UK Men's Basketball

Mr. Basketball Justice pondering UK's pitch

Kentucky Mr. Basketball Elisha Justice believed he'd settled his athletic future in October when he committed to Louisville. Then UK Coach John Calipari called Thursday night.

"I didn't really expect that," Justice said Friday of Calipari's 11th-hour expression of interest.

The UK coach did not offer a scholarship to Justice, who led Shelby Valley High to the state championship last month. Then again, Calipari did not rule out a scholarship offer, either.

"He was just telling me how he expects to have a lot of guys leaving," Justice said. "It was going to open up a lot of scholarships. He'd watched a lot of game film. I was what he was looking for."

According to Shelby Valley Coach Jason Booher, Calipari noted under what condition he'd consider the possibility of a scholarship offer.

"He told him he'd be willing to talk scholarship if you're willing to de-commit to Louisville," Booher said.

Apparently, Justice had his own pre-conditions before more serious discussions could ensue.

"The only way Elisha would be willing to go to Kentucky, I'd say, is if it's on a full four-year scholarship," Booher said.

Since all scholarships are binding for only one year, such a guarantee cannot be made. But that desire for a four-year commitment from UK speaks, in part, to the bond Justice feels with Louisville.

"Right now, it's Louisville," Justice said of his basketball future. "I love it up there. That's where I'm going."

The desire for a four-year commitment also speaks to how several scholarship players left Kentucky after Calipari arrived. When it was noted that schools are obligated to honor scholarships for only one year at a time, Booher said, "We found that out this year with Kentucky. It's a one-year deal."

After learning of Kentucky's belated interest in Justice, U of L assistant coach Walter McCarty called Booher later Thursday night, the Shelby Valley coach said. "I told him, Elisha is still committed to you all," Booher said.

Justice, a 5-foot-10 point guard, averaged 20.1 points and 5.9 assists this season. He set a state record for career steals with 540. He also finished his career with 2,086 points and 633 assists.

Justice and Booher suggested several factors led the player to remain committed to Louisville.

"I feel it's a better fit at Louisville," said Justice, who noted U of L Coach Rick Pitino's willingness to play smaller guards and the playing style that included a zone defense.

Booher echoed that thought, saying Louisville pressed, then fell back into a 2-3 matchup zone.

"That's exactly what we played at Shelby Valley," he said. "Coach Calipari plays a man-to-man (defense) the entire game. It's a little harder for a guard 5-10 to stay on the floor for extended minutes."

Louisville sold Justice on him being the backup point guard to Peyton Siva next season. U of L "almost guaranteed" a scholarship if one becomes available next season, Booher said.

"Their coaching staff wants him to get there right away and enroll there this summer," the Shelby Valley coach said. "... That playing time means a lot, too."

Justice has noticed UK's recruiting efforts for other guards, including McDonald's All-Americans Brandon Knight and Josh Selby.

"That's another reason why Louisville would be a better fit," he said. "I'd have a better chance of coming in and playing."

Louisville has the advantage of showing greater interest and for a longer time. U of L began recruiting Justice after watching him play in Las Vegas last summer, Booher said. Pitino and his staff attended more than one of Shelby Valley's games this past season, the coach said.

When did UK begin showing interest? Justice chuckled and said, "Last night."

Still, Justice has not ruled out a switch to UK. He said he'd follow Calipari's advice to discuss the option with his parents.

"Any time Kentucky calls a Kentucky boy and wants to talk about a scholarship, you always have to listen," Booher said. "That's what Elisha's doing."

Justice, who acknowledged the pressure he feels from UK fans in his home area to play for UK, said he did not grow up dreaming of playing for the Wildcats.

"I always dreamed of just playing major college basketball," he said. "I've got that either way."