CARTERSVILLE, Ga. – For a least a little while longer, father and son got to enjoy the moment together.
R.J. Hampton, the No.2-ranked player in the Chosen 25 for the class of 2020, and his Mudiay Elite teammates had just finished their final game at the Under Armour Challenge, a three-point win over 6th Man Warriors.
An Under Armour videographer followed RJ’s every step from Court 1 to the lobby where R.J.’s father and coach, Roderick Hampton, gathered the team under a staircase. Another cameraman followed Roderick as he provided an animated breakdown of the game.
It wasn’t R.J., after 24 points, six assists, five steals and one turnover, who earned first mention in the postgame team talk. His less-heralded teammates were the first to earn Roderick’s praise, but it’s the Hampton family the cameras were there to see.
And there was no shortage of questions for father and son to answer about R.J.’s high-profile recruitment as soon as the team meeting finished.
“There’s three things: We’ve got to look at (ending) AAU in July, we’ve got to look at reclassifying and we have to look at the draft, if they change that rule,” Roderick said. “So that’s why we don’t want to make a hasty decision. We do this and this happens, and it negates what we’re doing. So we’ve kind of got to let it play out. … I want some of these things to unfold.”
For now, the 6-foot-5 R.J. is one of the most sought-after recruits in the class of 2020, ranked No. 4 overall and the No. 1 combo guard in the class by 247Sports’ composite ranking, which averages the three major recruiting services.
Texas, Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, Memphis and North Carolina are among the programs recruiting him hardest, R.J. said.
UK has not offered a scholarship yet, but John Calipari has only offered two 2020 prospects and tends to wait to offer younger recruits due to the turnover on his roster each season.
“It’s a great program,” R.J. said of Kentucky, noting assistant coaches Joel Justus and Tony Barbee are in frequent contact and he expects a call from Calipari soon. “I know a lot of people don’t like it and they don’t think it’s good for college basketball – I think that’s why people are changing the (one-and-done) rule – but I like the Kentucky program. I’ve had a bunch of people that I’m close with go there.”
Current UK sophomore PJ Washington and former Wildcat De’Aaron Fox have advised R.J. of what he might expect in Lexington, but he stressed neither friend has placed pressure on him to follow in their footsteps.
“I just like the way they do things,” Roderick said of UK. “They hold their guys accountable, they play hard and they play big guards. You go there and Cal is going to get the best out of you. …
“He likes Kentucky, but he also likes some other schools too. (The decision) is going to be the best fit, but it’s definitely a school we’re looking at.”
The decision facing the Hampton family is not as simple as which college to attend.
Among the commission on college basketball’s most ardent suggestions amid an FBI investigation into the sport was pushing the NBA to end the one-and-done rule and allow top recruits to start their professional careers out of high school again. NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently confirmed the league was moving toward abolishing that rule, but it appears unlikely a rule change would go into effect before the 2021 draft.
“If they do decide to change the rule in 2020 to go straight out to the league I wouldn’t be opposed to it because that’s my goal and that’s my dream,” RJ said. “But at the same time, they haven’t changed the rule yet. So I’m focused 100 percent (on) college.”
RJ, who has already turned 17, is one of a growing number of top-level basketball recruits considering reclassifying to graduate a year earlier than originally planned. He would need to take two additional classes in the next year to graduate in 2019, his father said.
“I’ve got to sit down with his mom, his counselor, just people we trust and see the ins and outs of it,” Roderick said. “Then it depends on really what school. You don’t want to go in and it’s a logjam of guys there. If we reclass, we’re going somewhere to play.
“But that’s just an option. I don’t want people to say we’re guaranteed to do it, but it is an option we’re going to visit.”
Roderick has coached RJ for most of his life, as he does now with the Under Armour-affiliated Mudiay Elite program, but the NCAA is reportedly moving toward eliminating the current July evaluation period in favor of running its own camps where college coaches would nominate prospects to attend. Coaches at those camps would come from the high school, Division I, Division II and NBA ranks.
“I love coaching my son,” Roderick said. “I know when he goes to college that’s a wrap, and I want to hold onto him as long as I can. So if the NCAA changes this July period, I’m going to coach peewee basketball. Then they’ll change that.
“It’s a dream to coach your son, and I can coach him hard. I want to keep that going.”
A foot injury will slow R.J. for the rest of the summer, but after leading the Under Armour circuit in scoring (24.6 points per game) during the spring sessions then ranking third in assists per game (5.2) at the Challenge, he has already caught the attention of many of the top programs in the country.
By the end of the summer, the family hopes to have a list of five to eight teams still to consider. The decisions about reclassifying, the 2019 AAU circuit and any NBA draft considerations will follow.
But Saturday was about enjoying the father-son, coach-player relationship a little longer.
“I just admire his heart,” Roderick said. “Schools are calling, schools are getting involved. All these schools are finishing their 2019 recruiting, so now it’s turned to us. We’re going to embrace it. As much as they’re recruiting him, we’re going to recruit them.”