High School Basketball

Fifteen years after Chris Lofton, Bruce Pearl lands another top Kentucky senior

Justin Powell, a senior at North Oldham High School, committed to Auburn University on Friday.
Justin Powell, a senior at North Oldham High School, committed to Auburn University on Friday.

The top-ranked basketball player in Kentucky will play in the Southeastern Conference, but not for the Wildcats.

Justin Powell, a 6-foot-5 guard at North Oldham, tweeted his commitment to Auburn University and head coach Bruce Pearl on Friday. Powell, considered a four-star prospect and the 17th-best point guard in the country by ESPN, had reported offers from several schools, including Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Xavier.

The University of Kentucky was involved in Powell’s recruitment but had not offered the senior, who played last season at Montverde Academy in Florida before transferring back to Kentucky; he played at Trinity High School in Louisville during his sophomore season.

Powell told the Courier-Journal on Friday that he expected UK would offer at some point.

“I just wanted to get this over with, and Auburn is the place for me,” Powell told the newspaper.

Both 247Sports and Rivals have Powell rated as a three-star prospect. He’s considered a top-200 recruit by 247Sports, and is ranked as the top player in Kentucky’s class of 2020 by all three recruiting services.

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He’s not the first notable in-state player to commit to Pearl in lieu of holding out for a UK scholarship offer: Chris Lofton, a standout for Mason County High School, committed to Tennessee while Buzz Peterson was the Volunteers’ head coach. Peterson was fired after Lofton’s freshman season, and Lofton mulled a transfer to UK, Louisville or Cincinnati. Pearl was brought on as the Vols’ head coach in 2005 and he kept Lofton aboard; he went on to have an All-America career at Tennessee, and was the SEC Player of the Year in 2007.

“When he was at Tennessee, we were as good as anybody,” Pearl said of Lofton in 2017. “And that will never, ever change. He made history, and history mattered to Chris.”

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