UK Men's Basketball

Kevin Durant’s decision resonates with top recruits

Golden State Warriors’ newcomer Kevin Durant, center, joins head coach Steve Kerr, left, and general manager Bob Myers during a news conference at the team’s practice facility last week.
Golden State Warriors’ newcomer Kevin Durant, center, joins head coach Steve Kerr, left, and general manager Bob Myers during a news conference at the team’s practice facility last week. AP

The past few days in the basketball world have been dominated by the discussion of NBA superstar Kevin Durant’s move from Oklahoma City to Golden State, a decision by one of the game’s greatest players to leave his role as the leader of a successful franchise for what is perceived to be a better shot at winning an NBA championship.

Several of the nation’s top high school recruits spoke to the Herald-Leader over the past few days about Durant’s decision. Some saw similarities between the acceptance of NBA superstars to switch teams and their own AAU and high school decisions. Some compared Durant’s willingness to team up with top stars like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to recruits’ eagerness to play college ball with other five-star prospects.

All of the high schoolers said the four-time scoring champ made the right choice.

The news hit closest to home for top UK point guard target Trae Young, who lives 15 minutes away from Durant and described the NBA star as a “role model” who has offered encouragement through the early stages of his basketball life.

“I know Kevin, so I was just very supportive,” Young said. “I know it was a tough decision for him to leave OKC. But I was very happy for him.”

Young had a similar choice to make this summer, a decision over whether to stay at his high school in Norman, Okla., or move to a national powerhouse like Montverde Academy (Fla.) or Findlay Prep (Nev.) to seek out better competition.

The five-star point guard decided to stay home for his senior year, but he’ll be faced with the same decision in a few months. Many recruiting analysts expect his college choice to come down to this: Go to Oklahoma and be the face of the program, or pick UK and join several other highly touted recruits.

“I see it both ways,” he said. “I see going to a blue blood, where you’re on that stage and you’re coming behind a bunch of greats at your position. But I can also see myself staying home and representing the 405 and where I grew up at.

“But, it’s a long time from now.”

It actually won’t be long before it’s time for that decision, one that many of the nation’s top prospects will be faced with and that some are already making.

Durant obviously isn’t the first megastar to switch NBA allegiances — LeBron James’ “Decision” still resonates with recruits and heightened the “package deal” talk among the nation’s top high school players — and those team-ups are often seen before prospects even make it to college.

UK point guard target Quade Green jumped to the Nike circuit this spring, joining top-five recruit Mohamed Bamba and others to form what became arguably the best travel team in the country. Another UK target, John Petty, wasn’t comfortable with his Nike team at the start of the spring, so he joined Team Penny (and fellow five-star recruit P.J. Washington) in what turned out to be a wildly successful combination.

“It’s kind of how like AAU teams are,” said Jarred Vanderbilt of Durant’s decision. “There’s usually one good guy on the team, and then a lot of guys come together to play with another superstar.”

Another similarity: The hate heaped upon Durant by those who disagreed with his move is not unlike the social-media backlash many high-profile recruits are subjected to when they spurn other schools for the college of their choice.

“I think people were overdoing it a little bit,” said Hamidou Diallo, the nation’s top shooting guard. “He’s human, as well, and humans make changes. He just made a change to better himself, that’s how I see it.”

There was some disagreement on what this all means for Durant’s legacy.

Top-10 recruit Kevin Knox, who counts Durant as his favorite player, said KD would be a Hall of Famer “even if he retires tomorrow,” and whatever he does with the Warriors — “Hopefully, he gets a ring,” he said — will only add to his résumé.

Vanderbilt understood the narrative that joining Curry and company makes for an easier path to a title. “I think it diminishes it a little bit,” he said.

The 17-year-old recruit was also quick to note that all the top college programs — UK and Duke, specifically — try to do every year what the Warriors are doing now.

“Everybody tries to get on one team,” he said. “But, hey, that gets the job done.”

Ben Roberts: 859-231-3216, @NextCats

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