UK Men's Basketball

LSU guard Hickey, Kentucky's Mr. Basketball, has brushed aside UK's recruiting snub

LSU guard Anthony Hickey leads the SEC in steals and ranks third in assist-to-turnover ratio.
LSU guard Anthony Hickey leads the SEC in steals and ranks third in assist-to-turnover ratio. ASSOCIATED PRESS

When she was pregnant with the baby who would become LSU's freshman point guard this season, Monica Moore kept going into premature labor. Doctors prescribed medication in hopes of extending the pregnancy to full term.

"There was no stopping him," Moore recalled this week. "He was determined to be here. He had something to do."

Moore considers Anthony Hickey her "Miracle Child." Being born two months premature, he needed heroic, if not miraculous, efforts to survive.

Hickey's lungs were not developed. Shortly after being born weighing 3 pounds, 7 ounces, he was rushed from Hopkinsville to a better-equipped hospital in Madisonville.

"The doctors said, 'You can touch him,'" Moore said. "But they were going to take him right on.

"I thought he was going to pass away."

Hickey's father, also named Anthony Hickey, remembered the sinking feeling of seeing his newborn son struggling to live.

"I was on pins and needles," the elder Hickey said. "All those hoses and tubes. You don't want to see your child like that."

Hickey remained in the hospital for almost a month. On one visit, his parents got stuck on an elevator, and had to climb out of the top to get off.

"Oh my goodness, what else can go wrong?" the elder Hickey said he thought.

Then thinking of his son, he added, "He's always been (about) adversity."

Hickey's next encounter with adversity comes Saturday in the form of No. 1 Kentucky. "My hometown team," he called the Cats.

LSU's game with Kentucky carries an obvious subplot. Though named Kentucky's Mr. Basketball and the Sweet 16's Most Valuable Player after leading Christian County to the state championship, Hickey was not recruited by UK or Louisville.

"A touchy situation," said the elder Hickey, who coaches the girls' basketball team at Christian County High. "The No. 1 kid in the state. How can you have two prestigious universities not recruit him? That should be automatic."

Hickey sought solace and answers from his mother.

"He was mad," Moore said. " 'Momma, how come they won't recruit me?'

"You're short," she told her son. "But you play big. Everything will work out for the best."

Although listed at 5-foot-11 and 182 pounds, Hickey became the first LSU freshman to start at point guard in the opening game since Torris Bright in 2000. He goes into Saturday's game leading the Southeastern Conference in steals (2.3 per game). He ranks third in assist-to-turnover ratio and seventh in assists (3.9 per game). He's performed better since league play began: 25 assists and only 11 turnovers in six games, 50.9 percent shooting, 14-for-28 accuracy from three-point range and 12.7-point scoring average.

Everything has worked out for the best.

"I had a chip on my shoulder," Hickey said when asked about UK's lack of recruiting interest. "But I brushed it off."

Kentucky filled its point guard needs with highly regarded Marquis Teague.

"I've got to play my basketball game," Hickey said of facing Kentucky this weekend. "I can't worry about chips anymore."

His parents, extended family and former high school friends plan to make the 10-hour drive from Hopkinsville to Baton Rouge for the game. His mother will be the woman wearing the LSU jersey with his No. 1. One of his sisters, Coursheka, will be the person who shows appreciation for his defensive intensity by yelling, "Sticky Hickey."

LSU Coach Trent Johnson downplayed the notion that the mix of UK's lack of recruiting interest and No. 1 ranking might require him to speak to Hickey before the game.

"I haven't, and I don't know I will," Johnson said. "This is an emotional game. I'd rather he be in a situation I have to slow him down rather than have to speed him up."

His parents said Hickey has seldom needed speeding up. When he'd complain about not being taller and stronger, his father offered telling advise.

"I always told him you've got to work harder than everybody else," said the elder Hickey, who ran 6 a.m. workouts for his son.

"You can't knock his will," the father said.

Kerry Stovall, who coached the Christian County basketball team, noted how Hickey has shown no fear as an LSU freshman.

Johnson said he never had a concern about Hickey's size. Another question nagged the LSU coach during the recruiting process.

"Can he play with courage and confidence on this level?" Johnson said.

Hickey steadily convinced the LSU coach he could. He played well in summer pickup games involving former LSU players. Then he more than held his own in pre-season exhibitions and early-season games. "He's for real," Johnson said.

Then Hickey's production improved in SEC play.

"What he's done in the league proves he can deal with coaching (and) structure," the LSU coach said. "He's playing at a high level against good players."

Hickey's play has also breathed life into his mother's reassuring words. When he'd fret as a child about not being bigger, his mother spoke of God's will and how big things can come in small packages.

"David and Goliath," Moore said she told her son. "God is going to let you cut down some tall trees."

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