When five-star recruit Bam Adebayo informed John Calipari of his intention to sign with the University of Kentucky last November, the Wildcats’ coach had a simple message for his future player.
“You better ball,” Calipari told him.
That shouldn’t be a problem.
Adebayo — a 6-foot-9, 260-pound behemoth of a basketball prospect — is known in recruiting circles as one of the hardest-working, highest-motor players in the country.
The breadth of his game was on display at Monday’s practice for this week’s McDonald’s All-American Game.
Adebayo outmuscled other five-star post players for rebounds, ran the floor to block shots from behind, threw down alley-oop dunks with ferocity and showed off a shooting touch that extends to the three-point line.
One of his teammates Monday was fellow UK signee De’Aaron Fox, who is likely to be the Wildcats’ starting point guard next season and is clearly looking forward to playing alongside Adebayo.
When asked about the power forward’s game, Fox just smiled and covered his face.
“Aw, it’s ridiculous, man,” he said. “You throw it to the top of the glass, he’s going to go get it. He’s extremely skilled. … I’ve seen him since the eighth grade. He’s always been able to move well. Other than that, he’s just gotten bigger and more athletic.”
Adebayo has been a highly touted recruit for years now, but he spent much of his high school career playing against inferior competition back home in Washington, N.C.
He put up video-game stats, but the competitor in him wanted more.
Before his senior season, Adebayo transferred to High Point Christian Academy — about 200 miles away from home — in search of tougher opponents.
He’s the perfect personality to play at Kentucky, because he wants to be around other good players. He’s not stat hungry. He doesn’t care about that. He wants to win. That’s Bam.
Brandon Clifford, high school coach
It was a difficult adjustment at first. He missed his mother — “She’s like my other half,” he said. “She’s my backbone” — and went home to visit every weekend.
Once the basketball season started, he felt more at ease.
Adebayo averaged 18.9 points and 13.0 rebounds per game, led HPCA to a state runner-up finish and was named a finalist for the Morgan Wootten national player of the year award.
“Bam was phenomenal all year,” said his high school coach, Brandon Clifford. “He was dominant. And considering the level we played at — every game, everybody we played would double- or triple-team him — and he really worked to get those numbers.
“He was everything he was cracked up to be. Bam’s a great teammate. He’s a very easy kid to coach, because he wants to get better.”
He’s also exactly what the Wildcats were missing this season: a punishing post player to make life difficult for opponents on both sides of the ball.
Some frontcourt players that dominate the high school level come to college with questions about how quickly they can adapt to a more physical style of play.
Adebayo should be fine from the start.
“He’s a monster,” Clifford said. “He’s so athletic, and his fast-twitch muscles are so advanced — in the high school game, a guy like that has to be careful, because he’s so much stronger than everybody else. He touches somebody, it looks like he shoots them in the chest with a 12-gauge. But at the college level, he’s really going to be able to be physical. And I’m sure Coach Cal sees that.
“When he’s using swim moves and stuff to get around box-outs and pursue rebounds in high school, he might pick up a foul. In the college game, that’s what’s expected. So he’s really going to be able to cut loose.”
Clifford said Adebayo cares about winning above all else and told the story of HPCA’s victory over Duke signee Jayson Tatum and Chaminade (Mo.) during the season. In that game, Adebayo scored seven points and grabbed three rebounds — his worst statistical game of the year — but his team earned the victory.
He was the happiest guy in the locker room.
“He’s not going to come in with a sense of entitlement,” he said. “He’s excited about the work. He’s excited about getting in there and grinding. And he hasn’t even thought twice about who’s going and who’s staying. He knows who he is, and he’s going to go in there and love his teammates and have fun.
“He’s the perfect personality to play at Kentucky, because he wants to be around other good players. He’s not stat hungry. He doesn’t care about that. He wants to win. That’s Bam.”
Off the court, he’s a giant cut-up, smiling and joking around with his teammates with the same exuberance he shows when throwing down dunks and blocking shots.
UK fans who spotted Adebayo behind the Wildcats’ bench for the regular-season finale against Louisiana State might have noticed it. While many recruits sit stoically or scroll through their phones in a too-cool-for-this manner while sitting in those front-row seats, Adebayo was jumping up, excitedly cheering and clapping like a kid in the student section.
Clifford laughed, but was unsurprised by his player’s reaction to seeing a live game in Rupp. “That’s him, man,” he said. “The moment that kid told Coach Cal, ‘I’m a Kentucky Wildcat,’ it was as if he grew up in Frankfort or something.”
Adebayo acknowledged he was just excited to be there.
“That’s just me,” Adebayo said. “I just like seeing my team do well. So if I’m out there and they’re having fun, I’m going to cheer. It’s just my personality. That’s my team for life.”
It’s been all fun and games so far for Adebayo and Kentucky. He’s enjoyed the recruiting process with Calipari and getting to know his future teammates at events like the McDonald’s Game.
In a few months, things get serious, and Adebayo knows much is expected of him as soon as he puts on that UK jersey.
Calipari told him he better ball. Bam’s confident he will.
“I don’t really feel pressure,” he said. “When you have a lot of expectations, you just have to live up to them. And if you don’t live up to them, you’ll just be another player that didn’t do what people wanted them to do.
“So I’m looking to go in there and do what I do. And hopefully it’ll be what they want.”
McDonald’s All-American Games
Where: United Center in Chicago
Girls: 6:30 p.m. EDT (ESPNU)
Boys: 9 p.m. EDT (ESPN)
Kentucky connections: UK signees Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Malik Monk play in the boys’ game. UK signee Lindsey Corsaro and Kentucky Miss Basketball Erin Boley of Elizabethtown play in the girls’ game.