LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When Kentucky and Louisville both set their sights on a player, it's time for college basketball fans to get their popcorn ready. The two heavyweight programs share a state and divide a population like no other rivalry in the sport outside of Tobacco Road. Most importantly, though, the players are always among the nation's most talented.
Like TLC sang back in the day, the Wildcats and Cardinals don't want no scrubs.
Sarasota, Florida shooting guard Antonio Blakeney is certainly no scrub, which he proved with solid play at the AAU Super Showcase in Louisville. Blakeney led the E1T1 team to a 3-0 record in its pool even without the 2015 class's top prospect, Australian forward Ben Simmons.
The offensive versatility Blakeney showed illustrated why both the Cardinals and Wildcats have extended him scholarship offers. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino and Kentucky assistant John Robic were constant presences at courtside, making the wiry 6'4" guard one of the competition's leading stars.
His media profile was high, with interviewers swarming him before and after nearly every game:
Confidence obviously isn't an issue for Blakeney. "I think I'm the best scoring guard in the class," he told Steve Jones of the Louisville Courier-Journal at the Nike EYBL Peach Jam earlier in July.
While Louisville has been courting Blakeney for more than a year, Kentucky's interest peaked with an offer in mid-July. Blakeney told Bleacher Report that the UK offer is proof that all his hard work wasn't in vain.
"I feel like (Kentucky coach John Calipari) only offers pros, so in order for him to offer me, he must think I'm a pro," Blakeney said after E1T1 defeated Wisconsin Academy. "That's the ultimate goal."
Florida State, LSU, Missouri, Oregon and USC join the two Kentucky schools on Blakeney's final seven, which he announced Monday via Twitter. For sheer persistence at the Super Showcase, though, no one topped the local guy.
Pitino watched every moment of Blakeney's on-court action during the showcase, and Louisville's head start makes it Kentucky's most dangerous opposition for Blakeney's signature. Blakeney has taken multiple unofficial visits to the campus and came away with largely positive impressions: "Real good campus, real good facilities, Coach Pitino's great. It was a great visit."
Blakeney has made a steady rise up the recruiting rankings after failing to crack Rivals' top 50 after his sophomore season. He now stands 16th in the 247 Sports composite rankings. Blakeney was also one of the final three cuts for the USA Basketball U18 team that won the FIBA Americas championship in June.
"I didn't play hard all the time," Blakeney admitted to Bleacher Report when asked how he's made his rise up the recruiting sites' big boards. "It's about being more competitive, trying to win and playing hard all the time."
|Notable Louisville-Kentucky Recruiting Battles|
|Derek Anderson||1995||Kentucky via Ohio State|
Of course, in today's most pitched recruiting battles, no group is more competitive than the fans on Twitter. When the Hatfields and McCoys—er, Cards and Cats—are involved, the mud will fly freely over the Web.
Louisville fans are quick to remind prospects—including Blakeney—that loyalty can be fleeting, especially in Lexington:
@blakeney96 just remember of you go to uk you'll take a pay cut when you go to the pros— Jurich4Prez (@_thevillesports) July 26, 2014
UK fans are quick to fire back:
No matter how much prodding Blakeney receives from the media, social and otherwise, he holds his cards close to the vest. He offered no timetable for a decision, and when asked what he looks for in a school, the answer was almost political in its polish.
"There is no perfect school," Blakeney said. "It's that gut feeling. For me, I just wanna go somewhere where I feel like I fit in with the coaches and the players, have a good relationship and get a good opportunity to play early."
While Blakeney may have been a star by default at the AAU Nationals, his recruitment will be one of the most fun to watch as the November signing period draws closer.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.