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NBA beckons for teenage Canadian basketball star Shaedon Sharpe

When Shaedon Sharpe arrived on campus at the University of Kentucky, he received an uncommonly quiet welcome compared to most top basketball recruits.

When Shaedon Sharpe arrived on campus at the University of Kentucky, he received an uncommonly quiet welcome compared to most top basketball recruits.

The 18-year-old wasn’t introduced with pyrotechnics and a laser light show the way a freshman John Wall was nearly 13 years ago in October 2009. In fact, the London, Ont., native didn’t even first set foot on campus as a new member of the Wildcats until the around the start of the new year, when he quietly landed and just started getting to work.

Despite Sharpe’s status as a top high school recruit, there hasn't been as much fanfare around his arrival in Lexington as there has questions and intrigue.

Sharpe was listed as the No. 1 recruit for the class of 2022 on many boards, including on ESPN’s, but he decided to forego his senior year at Glendale, Ariz.-based prep school Dream City Christian, opting to graduate as he had the necessary credits to do so.

And since Sharpe had already committed to Kentucky in September, 2021, he decided he would arrive on campus early so he may get prepared for the 2022 collegiate season.

However, because Sharpe will turn 19 in May and will be a full season removed from graduating high school, he’s eligible to declare for the 2022 NBA Draft in June.

According to a recent ESPN mock draft, Sharpe would be the seventh-overall pick in the draft, despite not suiting up for a single second for Kentucky yet. He could make in excess of US$4.5 million next season if he were to be selected seventh overall in a year when there is no guarantee he’ll get into games for Kentucky.

“We'll bring him along slow. I want him in practice,” said Kentucky head coach John Calipari on his weekly radio show, shortly after Sharpe’s arrival on campus. “I want to see him fly up and down the court and play that way and have that mentality. 

"It takes time to teach it. I want to see if he can make shots while playing that fast and all that stuff. But he's not ready to be playing in games yet."

Sharpe faces a tough decision: stick with the plan and remain in college to prepare for next season or leave early for a big paycheque.  Either way, the young man looks to be with is gambling with his future.

If he opts to remain in college for next season, the risk of injuring himself and dropping his draft stock -- and leaving some money on the table -- is a real possibility. On the other hand, if his prep work goes well, he has the potential to improve his stock where he’s projected now and possibly enter the top-three pick discussion in the 2023 draft.

It sounds like Sharpe’s camp is leaning towards the latter, as that’s been the strategy all along.

“He’s not weighing anything,” said Dwayne Washington, Sharpe’s adviser and director of UPLAY Canada, a Hamilton-based youth basketball program boasting NBA star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and first-round pick Josh Primo among its alumni.

"He came (to Kentucky) to get ready for next year. If the team ends up using him because they think they need him, then he’ll play this year, but his plan was to come and get ready for next year.

“He went to Kentucky knowing he was already top-10, knowing that he was (a lottery pick) already,” Washington added. “Right now, (the information about Sharpe’s draft eligibility) is only two-weeks old, but we’ve known this for four or five months, so I can honestly say it’s a wait-and-see, which is he’s preparing to be back next year. 

"Now, if news comes back later in the year, then fine. So everything is an option, but we’re just focusing on getting ready for next year."

That Sharpe even has the option to think about staying back a year knowing the NBA can wait speaks to his tremendous talent.

An explosively athletic, six-foot-five, 200-pound shooting guard with excellent shot mechanics, Sharpe’s physical and skill package has scouts believing he could have NBA all-star potential in his future.

“He’s a three-level scorer with really good footwork an excellent shot,” said Wes Brown, a Canadian basketball scout who has been observing Sharpe since he was about 15 years old. “But more than that, he can score without the ball, too, which is kind of what makes him stand out and makes him be able to succeed wherever he goes.”

“He’s taking pages from some of the other shooters out there who have shown how to do it,” said Washington. “The Klay Thompsons, Devin Bookers, etc.”

For the time being, Sharpe is still a college student who has just arrived on campus and is trying to acclimate to his new environment. It’s taking some time because he’s naturally a quiet person, but Sharpe is beginning to open himself up.

“You can tell now he’s starting to settle in and get comfortable and understand his routine,” said Jai Lucas, an assistant coach at Kentucky. “You can see him kind of filling in with his teammates and his personality and everything like that starting to come out.”

How long Sharpe will be teammates of these new friends he’s making remains unclear.

Current Detroit Pistons guard Hamidou Diallo had a similar experience to Sharpe as he came onto the Kentucky campus during the 2016-17 season and redshirted that season, only participating in practice, before playing the season after.

Sharpe has Canadian national team experience. He helped Canada win silver at the 2019 FIBA Under-16 Americas Championship.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2022.

Steven Loung, The Canadian Press