Kansas’ basketball coaching staff has known for a long time that Billy Preston would be a nice addition to the Jayhawks’ frontcourt.
“They have recruited my son since ninth grade,” Preston’s mom, Nicole Player, told The Star on Friday afternoon, moments after her son — a 6-foot-9, 240-pound senior forward from Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va. — announced on ESPNU he’d chosen KU over USC, Syracuse and Indiana.
“I am overwhelmed with joy. I feel Kansas is the right choice for Billy,” Player said, noting she’s developed a “close relationship with coach Townsend (Kurtis, assistant) and coach Self (Bill) for several years.”
Wearing a gray shirt with bow tie and fashionable glasses, Preston assured his family’s relationship with KU nation would continue by placing a Jayhawk hat on his head during a live announcement in an ESPN studio
“It was my relationship with coach (Bill) Self and the rest of the staff. I felt comfortable there. I feel they have my best interest at heart,” said Preston, Rivals.com’s No. 8-ranked player in the recruiting Class of 2017. “They wanted me to come in and right off the bat make some changes. Hopefully next year we can win a national championship. I just think coach Self and the rest of the coaching staff saw the best in me,” Preston said.
Asked what KU fans should expect, Preston said: “They are going to expect a lot of highlights, a lot of energy, a lot of talk going on the floor, a lot of everything.”
Preston — he averaged 17.1 points and 8.2 rebounds a game last season at Advanced Prep International in Dallas and 13.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game on the Nike EYBL circuit last summer — visited KU for the Oct. 1 Late Night in the Phog.
“It was crazy. Allen Fieldhouse was ecstatic, just to see how much they appreciate the sport of basketball,” Preston said. “As much love as they showed me on my official (visit), it was great to see.”
“It was an awesome atmosphere,” said his mom, Nicole, who also attended Late Night. “Kansas fans are great. They are one of a kind. Billy loves KU basketball and the players there made him feel so warm and the coaching staff made him feel so warm. I think he’ll enjoy everything, the fans, food, the dorm. Mainly he’s there for basketball.”
Preston said Friday he signed a letter-of-intent with KU prior to the end of the early signing period on Wednesday.
“Obviously, we are very excited. I don’t think we’ve ever had the opportunity to coach a taller, more athletic, skill player than Billy,” Self said in a release announcing Preston’s signing. “He has guard-type athletic ability and skills but at 6-foot-10, he can be a force inside as well. We are thrilled to have Billy joining our basketball program.”
Preston said his impending role at KU would be “all over the floor.”
“Rebounding, the outlet, pushing the ball up the floor, bringing the ball up the floor,” he said. “He (Self) sees me being a versatile player. He could play me anywhere on the floor.”
Asked to identify the player he compares himself to, Preston said: “LeBron, LeBron James.”
The experts believe Preston is an impact player.
“Billy is an exceptionally talented prospect and there isn’t much he can’t do during a game,” Paul Biancardi, ESPN’s national recruiting director, said in an ESPNU release. “At 6-10, he is a multidimensional player, a natural power forward, and arguably one of the most talented athletes in his class.”
Former Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio coached Preston at the Under Armour All-America camp last summer.
“He’s 6-9, 240 with a guard skill set,” Gaudio said. “He’s a matchup nightmare because when there was a smaller guy on him we posted him up ... a bigger guy he can step out beyond the three-point line and make the three. He can also put the ball on the floor. He does what the game tells him to do. He doesn’t make his mind up.”
Preston said Friday his national ranking of 20 in ESPN’s top 100 was not accurate.
“For sure there aren’t 19 players in my class better than me,” Preston said.
Preston is attending his fifth school in five years. He spent his freshman year at St. John Bosco in Bellflower, Calif., his sophomore year at both Redondo Union in Southern California and Prime Prep in Dallas and his junior year at Advanced Prep International in Dallas, which has had some trouble getting players qualified in college.
“I used to watch him last year and he just wasn’t engaged and he’d just go through the motions, but I told him before he came, ‘You can’t play like that if you want to play for me,’ ” Oak Hill coach Steve Smith told USA Today. “Since he’s been here it’s been like night and day. He’s a great kid and he really just wants to get better. I’ve never coached a player at his size with his skills. I don’t think he’s fully aware of how good he is, but he’s starting to realize it. He’s just happier now.”
KU has filled two of three available scholarships in the Class of 2017. The Jayhawks have signed Marcus Garrett, a 6-foot-5 senior combo guard from Dallas Skyline High. He chose KU over Baylor, Texas, Connecticut and Oklahoma State. KU has one scholarship left to give, more if any non-seniors turn pro.