J.J. Hickson said his recruitment is moving into phase two. The five-star big man cut his long list of high-majors down to seven. The 6-foot-9 power forward from Wheeler High School in Marietta, Ga., is approaching the first day of his senior year and wanted to identify the top contenders for his signature.
Hickson told Rivals.com in an exclusive interview that Florida, Arizona, Tennessee, NC State, Georgetown, Kentucky and Illinois are his top seven schools going into his senior season. Hickson said the list contains his final seven schools and will not change.
"I just thought it was time for me to get this list unfolded and get things going," Hickson said. "I wanted to wait a little longer just to see what coaches are staying and going and watch things play out some."
"The main reason why I chose these seven schools was because I talked to the head coaches from all of them. That's nothing against the assistants because I like them all but the head coaches are the ones that are going to tell you what you need to know. He is the guy that runs the program and that is the guy that I'll have to answer to the most."
Hickson said there is a misnomer regarding his decision. He's not necessarily land locked to the Southeast.
"Location won't matter. Arizona (and Illinois) is on the list and they are on the other side of the country," Hickson said. "That is why I say the head coach and the entire coaching staff matter. I'm looking for the best situation for me no matter where it is located."
There is one school that has been quietly considered the top program in the race for his commitment and Hickson confirmed what the whispers have been saying.
"It's all kind of equal but I guess you could say that Florida is in the lead," Hickson said. "I have built a good relationship with coach Billy Donovan. That's a major part in it all."
Hickson said he has not thought about official visits yet even though the busy visit season is right around the corner. Sources close to the situation said a flurry of unofficial and official visits could happen in the fall before trimming his list down to three or four. Hickson said he'd like to cut the list before his senior season begins in November.
The visits will play a large part in his decision, he said.
"They'll be a big impact," Hickson said. "I want to feel like I can live in that atmosphere and in the program. Getting a look at the school when the students and players are there is going to be big.
"Who is coming and going, leaving and staying is going to be big, too. If all the pieces match for what I'm looking for, then it's going to be a lot easier to decide."
Hickson helped lead his Worldwide Renegades team to the finals of the Best of Summer tournament in Los Angeles last week only to lose to the loaded Pump-N-Run Elite team in the championship game.