One of the state of Kentucky’s best basketball prospects in years, Dontaie Allen showed up in Lexington on Wednesday hoping to hear some good news.
Allen — a 6-foot-6 wing out of Pendleton County High School — didn’t let on that he was expecting a scholarship offer from the Kentucky Wildcats, but he was sure hoping for one.
When John Calipari informed Allen that he did indeed have an offer to play for the Cats, the 17-year-old gave the UK coach some good news in return.
Allen committed on the spot.
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“Kentucky has always been in his heart,” his father, Tony Thomas, told the Herald-Leader on Thursday. “We were going to keep the options open and just see where we landed at, but by going on the visit and sitting down and having a conversation with Coach Cal, it just felt right.”
Allen didn’t publicly announce his commitment to UK until Thursday afternoon, but Thomas said his son told Calipari he was all in before leaving the coach’s office Wednesday night.
That wasn’t the plan coming into this week.
Allen, who has picked up a slew of high-major scholarship offers this summer, had already scheduled a visit to Louisville — one of his recent offers — for next week, and Vanderbilt, West Virginia and Xavier were among the many others recruiting him hard and angling for official visits.
The UK offer was clearly the one he had been hoping for, however.
“I’ve been a fan my whole life,” Allen told the Herald-Leader over the weekend. “Growing up a Kentucky kid, you’ve gotta be a UK fan.”
He’s the Wildcats’ first in-state commitment since Madison Central standout Dominique Hawkins more than five years ago. Hawkins and Bullitt East star Derek Willis were both in that signing class of 2013, and no in-state high school players since then had landed a UK scholarship offer until Allen got his Wednesday night.
“It means a lot to him,” Thomas said. “He has a chance to do a lot of big things. He already has a great following — with his community being behind him — and this just means so much. A kid coming from Kentucky, being a Kentucky fan growing up. It just means a lot to him.”
Thomas said the family hadn’t discussed what Allen would do if he received the UK offer Wednesday — he, too, was expecting more recruiting visits in the near future — but, as the day unfolded, it was clear Lexington would be the place for his son.
They had visited a few weeks ago, but the current team wasn’t practicing then and Calipari wasn’t even in town that weekend.
On this trip, Allen and his family got a better sense of the atmosphere around the program — Thomas mentioned the large media contingent that was in the Joe Craft Center on Wednesday afternoon — and, most importantly, they got to see Calipari run a UK practice.
“Once we sat down and watched the practice — to see how they go through it and the competition that’s there at UK — it just pulled him in and he gravitated toward that,” Thomas said. “And then after practice, we sat down and talked to Coach Cal, got his expectations of the program. He gave us his vision of where he was at and what he likes to do, and Dontaie wanted to be a part of that.”
Thomas, an assistant coach with Allen’s M.A.T.T.S. Mustangs travel team, was also drawn in by Calipari’s on-court instruction.
“Just watching how he goes through practice — he teaches those guys and has a lot of knowledge — that was really inspiring,” he said. “Just seeing that, it was almost like the conversation shifted to where we just wanted to be part of that. We had seen the motivation and the inspiration through his teaching.”
So there wasn’t much selling for Calipari to do when he finally sat down with the family for the first time after practice.
The UK coach talked about what he liked in Allen’s game — his ability to score being at the top of that list — but also pointed out some areas of improvement for the young prospect and made clear there would be plenty of competition at Kentucky.
Thomas said his son gave an “almost instant” commitment when Calipari got around to sharing the news that he had a scholarship offer. Then it was the coach’s turn to smile.
“He was stoked, as well,” Allen’s father said of Calipari. “He believes Dontaie will do great things. We talked a lot about how nothing will be given to Dontaie. He’s going to have to work hard for everything in that program. And Dontaie is really excited about that. He’s ready to jump in.”
Allen averaged 31.8 points and 11.4 rebounds for Pendleton County as a junior this past season, shooting nearly 40 percent from three-point range. He was a standout player for the Mustangs on the travel circuit, rising to the No. 47 national ranking in the class of 2019, according to Rivals.com, and accumulating all of those scholarship offers along the way.
He’ll play one more high school season — UK fans from across the state will surely travel to see him — and then, this time next year, he’ll be preparing for his freshman season at the college of his dreams.
“He’s very humble about the opportunity that’s been given to him,” Thomas said. “He’s very blessed, and he’s just ready for the challenge. He’s glad he has Big Blue Nation behind him.”