GEORGETOWN — When Dakotah Euton committed to play basketball at Kentucky in the summer between his freshman and sophomore years of high school, he thought he was living the commonwealth's ultimate hoops dream.
So there is irony that Euton losing his chance to play at UK in the change from Billy Gillispie to John Calipari seems to have put fun back into basketball for Scott County's senior big man.
"I've seen a lot more smiles on Dakotah's face this year," said Scott County Coach Billy Hicks.
Says Euton: "It feels different. Honestly, it does take a little bit of pressure off knowing that I'm not going to UK."
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The 6-foot-8 forward was on the vanguard of Gillispie's kiddie corps approach to recruiting when he pledged to play hoops at UK in June 2007.
At the time, Euton was ranked among the top 25 high school freshman basketball players in the country. Before Kentucky offered him a scholarship, Florida had already done so.
Yet rather than a boon for Euton, his early college vow became a case study in why the NCAA needs to put the kibosh on college coaches accepting commitments from those not even in the final three years of high school.
Early evaluations of prospects carry too much uncertainty. The college coaches wooing Euton didn't seem to take into account that he turned 16 in March of his freshman year of high school.
Listed at 6-foot-8 as a freshman, Euton is listed at 6-8 now.
"Absolutely, no doubt about it," Clay Euton, the player's father, said when asked if the schools recruiting Dakotah early did so assuming he would grow to 6-10, 6-11. "I thought he'd grow."
When Dakotah didn't add height, and his foot speed and jumping ability did not significantly progress, his UK commitment came to look like a questionable move.
That made a high school kid the subject of harsh judgments from strangers.
At Scott County games, opposing crowds, especially student sections, unleashed some pretty mean chants at Euton.
"The fans were pretty hard on Dakotah," says Hicks. "With the UK thing, some of the stuff they yelled at him was borderline abusive."
That didn't bother Euton's father as much as the Kentucky sports-oriented Internet message boards where critiques of his son's basketball ability ranged from blunt to downright mean.
"The reason I ignore (the chants) is because they are kids," says Clay Euton. "What upset me about the message boards is that I felt like there were a bunch of adults on there. You could tell by their grammar and the way they put things, it seemed like adults or college kids coming down, not on a pro athlete or even a college player, but on a teenager, a kid."
Giving up on the dream
After two years of living with the downside of being a second-guessed, in-state commitment to UK, Dakotah will wind up not even going to Kentucky.
He says he knew the moment that Calipari, with the dribble-drive motion offense and its emphasis on athleticism, was hired at UK that he had no chance to play at Kentucky.
"I wasn't going to kid myself and say, 'Well, maybe I could get quicker,'" Dakotah said. "I looked at it realistically and said, 'I don't want to go somewhere and sit on the bench for four years.'"
Clay Euton says a member of Calipari's new Kentucky coaching staff (he doesn't remember who) called and said that, while Dakotah's verbal commitment would not be honored, UK would be willing to evaluate him.
"We just said there's no need," Clay Euton said. "Dakotah knew that wasn't where he should go."
With his recruiting process reopened, Euton heard from big schools such as Notre Dame, Stanford and Oregon State, and smaller schools like Davidson, Wofford, Akron and Eastern Kentucky.
It wound up coming down to EKU and Akron. With its emphasis on big men shooting from the outside, the system that Eastern Coach Jeff Neubauer learned from old boss John Beilein would fit Euton to a T.
Yet the Scott County star says he knew if he stayed in state to play his college basketball, he would always be "former Kentucky commitment Dakotah Euton."
Out of state, he figured there would be some of that, but not nearly as much. So he signed with Akron, which won the Mid-American Conference last season.
"I kind of wanted a fresh start, to kind of get away from all of it," said Euton.
Moral of the story?
When you've been slated to play at regal UK and end up with the Zips, a lot of people would look at that and say it's a pretty good fall.
"We don't see it that way at all," Clay Euton said. "We see it as a place where he can go and play."
In the meantime, Dakotah is averaging 13.7 points and 8.2 rebounds (not counting Thursday night's game against Ballou High School from Washington, D.C.) for a Scott County team ranked No. 1 in the state this week by Dave Cantrall.
In a recent speech to the NCAA convention, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan ripped the concept of major-college sports programs recruiting eighth-graders and high school freshmen.
"I'm not sure how an eighth-grader who doesn't yet know where they're going to go to high school can accurately and thoughtfully and strategically pick the best college program," Duncan said.
The practice "belies common sense," he added.
Having lived through the scenario with his son, Clay Euton says the NCAA needs to forbid schools from offering scholarships to players below, say, 11th grade.
"Oh, absolutely. Absolutely," he said. "I don't think these colleges should be going after eighth-graders or freshmen or even sophomores. Let the kids mature."
When his schedule allows it, Dakotah Euton says he still watches Kentucky on TV. He still pulls for the Cats.
Knowing what he knows now, would he still have committed to Kentucky when he did if he could live it over?
"If I had the chance to go back and do it again, to commit, I'd probably do it again," he said. "It was Kentucky. I'm not bitter about anything about not going to UK.
"This isn't as bad as people try to say it is. I'm still playing college basketball (at Akron), I'm still getting a free education. Life's good for me."
He may have lost the dream of playing at UK; but it's hard not to think Dakotah Euton has ended up in a pretty good place.