“You have to do what is best for you. I love the kid. He wants to play at the top level and play a top-tier schedule nationally,” Merritt said. “Who knows? We may not even have basketball (in Washington because of COVID-19).
“He’s an old soul type of kid with his maturity. It’s hard losing him but he’s just a great kid. He is a killer. He’s got a great attitude and is so coachable. A lot of high school kids are scared to talk to their coach. He’s not scared to talk. He will take criticism. If you yell, he does not go into a shell. He just takes control of games and the best way to get him going is just tell him somebody else is better than him.”
Hickman averaged 17.3 points, 3.4 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game as a junior and also hit 38 percent from 3-point range. However, the most surprising statistic about him is that he led his team in blocked shots at 2.0 per game.
“You can’t score off the dribble and shoot jump shots because he has such great reaction,” Merritt said. “He blocks shots with his left hand because most shooters are right-handed. It’s unheard of for a 6-2 guy to lead his team in blocked shots. It’s just crazy.”
Merritt says Hickman’s athleticism is not limited to his shot-blocking ability. He’s also faster than he looks.
“I really didn’t know how fast he was until his sophomore year,” Merritt said. “He doesn’t look fast because he just glides. I make my kids run track their freshman and sophomore years, and he is really, really fast.”
What about offensively?
“He scores with ease, kind of like (Portland Trailblazer star) Damian Lillard. He can handle the ball, hit a pull-up. He got better at making guys better. From his freshman year to junior year, he really improved on that.”
Merritt doesn’t think the spotlight Hickman will have on him at Kentucky will overwhelm him, either.
“He is a humble kid. I am sure he will love it at Kentucky,” Merritt said. “He will be able to embrace everything about Kentucky. He wants to play in the NBA. Nobody was recruiting him as a freshman. He has been playing with a fire to get on the map since then and has not stopped working. He won’t stop working this year and he won’t stop when he gets to Kentucky. He’ll be great there at Kentucky and fit in perfectly.”