A scholarship offer to play basketball for Kentucky wasn’t necessary to get four-star recruit Xavier Tillman on campus.
That the UK coaching staff was interested was enough to warrant a trip to Lexington.
“They’re just so high-major,” Tillman said last week, from the NBPA Top 100 Camp in Virginia. “They’re always that top team. If they ever give you interest, it’s like you have to go there, just to see it.”
Tillman has liked what he has seen of Kentucky, and UK’s coaches apparently like what they’ve seen from Tillman, who visited Lexington last fall and again earlier this month.
While the 6-foot-8 power forward from Grand Rapids was competing at the Top 100 Camp, he said his father received a midweek phone call from UK assistant Kenny Payne. The conversation included a scholarship offer to play for the Wildcats.
“It took a lot of weight off my shoulders,” Tillman said. “I was working real hard to get them. I was like, ‘Those guys are going to make sure that I make it to the NBA.’ When I heard that they offered me, I was just geeked.”
Tillman isn’t projected as a one-and-done talent — ESPN ranks him No. 42 in the class of 2017, and scout.com considers him a three-star prospect — but he is the type of team-first player who could benefit any program.
A strong, physical, 230-pounder, Tillman averaged 15.5 points and 9.7 rebounds per game for Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central as a sophomore last season. He described himself as a high-IQ post player who blocks shots and deflects balls on defense, finds the open man on offense and cares about winning above all else.
But just because he’s a team player doesn’t mean he’s not concerned with his own future.
Tillman is well aware of the big men that Calipari has put in the NBA, and he knows that four more former UK post players will hear their names called during Thursday night’s draft.
“They told me flat out: ‘If you come here, we can get you to the league. We’ll prepare you. We’ll work your butt off, so you can make it to the big time,'” Tillman said.
“My goal is to make it to the NBA, and if you can do it with somebody who plays my position, why can’t you do it with me? That’s a big factor.”
College coaches were allowed to start calling players from the class of 2017 at midnight June 15, and Tillman was a popular guy that night.
He said he turned off the ringer on his phone so he could avoid the deluge of late-night calls. The ensuing voicemails included coaches from UK, Florida, Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and several others.
Purdue was the first program to extend a scholarship offer, and Tillman spoke highly of the Boilermakers. He also mentioned Michigan State, Ohio State, Xavier and Iowa as schools that have offered.
Pleased as he was with the offer from Kentucky, it certainly won’t be the end of Tillman’s recruitment. He has two more years of high school remaining, and he’s all ears to anyone else who’d like to jump in the mix.
“Anybody who’s interested in me, I have interest in them,” he said. “If you have interest, I’ll be willing to answer the phone and have a meaningful conversation with you.”