RALEIGH — Kentucky coach John Calipari made a quick trip to Tobacco Road to watch two of his 5-star bluegrass recruits – Bam Adebayo and De’Aaron Fox — battle head-to-head in the semifinals of the 44th annual HighSchoolOT Holiday Invitational at the Broughton High gym that is the alma mater of Pete Maravich.
They both put on a show for Calipari, but Adebayo, a 6-foot-9, 230-pound power forward, scored 26 points with 14 rebounds to lead High Point (N.C.) Christian to a 91-63 win Tuesday over Fox and his Katy (Tx.) Cypress Lakes teammates. Fox, a 6-3, 170-pound point guard, finished with 29 points.
A day after the semifinal matchup, Adebayo added another double-double with 24 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Cougars to the John Wall Bracket title with a 75-63 win in the Wednesday night final against Jacksonville (Fla.) Arlington Country Day. Adebayo’s performance came against 6-foot-11 Koch Bar, who is bound for Bradley. The John Wall Bracket featured the elite teams and was sponsored by the former Kentucky star that Calipari recruited out of Raleigh Word of God six years ago.
Fox’s coach, Emmanuel Olatunbosun, was asked in a post-game session following the semifinals what Calipari might have been thinking while watching two of his prized recruits in the Wildcats’ class of five 5-stars.
“National championship,” he said.
What he meant was how the physical skills and unselfish attitudes of the two superstars appeared to match up. He envisions Fox getting the ball to Adebayo and Adebayo kicking the ball out to open three-point shooters.
“He was too tough to cover,” Olatunbosun said of Adebayo. “He’s a big boy. The thing that was good about that team is they could play inside-out. To start the game we thought we would double (Adebayo). But No. 11 (Michael Hueitt) was hitting three-pointers. (Adebayo) was unselfish kicking it back out to him. By the time they got the outside game going, they got the ball back inside to him. He had those two big dunks that got the crowd going. He’s special.”
Fox’s team lacked a big man to compete with Adebayo’s size, but High Point coach Brandon Clifford liked how Fox kept his team involved in the game plan.
“I’m a firm believer the definition of a good guard is a guy that makes everybody else better,” Clifford said. “If you look at their guys – and this is not to discredit them in any way because they have good players – but he got their shooters their shots and their bigs got their touches around the rim. He makes the right plays.
“If you’ve got an unselfish guy like Fox and a big that is unselfish like Bam that brings all the guys together. That’s obviously going to be an explosive class for Kentucky.”
Adebayo and Fox said they were all business on the court, but they enjoyed seeing each other.
“That was my first time playing him in about a year-and-a-half,” Fox said. “We played together at an NBA camp a couple of years ago. So it was cool being on the same court player.”
Cypress Lakes finished fourth in the tournament after losing the third-place game 94-65 to High Point (N.C.) Wesleyan. Fox was held to nine points and seven rebounds.
Both players were asked about committing to Kentucky with its one-and-done reputation:
Adebayo: “If I have a good year, who knows? Other than I’m just looking forward to playing ball at Kentucky.”
Fox: “If you can be a one and done, do it. But if you don’t perform, you’re not ready. Kentucky is not the only school with one-and-dones.”
The muscular Adebayo was seemingly born with an NBA body, so it won’t be as much of a physical jump to play against men as it has been for many one-and-done players that struggle in the NBA. But Adebayo knows he has to expand his game and has worked on his ball handling ability.
“I can’t just be a post player,” Adebayo said. “That’s how you limit your potential. I know I have to expand my game to get better.”
Fox, who has lightning quick speed similar to John Wall but is on the slight side at 170 pounds, said he has focused on developing an outside shot to go with his athleticism.
“When I was younger I was always the fastest player, but this year I’ve tried to slow down and try to think the game more,” Fox said. “In college I can’t depend on just my athleticism.”
One other Kentucky 5-star recruit in the tournament was Sacha Killyea Jones of Lynchburg Virginia Episcopal School. His team played poorly in the first round before winning its next two games to place fifth. Killyea-Jones, a 6-foot-10, 207-pounder, scored 29 points in Wednesday’s 86-77 win over Concord (N.C.) Robinson. His team would have needed to win its first two games to meet either Adebayo or Fox in the final.
Fox said he believes the three future Wildcats made Calipari’s trip to Raleigh worth it. Kentucky beat Louisville on Dec. 26 and is off until opening SEC play against Ole Miss on Jan. 2 at the Rupp Center.
“It was special,” Fox said. “It was two great players going against each other, even though we didn’t guard each other. But he got to see me play, I got to see him play and Calipariipari got to see us both play. So it was the best of both worlds.”