LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The buzz is returning to the Derby Classic.

Game director Keith Conrad said the presence of eight committed recruits from Louisville, Kentucky, Indiana and Western Kentucky has stirred increased ticket sales as well the opening of the upper arena at Freedom Hall for the game.

It will tip at 7 p.m. Friday and be televised locally on WDRB and nationally on FS2.

Rick Bozich and Eric Crawford of WDRB interviewed the local recruits Thursday evening during a practice at Male High School. They shared several signature quotes from each player.

LANCE THOMAS, 6-9 forward, Louisville: The Norcross, Ga., product said he was impressed with Louisville coach Rick Pitino from the start, because Pitino never mentioned any other school when he was recruiting him. It’s not that other schools were recruiting negatively, but that Pitino seemed the most focused on Thomas and how he fit at Louisville.

“Pitino was the most confident in me, my personal abilities impacting their team next year,” Thomas said. “Every other school I was talking to was asking about other schools and Pitino was just, like, focused on me. … Other schools were just asking, ‘How was your visit over there?’ Pitino, not once, asked me about anywhere else. He was only worried about him.”

All of the incoming Cardinals have heard tales of how hard Pitino pushes his players. Thomas’ had an interesting reaction to that question: “Can’t wait for it. I need it. I tend to be lazy sometimes on the court, and he’s going to keep that fire. I just know myself. In games, I tend to cruise, not be lazy, but just cruise sometimes, and I know that he’s not going to let me cruise at all.”

AL DURHAM, 6-4, guard, Indiana:  Durham was not included in the Top 150 players in the Class of 2017 this week when rivals.com released its final rankings for the class. Durham said he files that as a motivator. A left-handed guard from suburban Atlanta, Durham was the first player to recommit to Indiana after Archie Miller was named to replace Tom Crean.

DURHAM: "I most definitely think (I was overlooked). I think I was slept on highly. I’m coming to prove to each and every one of them that the sleeping is over with, and I’m coming to prove them wrong.

"People just doubt me because of what they see in numbers and rankings. I don’t think about numbers and rankings. I’m going to step out there, and you’re going to have to prove to me why you’re better than me … I want to show (Indiana fans) they’re not just getting any regular point guard. They’re getting somebody who is going to fight for Indiana and is going to go hard for Indiana across his chest. I’m going to play with everything I’ve got."

SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER, 6-5 guard, Kentucky:  He committed to Florida and Mike White last summer but said that he switched his love to Kentucky and coach John Calipari after the UK coach visited him at his gym at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tenn. He explained the reason for his decision, what he believes he must work on and the challenge of following the other skilled point guards Calipari has coached at UK.

Gilgeous-Alexander: “Just Coach Calipari’s first approach when he came into the gym and watched me play. He’s straightforward. Genuine. A lot of coaches when they come into the gym, they’ll tell you things that you want to hear. He was straightforward. He told me what I needed to work on as well as what I need to work on in my game. What he thinks will take me to the next level. That’s what I want.

“Getting stronger. Speed and athleticism. Playing at a faster pace. Higher release on my jump shot. Just consistency on my jump shot. 

“I don’t really see it as pressure (following De’Aaron Fox). I know my abilities. I know what I can do. I think (all the past Kentucky point guards) were great passers, and I think I am as well. I think I see the floor real well. They’re a little bit faster than me. But I play at my own pace and get to the spots that I need to get to. I’m a play-maker.

“Last time i was in Kentucky (at Marshall County), the crowd was electric."

DARIUS PERRY, 6-2 guard, Louisville: The point guard from Wheeler, Ga., said he thinks Pitino is counting on him for defense. Thomas, who played against Perry in AAU, called Perry “the best defender, arguably in the country, 94 feet, intense.” We asked him about that high praise.

“Valid,” Perry said. “Very valid.”

Perry said he watches old video of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to see how they got into opponents’ heads. He said he’s not sure where his defensive mentality came from, but that he’s always had it.

“Since I was little, I guess it just came from knowing basketball and watching a lot of basketball,” he said. “I’ve never liked the player who would score 30 and then let his man score 30. So I always pride myself on not being that type of player ... I think (Pitino) is looking for me to come in and bring defense ... I don’t ever want to be a player who they say can’t defend.”

JUSTIN SMITH, 6-7 forward, Indiana: Smith never asked for a release from his letter of intent after Crean was dismissed. Smith recommitted to Indiana Wednesday night before traveling from the northwest Chicago suburbs for the game. He’s a dynamic slasher who said he loves to play in transition.

SMITH: “Once coach (Tom) Crean got fired, I just wanted to take a step back and think about things and wait until they hired a new coach and see who it was and have a meeting with them. Luckily, I really liked coach (Archie) Miller, so I decided to reaffirm my commitment to Indiana. He talked to me on Thursday for two hours. I could tell by the way that he prepared, the way he prepares for games, prepares for practices. His style of play will fit my game really well. 

“It’s an all-star game. I’m going to try to get a couple of dunks and have fun and do what I do …”

TAVEION HOLLINGSWORTH, 6-2, guard, Western Kentucky: Hollingsworth was named Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball after a superb senior season at Dunbar High School in Lexington. Although he grew up a Kentucky fan, Hollingsworth is excited to join Rick Stansbury’s Top 20 recruiting class at Western Kentucky.

HOLLINGSWORTH: "I want to show my talent that nobody knows about. My mid-range game. You never really see anybody shoot that any more. I love that.

“That (being unranked) is a big motivation for me. That’s all I can think about when I see these guys. I just thought I got overlooked. They played on circuits. I didn’t play on circuits, just regular AAU.

“[In] seventh-grade, that’s all I could think about was being on that (Kentucky team). I was hoping to get a scholarship. They looked at me like a backup. Nothing from Louisville either.”

MALIK WILLIAMS, 6-11 forward, Louisville: One of the most-anticipated signings in recent Louisville memory, the big man from Fort Wayne has a complete game and showed it off in drills, taking passes off a full sprint before pulling up to hit three-pointers. He said he sees himself more as a stretch four than a center and expects to be that at Louisville. Pitino made him a top recruiting priority, and clearly that made an impression.

“That played a big role,” Williams said. “Because I knew that I would really be a key piece for him, because he really blocked everyone out for the summer and came to all of my games. That played a big role ... I just got that feel, like every other school it all felt the same, but once Louisville came in, it was a different feeling, and I felt like it was the right decision.”

Asked what he needs to work on before getting to campus, Williams said: “First off I need to get my IQ right. I can’t be out there making bad decisions. I need to get stronger and just more on making the right plays.”

MARK SMITH, 6-5, guard, undecided: Mark Smith is the top uncommitted player in the game, a powerfully built 6-5 guard who has climbed from No. 184 to 81 in the latest Class of 2017 rankings by 247Sports. 

Smith said that he was considering Illinois, Missouri, Northwestern, Michigan State, Kentucky, Ohio State UCLA and Texas and that he planned to make a decision soon. He admitted that he was dazzled when Calipari visited his family home in Edwardsville, Ill.

SMITH: “He’s a legend. So when you see a legend walk into your home, I was speechless. He’s coached so many great players — John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, so many great players.

“After this game, I will visit Kentucky soon. I think my decision will be coming soon. I don’t really have a lot of cons. There’s a lot of pros. Coach Calipari has put a lot of people in the NBA, and that’s my dream. He’s also a winner. So has coach (Thad) Matta. He’s done the same things. I just want to visit the campuses and see if I like it. 

“When fans show me the love, I do like that.”

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