By LARRY VAUGHT
There was only one fitting way for Kentucky signee Nolan Hickman Jr. to celebrate when he found out he had been named a McDonald’s All-American even if there is no all-star game again for him to play in this year.
Hickman, his teammates and his coach at Wasatch Academy (Utah) went to lunch at McDonald’s while his parents also went to McDonald’s and bought a Happy Meal for their youngest child.
“What else can you do?” said Nolan Hickman Sr. “But even without the game, it is still surreal to think your son is a McDonald’s All-American. As a fan and former player myself, my wife and I understand how big this is.
“Then I had a buddy of mine remind me that Nolan is just one of 900 players ever named a McDonald’s All-American. Knowing that number just kind of blew my mind. Nolan was beyond excited. Even without the game, this is a huge deal.”
Future UK teammate Daimion Collins was also named to the McDonald’s All-American team. Both future Cats have also been named to the Allen Iverson Roundball Classic May 7-8 in Memphis and will play on the same team. Hickman and Collins (Texas) were also both named state player of the year by MaxPreps.
Hickman averaged about 16 points, 3.6 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game in his first season at Wasatch Academy playing against a national schedule. His team got to the Geico Nationals before losing in the first round.
“I still think Nolan is sort of a hidden jewel. Not a lot of national eyes have been on him like they should have been,” his father said. “Some guys are starting to see that now and realize he is one of the best players in the game. He’s had a hell of a run and what he did this year justified his move (from Eastside Catholic High School in Washington) to where he could be playing at a high level every game against the best competition around and get the recognition he deserved.”
The UK signee’s father said his son needed some time to figure out his new teammates and enjoy not “having to do everything” every game.
“He could have eight to 10 assists and 12 points. We call that sharing the sugar and he’s good at that,” Hickman Sr. said.
Kentucky assistant coaches Tony Barbee and Joel Justus with Hickman Jr. and coach John Calipari normally checked in once a week. Hickman Jr. will be on campus for summer school.
The Hickmans are “excited” about what lies ahead at UK despite the Cats’ 9-16 record last season when they missed the NCAA Tournament.
“They took some losses but it was a tough season just like it was for Nolan and his teammates due to the COVID restrictions,” Hickman Sr. said. “Practicing with masks on, not a lot of bonding time. But it should have helped toughen him up to prepare for what is coming at Kentucky and I actually think it will help him in college.
“He had some struggles making the move to Utah but he made it through the year. Look at all the blessings he had. Things on the court slowed down for him. He got mentally stronger. He improved at reading defenses and got to where he moved better. Overall this year helped him so much.”