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Thursday / April 18.
  • Kentucky is getting a ‘unicorn’ in 7-foot-2 Aaron Bradshaw

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    By ADAM ZAGORIA

    UNION, N.J. — J.R. Smith had just finished broadcasting the big Camden-Don Bosco Prep game on the SHOWTIME Youtube platform last Friday night as he stood in the Camden locker room at Kean University.

    Smith, the two-time NBA champion and former NBA Sixth Man of the Year, was asked to reflect on what he had seen from 7-foot-2 senior big man Aaron Bradshaw, who went for 16 points in Camden’s 83-68 victory, including an array of dunks and mid-range floaters.

    “Big fella, he’s got game,” Smith said. “If he puts some muscle on down there at Kentucky, he can be really, really good. He’s got a soft touch around the basket, he’s got a great feel. He’s got the turnaround jumper and face-up, and that’s hard to get confidence of, especially the turnaround.”

    Maalik Wayns, the former Villanova point guard who is in his first-year as Camden’s coach, has had a courtside view of Bradshaw this season.

    “I mean, he’s a unicorn, man,” Wayns said. “Like seriously, he could shoot it, he could pass. The blocks, he can change the game on defense. It’s all about him being locked in. And once he’s engaged, there haven’t been too many big men come through like him.”

    For the season, Bradshaw is averaging 12.2 points, 11.5 points and 2.3 blocks for Camden (8-1), ranked No. 13 nationally by ESPN.com. Bradshaw and his teammates will also be part of a larger SHOWTIME documentary leading up to the Iverson Classic in New Jersey in April. Both Bradshaw and his Kentucky-bound teammate DJ Wagner were selected for the Iverson Classic.

    Bradshaw is a defensive force with is ability to block and alter shots, and that was a major reason why coach John Calipari recruited him as part of his five-man class ranked No. 1.

    “The most impactful trait we can have on the defensive end is the ability to block shots, and Aaron is elite at that,” Calipari said when Bradshaw signed in November.

    “He also has all of the tools that a versatile big in today’s game needs. Aaron’s motor continues to improve, he has great size and mobility. As a 7-footer, he can change the game on both ends of the court. He has a high ceiling and has only begun to scratch the surface of the kind of player he can be.”

    When he gets to Kentucky next season with Wagner, Bradshaw believes his offensive game will also continue to “develop more and more and more.”

    “I just gotta keep working,” he said, adding that he wants to keep working on his handles. “That’s the main focus, just keep working, keep working hard, and just never think I’m more than nobody else. Always stay humble.”

    Smith noted that Kentucky already has the No. 1 center in America in Oscar Tshiebwe, the reigning national player of the year, and said Bradshaw will follow him nicely.

    “They got the No. 1 center now, so he’s going to walk right in there [and fill his] shoes,” Smith said.

    For his part, Bradshaw has big goals for Kentucky next season.

    “Win a national championship,” he said.

    The Wildcats (10-5, 1-2 SEC) have been struggling this season, most recently losing at Alabama by 26 points on Saturday, stirring more criticism of Calipari.

    “We’re going to get it together, though,” Bradshaw said. “It’s all about effort and opportunity.”

    Bradshaw would also like to keep the Camden pipeline to Kentucky going and said he’s trying to get 6-6 junior point guard Billy Richmond, who recently added a Kentucky offer, to follow him and Wagner.

    “Yessir,” he said. “Yessir.”

    Said Wayns of Richmond: “Billy has gotta be one of the top 24 players in the country. I think he’s been great for us, he changes our team. His size, his athleticism, his play-making ability, his IQ, the way he plays, it just changes our team. He’s another athlete, another high-major player, he’s great. He’s gotta be one of the top players in ’24.”

    Camden is awaiting word from the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association after the organization opened a probe of Camden’s roster-building strategies in June immediately after NJ Advance Media published a report that detailed how Camden pieced together a state championship with players from six towns spread across five counties.

    In the meantime, Bradshaw and his teammates are slated to play this weekend at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass. They will face Centennial High School (CA) at 6 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN) and  Bishop Gorman (NV) at 11 a.m. on Monday (ESPNU).

    Photo: 247Sports

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.

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