Running up and down Court 4 at the Under Armour event here Friday night was a high school basketball recruit who surely elicited a double take from any unaware UK fans that might have wandered by.
Without the benefit of a roster, followers of the Wildcats might have questioned the reality of the situation. Playing on that court was, unmistakably, a 6-foot-2 version of Jamal Mashburn, one of the program’s greatest players, and a man who played his last game in a UK uniform 25 years ago.
“I do look exactly like him,” Jamal Mashburn Jr. acknowledged with a smile.
The high school sophomore said he hears it all the time.
“Especially back when he had the hair,” he added.
Mashburn Jr. — indeed the spitting image of his famous father — is now a highly touted recruit in his own right, a top-100 national prospect with several high-major scholarship offers.
His game is a bit different than his dad’s.
Mashburn Jr. is about six inches shorter and 70 or so pounds lighter than “Monster Mash,” who — under the tutelage of Rick Pitino — quickly helped bring UK out of the depths of probation and returned the program to the Final Four in its second year of postseason eligibility after scandal rocked the Cats in the late 1980s.
“He was a big part of Kentucky basketball,” Mashburn Jr. said of his father. “He basically put them (back) on the map. Every time he goes back down there, it’s crazy. His impact to Kentucky basketball is tremendous.”
The elder Mashburn started teaching his son the game early, and — though he doesn’t have his father’s size — Mashburn Jr. is a highly skilled player on the court.
He averaged 27.4 points per game as a sophomore for Gulliver Prep (Fla.) this past season, and he showed off his scoring ability here Friday night. He’s comfortable with the ball in his hands, changes speeds while staying within the game, and excelled at getting by defenders at the perimeter and then hitting shots from mid-range.
“I look at myself as a scorer, but I want to get better at getting my teammates involved, playing defense and just pushing the tempo — being the lead guard,” he said.
Mashburn Jr., who said he visits Lexington “quite a bit” since his mother’s side of the family still lives there, already has scholarship offers from Florida, Florida State, Miami and Harvard. Before Pitino lost his job at Louisville last fall, it looked as if the Cardinals would be the favorite in his recruitment.
He didn’t deny that Friday night, saying he still keeps in touch with Pitino, who has stayed in regular contact with Mashburn Jr.’s father ever since the two teamed up for so many victories together in Lexington.
With two years of high school still ahead of him, the younger Mashburn is in no rush to make a college decision. He does want to hear from the bluebloods of the sport.
“One of my goals is to play with the best in the nation,” he said. “Because, obviously, I want to be a pro. I want to hear from Duke, Kentucky, all the big name schools.”
He also wants to go his own way, even if he does hear from UK. His father wants the same, even if that means he won’t ultimately be a Wildcat.
“He’s hands off, because he wants the best for me,” Mashburn Jr. said. “He wants me to create my own path, and he wants me to create my own journey. So, whatever’s best for me, that’s good enough.”