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'He's built for that': How B.J. Boston prepared to be Kentucky's next one-and-done star

Jon Hale
Louisville Courier Journal

LEXINGTON — B.J. Boston plays with a dollar bill in one shoe. By this time next year, he is almost certain to have millions more to choose from.

The freshman guard arrives at Kentucky as the Wildcats’ first consensus top-five signee since 2015. ESPN already projects him as a top-10 pick for the 2021 NBA draft.

The pressure from that hype might be suffocating for some players. For Boston, it's simply the next logical step in a career path forged to prepare him to thrive at basketball’s highest level.

“You’ve got to be confident in everything that you do,” Boston said in a recent interview with The Courier Journal. “That’s really my key to my success right there. … If you’re not confident or step in the room like you own the place, then you’re not going to have the right outcome that you’re looking for.”

That confidence has led Boston to seek out bigger challenges in recent years, and it has helped him hurdle each one.

But first, about that dollar bill in his shoe.

“Before games, I need candy,” Boston said. “I have to have candy before games. I just go to the concession stand and keep a dollar in my sock.”

More:What Daimion Collins commitment means for Kentucky basketball recruiting

At some point after starting the ritual around the sixth grade, Boston decided he played better with the dollar in his sock, which he lists as his most prized possession in his official UK bio.

“If my shot is cash, I feel like I’ve got cash on me,” Boston said.

That indulgence to superstition runs counter to the script Boston has written to get him to Kentucky. Little else about his path has had anything to do with luck.

The Norcross, Georgia, native has long been considered one of the best prospects in his class, but Boston was not satisfied with being one of many.

Boston averaged 22.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game on the Nike EYBL circuit prior to his senior year of high school. That performance had him on the verge of the top 10 in the 247Sports Composite class of 2020 rankings, but Boston looked for a new challenge.

Instead of returning to Norcross High School, he moved across the country to play for Los Angeles power Sierra Canyon alongside the sons of LeBron James and DeWyane Wade and a host of other top talents, including fellow 2020 top-10 recruit Ziaire Williams.

“It was like a movie, honestly,” Boston said. “Everybody was at our games. Every game was sold out.”

Sierra Canyon represented something of a test run for Kentucky.

Related: Former Louisville commitment Bryce Hopkins pledges to Kentucky basketball

Media followed the team like a college program. With no shortage of elite talent on the roster, Boston had to learn to thrive with other top-level players. Given the spotlight pointed at Sierra Canyon, every opponent viewed the chance at an upset as an opportunity to make its season.

On a team full of stars, Boston arguably shined brightest.

He averaged 19.7 points and seven rebounds per game to help Sierra Canyon to a 30-4 mark and national No. 2 ranking.

“I think early, he was a little bit in awe and nervous, but over the course of time, he’s just been wonderful,” Sierra Canyon coach Andre Chevalier told The Courier Journal in January. “He’s acclimated to it, I think he relishes it.

“He enjoys it because he knows, at Kentucky, it’s going to be amplified times 10.” 

That performance spurred a jump from No. 15 in the 247Sports Composite in December to No. 5 in the final 2020 ranking in July.

Boston's rise in the rankings ended a drought of four consecutive recruiting classes without a top-five signee for Kentucky. Each of John Calipari’s four Kentucky teams to reach a Final Four included at least one top-five signee.

A top-five ranking is not a guarantee of immediate college success — UK’s last one was actually Skal Labisièrre, who disappointed in one season in Lexington — but eight of the 10 players to sign as a top-five prospect in the 247Sports Composite during the Calipari era went on to be selected in the first 10 picks of the NBA draft after just one season at UK. Another, 2013 No. 5-ranked prospect Andrew Harrison, was the starting point guard for two Final Four teams.

Also:Jacob Toppin might be Kentucky basketball's best athlete, but can he help this season?

Those are the expectations set for Boston entering the season. Teammates and coaches are doing little to diminish the hype.

“He has some of the traits of some of the great guys here,” said assistant coach Joel Justus, Boston’s lead recruiter for Kentucky. “Guys who have had a curious mind. They ask questions. They want to watch film. They’re very coachable. But at the same time, I love B.J. because he’s confident. He’s a little bit stubborn. Those are also the guys that are special, and I think that he’s built for that.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the sporting world, Boston was not content to work on his game alone.

He trained alongside fellow UK signees Devin Askew, who lived in Los Angeles, and Terrence Clarke, who traveled across the country from Massachusetts to live with Boston for several weeks, with former NBA guard Darren Collison at a private gym in Orange County, California.

“Every day, he has that energy that makes me even want to work out even more,” Clarke said of Boston. “It was fun.”

Even as uncertainty about whether the 2020-21 college season could be played or what it would look like if it was mounted, Boston resisted the temptation to follow several other top prospects in the 2020 class in skipping college all together to cash in with a contract in the NBA’s G League.

“I feel like when I make a decision, it’s the right decision,” Boston said. “I’ve got to follow through with what I start.”

That loyalty paid of for Kentucky now that a start date for the season has been set for Nov. 25.

Even after losing all but one of the players who scored a point last season, the Wildcats are likely to enter the season as one of the favorites for the 2021 national title.

Previously: Five-star guard Skyy Clark commits to Kentucky basketball over Memphis, UNC, UCLA

To reach those lofty goals, Kentucky will need the type of game-changing performances the previous top-five signees brought to Lexington. Boston will be able to share some of the burden with Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr and Clarke, who was ranked in the top five of the 2020 class for much of his senior year before finishing at No. 8, but the spotlight will shine brightest on him.

Luckily for Kentucky, Boston has been preparing for this moment for years. Ever since he started playing with that dollar bill in his shoe in middle school.

“B.J. wants to be special,” Justus said. “That’s why I think he came here. He wanted to be different.”

Email Jon Hale at jahale@courier-journal.com; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ