — to give us a heads up,” UHA Coach Grant Shouse told the Herald-Leader on Tuesday morning. “He said he didn’t want to distract KyKy, just to tell him to relax and have fun and not to worry about him.

“It was pretty awesome to have him come in. It creates such a buzz in the gym.”

What did Tandy say when he heard Coach Cal was coming?

“Well, we actually sat on it,” Shouse said. “I think he saw it on social media that he was going to be there, so I think he knew. But we decided just to kind of let him see for himself. … And I think he handled it great. I didn’t think he tried to do too much. He stayed well within himself. I was happy to see — not only him perform well — but the team play well and it be such an entertaining game.”

Tandy scored 33 points, University Heights won 78-70, and the Blazers will be on the Rupp Arena court next Thursday — their first trip to the state tournament in 10 years.

A nationally ranked recruit in the junior class with scholarship offers from Florida, Tennessee, Cincinnati and others, Tandy has obviously been a big part of UHA’s successful season.

He entered the region tournament averaging 30.5 points per game and making 45 percent of his three-point shots. When the Blazers need a bucket, he’s their guy.

“He’s a great ball handler, first and foremost. Very quick with the ball. Real strong with the ball,” Shouse said. “He can get to the basket and finish with either hand. He’s a great athlete. He can really elevate on his jump shot, and he can really score at all three levels. He’s so efficient. He just makes shots. He can do it within the offense, and he can also get baskets on his own.

“We’ve kind of given him the green light — if we don’t get something in a couple possessions, he pretty much goes and gets us a basket.”

The most impressive stat on Tandy’s season line is probably his field-goal percentage. Heading into the region tourney, he was making 61.3 percent of his shots — a notably high number for a 6-1 guard. He’s managed to average 30 points per game on a little less than 13 shots per contest.

“And he’s been a willing passer,” Shouse said. “When you see a guy average that many points, I think people think it takes a ton of shots for him to do it. But, in his case, his efficiency and his willingness to give the ball up when people run at him or people double him has really taken our team to another level.”

His scoring ability has attracted UK’s interest in recent weeks. The Wildcats invited him to Rupp for their game against Missouri a day after Tandy scored 43 points in the district title game.

Right now, he’s the No. 150 overall recruit in the 2019 class, according to the 247Sports composite ranking — quite low for the type of player Calipari usually recruits — but Shouse said he expects Tandy’s ranking to go up in the coming months, and the UK coach has also shown a willingness to venture outside five-star territory for an in-state player (like Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis).

Obviously, there’s interest in the Cats on Tandy’s end.

“Kentucky’s Kentucky. All of us in the state obviously look up to that program and look up to him as a coach,” Shouse said. “It was just really cool to see him there watching one of our own.

“They are just kind of letting us know that they’re interested and they’re going to come check him out more and more and start to develop that relationship.”

Tandy will play his spring/summer ball with Team Thad on the Under Armour circuit — he’ll surely draw more attention from UK and others along the way — and he’ll then have another high school season after that.

The Cats have taken things slow when it’s come to offering in-state recruits in the past. Hawkins didn’t get one until after his senior season. UK asked Paul Laurence Dunbar star Taveion Hollingsworth to wait until the spring last season, and he ended up signing with Western Kentucky in the early period.

Shouse said the question of how long Tandy would be willing to wait on a UK offer would be one for the star player to answer. It sounds like there’s no rush quite yet.

“I think he’s got some time,” he said. “I think he’s just kind of taking it all in and letting things play out. I don’t think he’s in a huge hurry right now.”

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