Kentucky signee Shai Alexander feels love in first game in state

Kentucky signee Shai Alexander feels love in first game in state


Kentucky signee Shai Alexander feels love in first game in state


Dec 2, 2016; Paducah, KY, U.S.A: Prolific Prep Gary Trent Jr (2) drives against Hamilton Heights Christian guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander during the Marshall County Hoopfest that brings several top high school basketball teams together. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports. ORG XMIT: US 135777 Hoopfest 12/2/2016 [Via MerlinFTP Drop]

Hamilton Heights Christian guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander defends Prolific Prep’s Gary Trent Jr. (Photo: Jim Brown, USA TODAY Sports)

DRAFFENVILLE, Ky. — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander got a sense of what to look forward to as a Kentucky basketball player next season.

At the Marshall County (Ky.) Hoopfest, Alexander, a point guard for Hamilton Heights Christian Academy (Chattanooga, Tenn.) was playing his first game in the state following his signing during the early period.

The support from within the Big Blue Nation fan base was expected from Alexander, and those fans got what they expected from Alexander.

Playing against Prolific Prep’s (Napa, Calif.) wide array of Division I guards, Alexander scored 21 points and did not commit a turnover in a narrow 72-62 loss. It was Hamilton Heights’ second high-profile game in two nights after a win against Memphis East in an ESPN2 game the night before.

“Ever since I signed with Kentucky, I’ve had to get used to it,” Alexander said of the excitement he experienced at Hoopfest and elsewhere. “There’s a lot of fans.”

The wiry 6-foot-5 point guard showed off his athleticism in the win, getting to the rim at will and even knocking down a few mid-range jumpers to showcase his improvement with his shot.

After breaking off his commitment to join the University of Florida in favor of Kentucky, Alexander said he was sold after hearing coach John Calipari’s initial approach.

“He told me that Kentucky is not for everybody, and you’re going to have to be able to fight through a lot of adversity and a lot of distractions and compete every day,” Alexander said. “But you will get better and maximize your potential at Kentucky, and I feel like that’s what I want to do.”

He’s set to join a recruiting class already rated as one of the best — if not the best — in the country. But he’s not the lone point guard signed, as Quade Green from Philadelphia is just as highly heralded as Alexander. Green is ranked as the No. 4 point guard in the class and No. 24 player overall by the 247Sports Composite; Alexander is the No. 2 combo guard and No. 43 overall.

Alexander didn’t back off in saying that he’s a true point guard, though he does envision himself playing on the court with Green. He has plenty of confidence in Calipari to put him in the best spot.

“He said I’d be working with ball handlers and it would make it easier for me. He showed me how we could play together,” said Alexander, who added that he doesn’t mind Kentucky continuing to recruit guards.

Hamilton Heights head coach Zach Ferrell is also positive that his star point guard should stay at that position when he arrives in Lexington next year.

“He’s great with the ball in his hands. His composure is unbelievable,” Ferrell told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “He’s a great decision-maker. He loves to share the ball. He limits turnovers, and he’s great at making plays and finding other people.”

This is Alexander’s first year in the country, as the Hamilton, Ontario, native came to the United States for his senior season for better competition and to continue working on his game. Alexander spent the summer with the Canadian Senior National Team, playing on a team with several NBA players that won the silver medal at the FIBA Americas Championship.

He said the experience over the summer helped him realize what it took to be a pro, with his confidence level growing as he developed his game with Team Canada.

“It gave me a confidence level going against guys that are so much older than me, making it easier against my age,” he said. “A couple guys showed me some tricks on the court and were really professional off the court.”

The three starting guards at Kentucky — sophomore Isaiah Briscoe and freshmen DeAaron Fox and Malik Monk — are expected to bolt for the NBA following this season. That would leave the Wildcats with zero returning guards on scholarship next season, potentially opening the door for Alexander, as well as Green, to receive immediate playing time for Kentucky.

Coaches at Kentucky have told Alexander they want to see him continue improving his jump shot, with a focus also on battling through adversity and getting stronger.

“(Assistant coach Joel Justus) broke down the specifics about how they could get me better, where he sees me in the program and built a good relationship with me quickly,” Alexander said.

Kentucky was late in recruiting Alexander, but Calipari appears excited to have the long, athletic point guard join the Wildcats next season.

“I saw him play in the summer and I thought he was a pretty good player. Then he grew three inches and went and played for the national team,” Calipari said. “The national team brought out stuff that no one knew, and all of a sudden you’ve got a five-star guard that’s 6-5, 6-6, can make plays and can get in the lane. He can get in the lane like Isaiah Briscoe. He can guard and deflect balls.”


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