HOOPS: Florida Visit Set For J.J. Hickson

The first time J.J. Hickson dunked was when he was in the ninth grade. He was a skinny 6-6 freshman at the time, a raw talent but eager to learn how to play. From a first dunk that wouldn’t have won any style points, Hickson has turned his favorite shot into an art form. Whether he’s finishing on the fast break or sticking a missed shot back in the hole, he does it with authority.

Actually, he doesn’t care how he gets his points as long as he’s getting the ball in the hole and helping his team out, but he does like to give the crowd a thrill, especially when he’s got a chance to finish on the fast break.

“If I know my point guard like the back of my head and he knows me, getting the ball on the wing when you’re running the floor can be a lot of fun,” said Hickson, a 6-9, 235-pounder from Marietta (GA) Wheeler who did a whole lot of dunking on the AAU circuit for Coach Desmond Eastman and the Worldwide Renegades.

Eastman just laughs when he thinks about the J.J. Hickson he sees dunking now and the skinny 14-year-old that he remembers.

“He could hardly walk and chew gum at the same time,” said Eastman, who was NBA star Shareef Abdur-Rahim’s AAU coach. “Everything was a chore for him then but he’s proof of what can happen if you’ve got heart and determination to work hard. That’s the thing about J.J. He’s willing to work hard to improve.”

Hickson has worked so hard that he’s one of the truly skilled low post scorers in the recruiting class of 2007. He is rated the number 21 player overall nationally by Scout.com and the number three ranked center.

At Wheeler High School, he averaged 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots per game as a junior, numbers that figure to improve as a senior.

“He will definitely be better,” said Eastman. “He’s a lot more polished now. He’s been working out against NBA players like Theo Ratliff and he can score down low on any of them. He’s got a good combination of moves and power down low.”

Hickson figures his numbers will improve because he’s a more efficient player, not because he will demand the ball more.

“It’s a team game,” he said. “I want to get my points in the context of the offense but I want to be more aggressive as a rebounder, too. There are lot of points that you can get just following up missed shots and that always helps your team out.”

He has official visits set for Florida (September 9), Arizona (September 16) and Tennessee (September 23). He will take an official visit to Georgetown when the Hoyas have their Midnight Madness in October.

Hickson said he’s had a lot of schools recruiting him but some favorites are starting to emerge.

“Right now I’m still considering a few schools but probably Georgetown, Tennessee and Florida stand out the most,” he said.

He talked briefly about what he likes of the big three:

GEORGETOWN: “They have a good school and a good program. They have produced a lot of great big men. They play in the Big East and that’s one of the toughest conferences there is.”

TENNESSEE: “They have a good coach and I have a good relationship with Bruce Pearl. He’s trying to build a good program there and I can see where I would be a part of something like that. I think Tennessee is going to keep getting better with Coach Pearl.”

FLORIDA: Coach Billy Donovan is the coach and I have a great relationship with him. I probably like Florida more than all of them and it’s because I like Coach Donovan best. There would be a good situation for me as a freshman because they’re going to lose three big men to the NBA and they’re like all going to be in the lottery so that tells you what a great coach Coach Donovan is. I would still have to come in and earn my playing time at Florida because I know Coach Donovan isn’t just going to give you anything but he will give you a chance to earn it.”

Coach Eastman says the school that lands Hickson will get a player used to hard work that has a hunger for improvement.

“He’s definitely a low post presence right now but he’s still not anywhere as good as he’s going to be,” said Eastman, who added that Hickson is fully qualified academically. “He’s still learning the game and he loves that part of practicing. He loves it when a coach is teaching him something that will make him a better player.”

Hickson said wherever he goes, he only needs one promise from the coach.

“Just promise me a fair chance to earn my playing time and I’ll be happy,” he said. “I don’t need any promises that I’ll start or stuff like that. All I need is a window of opportunity and I’ll make the best of it. I’ll work hard and if I deserve it, the payoff will be playing time.”

When he does decide where he’s going to play basketball in college, he says it will be a combination of what’s in his heart and the advice of his grandmother and his AAU coaches.

“I’m going to go with what’s in my heart but I’ve got to talk things over with my grandma and my AAU coaches before I decide,” he said. “This is a big decision. I want to make the right decision.”

He wants to major in business and said he would like to coach someday, maybe on the AAU level.

“I want to work with the younger kids,” he said. “I don’t want to coach at a college or the pros or something like that. I want to be a coach that can see some young kid out there that needs someone to look up to that can help guide him and teach him the right way to do things. I wouldn’t be here today if some coaches hadn’t helped me when I was young.”

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.