In the world of high school basketball, one name that resonates with considerable anticipation and excitement is five-star Ace Bailey. Standing at 6’9”, the 2024 forward is heralded for his dynamic ball skills, physical tools, and two-way upside. As a junior at McEachern High School (GA), Bailey averaged 22 points, 14 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 3 assists per game. In his senior year, the highest-rated recruit in Coach Steve Pikiell’s era has stamped his name on the watchlist for National Player of the Year accolades and is a prospect that NBA teams should be tracking sooner rather than later.
In this interview with Pro Insight’s Conrad Chow, Bailey talked about the family culture at AOT, why he committed to Rutgers, what he is telling uncommitted 2024 five-star Dylan Harper, and much more.
For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present Rutgers signee Ace Bailey, from Chattanooga, Tennessee:
Pro Insight: How did you get to where you are today? Talk a bit about your background and family.
Ace Bailey: All my life I grew up with my mom. Everybody that surrounded me was just playing basketball. My mom played at West Virginia. My pops played at Houston. I had an auntie that played in the WNBA. So I’ve just been surrounded all my life playing basketball and I kind of fell in love with the game when I was at a young age. And it was something I wanted to do was to make it and go take care of my family. I just want to make it to the NBA.
PI: When did you primarily start to focus on basketball?
AB: Well, I played all three sports — basketball, baseball, and football. I've been playing since what…I started basketball at three [years old], baseball at four [years old], and football at five [years old]. So I started like that. But I started taking it really seriously around sixth, seventh grade. It was when I thought I could actually be good and I could actually take this somewhere.
PI: For those who aren’t familiar with your game, what are your greatest strengths and playstyle?
AB: Unique. I mean, that's how I would describe it. 6’9” and I can handle the ball. I can see the court. I can shoot the ball. Very aggressive, physical. Got great length. I just find it unique.
PI: Who do you model your game after or study on film?
AB: Oh, Paul George, for sure. Jayson Tatum. Kevin Durant.
PI: What would you say is the most underrated aspect of your game?
AB: Passing. I would say my passing.
PI: What do you feel you still need to improve on the most? What have you been working on?
AB: I would say I’m sharpening everything. Getting better at everything. Just sharpening every tool that I know I can do: handle and shoot the ball, mid-range, in the post, bring the ball up more, just like sharpening everything. That's all, really.
PI: What are your short term goals you have for yourself as a player?
AB: I want to get my team better, first of all. I want to get everybody scholarships on my team — that's my goal. I want to win Naismith Player of the Year. I want to win Gatorade Player of the Year. I want to win everything this year.
PI: Describe your experience playing with AOT.
AB: Ah man, I love AOT. Man, that’s family. When I first got there, they showed me mad love. It wasn't like they treated me different. We just started grinding from day one. They show my family great love and that's one thing I’m big on — that’s family and loyalty and they just have been family and loyal from day one, I just love it there. It's great. It's family.
PI: What's been your favorite memory playing AAU with them?
AC: Yeah, I can say one of my first times going to Peach Jam, everybody was in the house (laughs). It was funny. Coaches had a great time. Everybody laughed. We went out to eat. Even after the loss, we still had fun. They got on us, but we still had fun. It was just a big family thing, man. It felt like home. Just felt great.
PI: Switching gears, a bit — what was Rutgers’ most consistent message to you throughout the recruiting process? What did they try to convey?
AB: Like I said, family, man. I felt home. I'm big on family, so they showed my mom mad love, my sisters, my brothers, and it was just great. Once I stepped on campus, it's just been love from the people, from the community. It's everywhere. The whole state of Jersey showed love.
PI: What was Coach Pikiell’s reaction when you told him?
AB: Alright, I wasn't planning on committing right then and there, but I knew in my head this was the school I wanted. But like so it was me and a brother. I wouldn’t say he’s my brother, but he's like a brother to me. [Current Rutgers freshman] Jamichael Davis, we grew up playing basketball together. We went up there on a visit to watch them play Ohio State at Jersey Mike's Arena [on January 15th, 2023]. We went up to watch them. In the game, I remember we were sitting behind the bench. Coach Pik said, “Come on, let's go! Get in the game.” The whole time we stood in the bleachers and he was just joking around, but it just showed right there that he's a great coach, already. And so after the game, they won in overtime and we went into the locker room. It was crowded and everybody was going crazy. They brought back some of the basketball alumni players, too. It was great meeting them and going back there, the locker room was just crowded. I'm talking to my mom and in the corner like “Mom, this is where I want to be. I want to be here with J-Mike. I want to build here and so this is where I want to take the next chapter of my life to Rutgers and sign here. She said, “Is this what you want son? I'm here behind you.” I told my mom yes, but nobody knew yet. Everybody, mom right here and J-Mike, everybody right here and then you got the whole team in the back. They were surrounding me and everything. I just said “Coach Pik, I gotta tell you something.” I said, “I'm coming!” He just jumped and the locker room went absolute bonkers — like, it was nuts! Everybody was screaming. Even Coach Pik was screaming. It was just the greatest experience. My mom was crying. It was just great.
PI: That is an awesome story. So we have to ask — what has been your message to Dylan Harper?
AB: Yeah, Dylan is like another brother to me, man. Everywhere we go, we’ll be together. We were roommates when we stayed in the same hotel when we went on our trips. I don't really talk too much about telling him about what he could do at Rutgers or all about basketball. We’ll talk about outside of basketball things, but I tell him, we want him real bad and we can do something really, really special at Rutgers. I don't really get into all the, “Come on man, we can do this [on the basketball court]. You can do this.” I just let him do that on his own because I know there’s a bunch of people, the whole world probably doesn’t need to hear about it. So I have just been talking to him more about things outside of basketball.
PI: What are your biggest interests outside of basketball?
AB: Fishing. I like fishing. That's one of the biggest things I like to do. Fishing. I don't play video games. I really don't play video games. I just like to fish and spend time with my family.
PI: Who are your favorite music artists?
AB: Huncho, Lil Baby, Lil Kel, and Meek Mill.
PI: What’s your favorite snack?
AB: It's the Candy Pop Popcorn Minis. It’s like this thing that I'll go to Target almost everyday after practice, it's like popcorn minis things. They got like M&M’s in a popcorn thing.
PI: You have one hashtag to describe yourself. What is it?
PI: What is your dream NIL deal and why?
AB: I don't know. Getting any NIL deal, I'll be blessed. I hadn’t really even thought about that. I would just be blessed to have one.
PI: Name four words that best describe you.
AB: Happy, goofy, caring, and loving.
PI: At the end of the day, what do you hope to be remembered for?
AB: A great teammate that always wants to push the people around him and be a better person.