UK Recruiting

‘Dream school’ designation has been a nightmare for UK. This one could be different.

The phrase “dream school” has become something of a jinx in the realm of UK basketball recruiting.

In the past year alone, two major Kentucky targets — Jaden McDaniels and Jalen Johnson — have spoken about how UK was their “dream school” growing up, only to turn down scholarship offers from the Wildcats in order to play their college basketball elsewhere.

It’s quickly become a phrase that’s met with skepticism from fans — for good reason — but it also sounds a little different when five-star recruit Brandon Huntley-Hatfield says it, for good reason.

The 6-foot-9, 224-pound power forward — still just 16 years old — was one of the first recruits from the 2022 class to get a visit from UK assistant coach Joel Justus this fall, and he was effusive in his appreciation for the early attention.

Huntley-Hatfield — like many young basketball prospects — grew up rooting for the Wildcats and has long dreamed of playing for Kentucky, but his background is more intertwined with UK’s program.

Not only does Huntley-Hatfield come from the same hometown — Clarksville, Tenn. — as former UK forward Alex Poythress, but he’s actually known Poythress from a young age. Huntley-Hatfield’s grandmother is Poythress’s godmother, and the 16-year-old recruit has found a mentor of sorts in the 26-year-old pro.

That connection has also expedited UK’s interest in his recruitment.

“He told me that they were talking about me to him. And showing interest and stuff,” Huntley-Hatfield told the Herald-Leader. “That really was mind-blowing to me — that they’re talking to a former player of theirs about an upcoming player like me. He’s telling me what they like about me, and how they feel like I could be really, really good.”

He’s already a standout player in his age group, with the potential to be a future pro.

247Sports ranks Huntley-Hatfield as the No. 6 overall prospect in the 2022 class, and he was among the biggest, strongest players in his age group at this past weekend’s USA Basketball minicamp in Colorado Springs.

He’s got some pretty impressive physical tools,” said 247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels. “He’s already a strong kid with a developed frame. But he’s also a good athlete. He rim-runs. He’s versatile. This is a guy that I think could be a really good rebounder. He’s effective offensively — not only around the basket, but he also has the ability to step out on the floor and make catch-and-shoot jump shots.”

This past summer, Huntley-Hatfield averaged 13.2 points and 5.0 rebounds on the Under Armour circuit, making 41 percent of his three-point attempts.

Daniels sees enormous potential in Huntley-Hatfield as an inside-out power forward, and he said his hope is that the young recruit continues to develop his post game as a means to open up more opportunities away from the basket. “There’s not a lot of guys that have that ability to step out and do some of the things he can,” Daniels said.

Huntley-Hatfield described himself as a “long, versatile ‘4’ man” with an all-around game. “I’m trying to do it all,” he said.

UK connection

Kentucky obviously sees great promise in his game early on. The Wildcats aren’t yet seriously recruiting many players from the 2022 class — those prospects have three more years of high school — but Huntley-Hatfield is one of the few.

He’ll be in Lexington on Dec. 28 for the UK-Louisville game.

“Being my dream school growing up … for them to have interest in me, I’m really blessed,” he said. “I feel like Kentucky has played a really big role in players’ development in the NBA. They’ve got a lot of guys to the league. And I know a lot of schools can do that, but I just feel like Kentucky is one of those powerhouses. And I feel like I want to be a part of that.

“Kentucky has always been my number one school growing up.”

Huntley-Hatfield also said he’ll be leaning on Poythress for guidance over the next few years.

The young recruit recalled watching the former Wildcat play in high school and said Poythress has been giving him advice since Huntley-Hatfield was a middle-schooler.

“We keep in contact,” he said. “He gives me tips on how to do this and that on the court. How to be off the court. … Just giving me tips on how to be a better person and a better basketball player.”

Poythress is the only five-star recruit in the John Calipari era to stay at Kentucky for four seasons, so he would presumably know as much about the UK program as any player over the last decade. For the Cats’ recruiting efforts, that could be beneficial.

“Since he’s been in my position and he’s been in the position where I want to be at — he’s been to the league and been to D-1, at the school that I want to go to; or the school that growing up I wanted to go to — he paved the way,” Huntley-Hatfield said. “And he’s given me the blueprint, so I just have to follow that.”

Ben Roberts covers UK basketball, football and other sports for the Lexington Herald-Leader and has specialized in UK basketball recruiting for the past several years. He also maintains the Next Cats recruiting blog, which features the latest news on the Wildcats’ recruiting efforts.
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