A true 7-footer with great defensive instincts, ridiculous length, runs the floor like a gazelle, and jumps out the gym, one might compare 2022 four-star center Dereck Lively II to former Kentucky star Willie Cauley-Stein. Not a bad path to be on, especially considering Cauley-Stein was a consensus First Team All-American and Defensive Player of the Year in college before being selected sixth overall in the 2015 NBA Draft.
But Lively has another former Wildcat in mind, one who is widely considered to be one of the best college basketball players of the last two decades and a consensus top-10 player in the league. The 7-foot-1, 220-pound center out of Bellefonte, PA models his game after Anthony Davis and looks at the former No. 1 overall pick as a role model.
And that’s exactly what Kentucky is pitching him during weekly check-ins.
“Kentucky is going great with the recruitment. I talk with them almost every week, just talking to Coach [Brusier] Flint and hopefully I’ll get to talk to Coach [Calipari] soon,” Lively told KSR on Saturday. “If I go there, they could show me how to play more like Anthony Davis, because Anthony Davis is my role model. He can get to the rim, he can step behind the three, he can block shots, he can guard a guard, he’s an overall great big man.”
He remembers watching Davis’ historic NCAA Tournament run with Kentucky back in 2012, one that resulted in the program’s eighth national championship.
“I watched whenever he got into the playoffs, when he was just a monster around the rim, and he could also put up jump shots and he could do it all,” Lively added.
With shooting quickly becoming a necessity in the league, Lively is incorporating that into his game, even as a true 7-1 center. The day of the traditional lumbering center is quickly disappearing, and the Kentucky target is hoping to stay ahead of the curve.
“I’ve been trying to show that I’m more than just a normal big man. Trying to go outside the three-point line, dribble the ball, and even shoot it,” Lively told KSR. “Trying to be more guard-like for the new NBA game. It’s been a process through our quarantine, I’ve definitely come a long way. Before I would dribble off my foot, now I can go anywhere, I can go outside the three, I’m rotating, I’m on the perimeter. It’s going good so far. Building it up as we go.”
But that’s not to say he doesn’t have traditional big qualities, as well. On the defensive end of the floor, he’s a shot-alterer in every sense of the phrase, also using his length to tip passes and grab steals.
“I can impact the game more than just points,” he said. “Of course I can get the ball in the rim but I can also block shots and steal the ball, just a great defender and great energy-bringer.”
Kentucky is interested, as they should be. Playing alongside No. 2 overall prospect Jalen Duren for Team Final this summer, attention is inevitably going to be on the anticipated future top-five draft selection, but Lively has done his part to match and even surpass Duren’s production at times on both ends of the floor. This weekend at the MADE Hoops Midwest Mania event in Indianapolis, the 7-foot-1 center was making plays all over the floor, blocking shots, finishing lobs, cleaning up on put-back opportunities, and even knocking down a few jumpers from the elbow, baseline and from three.
With contact ramping up, a potential for scholarship offer has been discussed, but Flint is stressing patience with the rising four-star prospect.
“They always say to me ‘Be patient, because this is a long process’ but they have a lot of interest in me right now,” Lively told KSR. “He [Brusier] said I’d fit in perfectly. They know what to do with people like me and to just move outside the three and all, and still being able to get inside and work in the paint.”
Outside of Kentucky, he has a long list of schools in hot pursuit, including a handful of blue bloods.
“I would probably say UNC, Duke, Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, and that’s just a couple off the top of my head.”
North Carolina was Lively’s most recent offer, with the Tar Heels offering in February and then new head coach Hubert Davis confirming a scholarship was still on the table when Roy Williams retired earlier this offseason.
“I’ve talked to Hubert Davis already and he was the one who started recruiting me in the first place so it was a great turn of events. Sadly Roy Williams left but it worked out,” Lively said. “(It’s the) same pitch, he offered me again since Roy left and we’ve been talking every other week. … It was just great to see someone in that position that I already have a close relationship too.”
Lively is listed as high as No. 24 overall in the latest ESPN player rankings, with 247Sports listing him at No. 44 overall and Rivals listing him at No. 45 overall.