Brandon Boston Jr. – a consensus five-star prospect who was ranked as high as No. 5 overall by Rivals – has had an up-and-down season for the struggling Kentucky Wildcats.
Sometimes he is fun to watch with his smooth jumpers. Sometimes he aggravates his coach and the Big Blue Nation faithful with his rookie mistakes as well as missing very easy layups.
The celebrated 6-foot-7 freshman guard from Norcross, Georgia, hasn’t played up to high expectations as a shooting guard even though he is leading the 7-13 Wildcats in the scoring and steals department.
Boston, whose nickname is BJ, is averaging 12.2 points and has 28 steals, going into Saturday afternoon’s matchup at Tennessee. The versatile athlete, who also has a team-high 15 games in double figures, has hit only 29.3 percent in three-point field goals but he has tons of potential to be very good. In addition, Boston and freshman Devin Askew, are leading Kentucky in free throw shooting (at 80 per cent).
Fortunately, Boston has been improving lately and UK coach John Calipari is pleased.
“BJ is playing so much better,” said Calipari. “You know why? He's playing for his team. All the stuff you saw early on, which was like an AAU game, you're not seeing it now. Now he's playing for his teammates.”
Last week Boston gunned in explosive downtown jumpers, scoring 17 points each against Arkansas and Auburn while making a total of 9 of 13 three-pointers.
Against Vanderbilt on Wednesday in Music City, Boston had a cold shooting night in the second half, but he still played a respectable game overall, getting three steals and four rebounds. With the Wildcats having a balanced scoring attack led by graduate transfer Davion Mintz’s 18 points, including 4 of 9 three-pointers, Boston didn’t need to score as much, finishing with 12 points (4 of 14 shooting) after an outstanding first half with eight points, including 2 of 4 three-pointers, and a dunk.
“BJ Boston looks like a different dude,” tweeted Matt Jones of Kentucky Sports Radio during the first half of UK’s 82-78 win over Vandy.
Boston admits the current season has been a struggle for him but he has been staying positive, knowing things will work out in the long run.
Because of his All-American success in high school, there were lots of expectations for Boston at Kentucky when the 2020-21 campaign began.
“I always envisioned myself to be the guy that helps the team, just do everything I can to help my team win obviously when it comes to scoring, rebounding, assists, and playing defense,” said Boston.
The Wildcat rookie added Coach Cal has been pushing him hard on the hardwood floor.
“Coach Cal, you know, he pushes us to be the best players that we can be every day,” commented Boston, a business management major who one day would like to be a filmmaker and own a production company. “He doesn’t let off on us, he doesn’t let us take plays or days off. He is consistent on how he coaches and I really appreciate him for that, just being on my back every day as one of the best we know.”
Boston, who is one of the team’s hardest workers, believes his game is improving like it should. He often practices at the Joe Craft Center, UK’s basketball practice facility, late at night.
“Basketball is really all that’s on my mind, so it’s really the only thing that helps me escape reality,” said Boston. “So, I just went in there at midnight. I left around 2:30, just putting up shots.”
Freshman teammate Lance Ware, a 6-9 forward from Camden, N.J, praised Boston’s work ethic.
“First, I have just seen him work his butt off. After every practice he’s just staying in the gym to shoot,” said Ware. “Anytime I go to the gym, he’s already there whether it’s early in the morning or late at night. He stays in the gym. But also, his confidence he’s never been really sad or showed that he was sad, he just kept on fighting and obviously he’s going to push through and these last few games he has been getting better.”
Added 6-7 sophomore Keion Brooks Jr., “We all know BJ can hoop. He’s just a great player. BJ wouldn’t be here if Coach didn’t believe in him and if the rest of the staff didn’t believe in him. This stuff is hard. You got to give us a chance and these players a chance to finally break through. I feel like BJ needs to keep pushing. He’s been working extremely hard. He’s always in the gym.”
Boston said he has been trying to break bad habits from his high school days such as taking extra dribbles when it’s not necessary as well as the flip shots.
“It’s been kind of tough because I’ve been doing it my whole life,” he said. “It’s a challenge that I’ve accepted and a challenge I’ve been taking on since I’ve been here. I’m just growing and learning every day.
“(Coach Cal) is trying to help me create new habits and break all the bad habits I have on the court and just play the game the right way. He’s just been trying to help me do that.”
Now projected as a mid- to low-first round pick in several 2021 NBA mock drafts, Boston said he began to realize that he was a very good basketball player several years ago even before entering high school.
"I would say my eighth-grade year was really the year I locked in on myself, just training hard and just how to get better every day,” he said. “I feel like that was the year for me that I just knew, you've got to put the hard work in in order to be the best. My dad used to wake me up in sixth grade. My dad would wake me up because we had school at 8. He would wake me up at 7 and we would go shoot at the YMCA at 7:30 and I would walk to the new school, which was three minutes away. So, I would walk there and start school. We've been doing that ever since, getting up earlier than everybody else."
When you watch Boston on the floor, you can tell that he is very comfortable with ball-handling, dribbling and his aspect of “breaking ankles.”
“The first thing I ever learned to do when I picked up a basketball is to dribble,” said Boston, whose favorite ex-UK player is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. “I feel like it is something I have been doing throughout my years, just breaking ankles and shooting the three, and I have a lot of confidence in that move right there.”
As you may have heard, Boston puts a dollar bill in his shoe before every game. How did that happen?
"I've been doing that since the sixth grade, just putting a dollar bill in my shoe every time I play. I always get some Skittles before I play. I need candy before I play any game,” said Boston, whose first memory of UK hoops was an unofficial visit during his high school freshman year when he watched Calipari conducted a team practice. “So, I would just have a dollar leftover and I would put it in my sock and play with it."
Is it the same dollar bill every time?
"Yeah, I get the dollar bill at the beginning of the year and just keep it the whole year,” said Boston with a smile.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of five books about UK basketball, including recently-published “Chasing the Cats: A Kentucky Basketball Journey.” He is the editor and founder of KySportsStyle.com Magazine, and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via email at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.