WILDCATS

After flipping from Louisville to UK basketball, Bryce Hopkins embraces rivalry hatred

Jon Hale
Louisville Courier Journal

LEXINGTON — If Bryce Hopkins did not know about the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry before, he does now.

A four-star prospect, Hopkins first committed to Louisville before reopening his recruitment in August. On Oct. 26, he committed to Kentucky instead.

"I’ve been getting a lot of messages and a lot of Louisville fans in my ears telling me they don’t like it and hope I get hurt and stuff like that," Hopkins told The Courier Journal Sunday. "Just praying I do bad things and saying that I went there for the wrong reasons.

"I’m just going to have to tune all that out with them being so close and just keep my head focused and stay locked into the team."

The 247Sports Composite ranks Hopkins as the No. 30 prospect and No. 7 power forward in the 2020 class. The 6-foot-7 Oak Park, Illinois, native was also considering California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa State, Michigan, Oregon, Providence and Texas after decommitting from Louisville.

Hopkins, who committed to Louisville in November 2019, entered 2020 ranked 70th nationally in the 2021 class but used a stellar spring to rocket up the rankings despite the normal shoe circuit showcase events being canceled by the coronavirus pandemic.

More UK:What Daimion Collins commitment means for Kentucky basketball recruiting

That soaring stock would have made him the centerpiece of Louisville's 2021 class, but just more than a week after Louisville was granted a 45-day extension to respond to the NCAA Notice of Allegations (NOA) it received in early May, Hopkins announced he was decommitting.

U of L faces a single Level I allegation, related to Adidas' alleged bribery scheme behind the recruitment of Brian Bowen, and three alleged Level II violations. Because the alleged infractions took place with the school already on probation for a sex scandal in the basketball dormitory, Minardi Hall, potential sanctions could be significant.

"It was the uncertainties on whether or not they were going to be having postseason play, to play in the NCAA Tournament," Hopkins said. "That was the biggest thing for me. I always wanted to play and compete for a national championship."

Fenwick (Ill.) High School star and Louisville basketball commit Bryce Hopkins throws down a dunk in warmups before the Chicago Elite Classic at Wintrust Arena. Dec. 6, 2019

Kentucky had not yet expressed interest in Hopkins when he backed out of the Louisville commitment. Later that week, he heard from UK coach John Calipari for the first time.

The Wildcats extended a scholarship offer later in August, just in time for Hopkins to watch former Kentucky players Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Anthony Davis, Jamal Murray and others dominate in the NBA's bubble postseason in Orlando.

"I would say what put them over the top was the player development," Hopkins said. "... They had a lot of guys that were putting on a show for their teams. I just feel like the player development there must be key for them because they put a lot of guys into the NBA. My overall goal is to go to the NBA, so I can’t wait to see what Coach Cal can do for me."

While Hopkins was Louisville's highest-rated commitment, he is likely to finish somewhere toward the middle of Kentucky's 2021 class.

Five-star forward Daimion Collins, ranked 19th in the class, and four-star point guard Nolan Hickman, ranked 43rd by the 247Sports Composite, have already committed to Kentucky. Five-star guard Skyy Clark, currently in the 2022 class, has also committed to UK and is rumored to be considering reclassifying to 2021.

Read more:Jacob Toppin might be Kentucky basketball's best athlete, but can he help this season?

Hopkins said he and the other Kentucky commitments are now texting five-star guards Jarden Hardy and Hunter Sallis, both top-10 prospects, to join the fold.

Still, Hopkins' recent improvements suggest he could thrive at Kentucky.

"This time two years ago he was kind of like a chubby, overweight 6-4 power forward," former Rivals.com recruiting analyst Corey Evans told Tthe Courier Journal before accepting a job in the Oklahoma City Thunder front office. "Now, he’s a 6-foot-6 combo forward with a 7-foot wingspan that has really trimmed his body up and gotten even more athletic.

"That tweener thing was kind of looked down upon 20 years ago. That tweener label now is probably the most valuable spot on the basketball floor, so you look at just his trajectory and the value in what he does and his toughness and versatility and you have to kind of buy into all that."

If Hopkins continues his upward trajectory at their arch rival, he can expect the hate from Louisville fans to continue.

"With them just being in my ear, praying on me to do bad, it’s just going to make me want to do better," Hopkins said. "I’ve just got to stay focused and keep on putting in the work."

Email Jon Hale at jahale@courier-journal.com; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ