Skip to main content

Kentucky commit Nolan Hickman has found solace in grueling senior basketball season at Wasatch Academy

Nolan Hickman sought a home that would prepare him for the spotlight at Kentucky while high school hoops stayed sidelined in his home state. He found that at Wasatch Academy, a program that has allowed him to thrive by pushing him to the edge.
(Photo by Wasatch Academy Basketball)

(Photo by Wasatch Academy Basketball)

Nolan Hickman sat, calm and attentive, his face characteristically stoic watching the names flash across the screen as ESPN announced the final 2021 McDonald’s All-American rosters.

Then he saw his own. 

Sitting in Wasatch Academy basketball coach Paul Peterson’s office, his phone started buzzing. Vmmm. Vmmm. Vmmm. Vmmmmmmm. A torrent of texts and calls from friends and family flooded in. 

Live with him on FaceTime, his mom screamed and cried with excitement. But the mood inside Peterson’s office, with Hickman and Richard “Pop” Isaacs Jr., a junior guard at Wasatch, was laid back. Isaacs Jr. and Peterson simply shook Hickman’s hand.

“That was it, that’s all it was,” Peterson said. “He had that big Kool-Aid smile.”

From the start of his senior year, Hickman has quietly been making history. Months after arriving on campus on the heels of a three-year run at Eastside Catholic, he became the first boys basketball player from Washington to commit to Kentucky. And in late February, he became Wasatch Academy’s first McDonald’s All-American selection. There was no big ceremony, no party, no celebratory gathering planned. Just his coach and a couple teammates celebrating a historic moment in the coach’s office.

The emotion would come soon enough. Alone with his thoughts later that day, Hickman broke down. He allowed himself to appreciate that he’d reached a precipice he’d only ever dreamed of. After pandemic restrictions on high school and club basketball nudged Hickman to take calls from prep schools, the 6-foot-2, ESPN 4-star point guard eventually took a leap of faith to leave the state.

“When my name popped up on that screen, I kind of felt like, yeah, I’ve been doing something right and finally getting the recognition,” Hickman said.

Hickman transferred out of the state of Washington, where high school basketball has been pushed back to an abbreviated spring season, to Wasatch Academy in July because the nearly 150-year old boarding school tucked away in small-town central Utah offered something Eastside Catholic in Sammamish, Wash. could not: a full senior season.

When Nolan and his family sat down with Peterson — as well as the boarding school’s athletic director and headmaster — that’s the question that came up again and again.

“We made it clear,” Hickman said, asking “ ‘are we going to have a season for sure?’ ”

The answer? A resounding yes, and the promise was fulfilled.

Though his recruitment would be wrapped up not long after he stepped foot onto campus, Hickman has proven himself on a national high school stage this season. Wasatch Academy (18-6) is the No. 6 team in the country, according to Ballislife’s Fab 50 rankings, competing against top-ranked Montverde, American Fork, as well as No. 2 Sunrise Christian Academy, No. 27 Oak Hill Academy and La Lumiere, among others. On April 1, Wasatch Academy is slated to play in the Geico Nationals, an event that crowns an unofficial national high school basketball champion.

At times, Hickman privately struggled away from his comfort zone of Seattle and the storied basketball fraternity that enveloped him through his childhood. But he’s found solace in what he’s created for himself. In becoming accustomed to his new surroundings, Hickman realized the school is his laboratory.

The McDonald’s All-American nod was his validation.

“I have gotten emotional about it when I’m by myself,” Hickman said. “When I get by myself, then I start to think to myself, yeah, I’ve made it this far.”

* * *