The 44th annual edition of the Kentucky Derby Festival Basketball Classic featured future Louisville and Kentucky recruits last weekend at Freedom Hall. The lights were bright and the stage was set for the star-studded event that included some of the finest basketball talent around the nation.
Louisville fans came out to see their entire 2017 recruiting class that included Darius Perry, Malik Williams, Lance Thomas and Jordan Nwora.
Not far up the road are the citizens of Big Blue Nation. There were a few spots of blue in the crowd as Kentucky fans came to see their newest Wildcat, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Gilgeous-Alexander, who is a 6-foot-5 point guard from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, is ranked No. 32 in the ESPN100. He was welcomed with boos from a crowd heavily populated with Louisville fans. He embraced it with a smile as he got his first taste of the rivalry between red and blue all the way to winning the three-point shootout event and award for Most Valuable Player in the game.
“I got to win a couple of awards as they were booing me,” he said after the game. “But it was crazy fun. I recommend it to a lot of players coming up. It is definitely something I will never forget. Stuff like this helps you create new relationships with people and be a better person.”
On the Louisville side, it was the first time all four players were able to come together and play as one before they take the court as Cardinals.
Lance Thomas, who is a 6-foot-10 power forward from Norcross, Georgia, has had a relationship with Darius Perry since the two were young. He calls him his “brother” and a “superstar.” When asked his thoughts on the potential to play on a national championship contender next season, he said, “It means a lot because the freshman will be able to see and gain experience that a lot of players don’t, which is championship practices and championship games. Even in losing, there will be a lot of things that I can learn from.”
Perry, who is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Marietta, Georgia, is ranked 51st in the ESPN100. He dazzled the crowd with his performance, showing positive signs as he prepares to join forces with Quentin Snider in Louisville’s backcourt next season.
“It was great to be able to be here in front of these fans and get their support. It was a blessing and I can’t wait to get back in front of them when the season comes. I learned that Malik, Lance and Jordan are great guys and guys I want to be around all the time, every day. They’re hard workers. They know when to play and they know when not to play, and when it gets down to it, they are probably the group of guys I am going to talk to forever. They are like brothers and I can’t wait to get to play alongside them.”
Jordan Nwora, from Saxtons River, Vermont, participated in the Jordan Brand Classic game and missed the first two days of the Derby Classic. But when he arrived, it didn’t take him long to mesh right in with his future teammates. The 6-foot-8 small forward is ranked No. 87 in ESPN100.
“I haven’t seen a lot of these guys, and this was my first time seeing them. I’ve played against Darius before and I played against Lance, but I had never seen Malik before. So it was good to come down here and play with those guys. I think everybody is really solid. Darius, Lance and Malik are all great players, and next year, we’ll be able to shine on the highest level.”
To round out the bunch is Louisville’s highest rated recruit. Malik Williams, standing tall at 7-foot-0 is from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and is ranked No. 29 in the ESPN100. He says it was a nice experience to be able to play before the fans and with his future teammates.
“Off the court, we link really good right now. That will build together on the court once we get to play together more. Darius controls the ball and is a good point guard. Jordan is a great shooter and Lance is an all-around player. All of them are great.”
Louisville is one of three teams with the best odds to win a national championship next year. Of course, that is if Louisville star, Donovan Mitchell — who played in the Derby event three years ago — returns for his junior season. He was at the game last weekend, and I’m sure Cardinal fans were hopeful Mitchell’s presence was a sign that he will return. But time will tell.
When Williams was asked what he expects next season if Donovan returns, he said, “We’ll be No. 1 in the nation and win it all.”
It seems the 2017 recruiting class for Louisville and Kentucky bring tremendous promise and have significant expectation for what will be an entertaining 2017 college basketball season. VT