Ex-Cats

Former UK star Erik Daniels lands first head coaching job, and it’s close to Lexington.

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As part of a their autograph tour, members of the 1999 national championship Kentucky basketball team, which was featured on this year's Maker's Mark commemorative bottle, signed an assortment of UK paraphernalia at All Sports in the Fayette Mall.
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As part of a their autograph tour, members of the 1999 national championship Kentucky basketball team, which was featured on this year's Maker's Mark commemorative bottle, signed an assortment of UK paraphernalia at All Sports in the Fayette Mall.

Another former University of Kentucky star will be spotted frequently in Versailles beginning this fall.

Erik Daniels, who played for the UK men’s basketball team from 2000-2004, has been named head coach of the girls’ basketball team at Woodford County High School.

Daniels will be formally introduced during a news conference at 4:30 p.m. Monday at the school, Athletic Director Dennis Johnson — himself a former football standout at UK — told the Herald-Leader.

Johnson’s and Daniels’ time at the school overlapped and they became friends then. Their paths continued to cross as fathers on the sidelines of Lexington youth sporting events in recent years.

Daniels the last couple of years has been an assistant girls’ basketball coach in Lexington, helping out at Bryan Station under Brian Hall and at Frederick Douglass under Shawn Ransom. This is his first chance to sit in the captain’s chair.

“These last two years beside those guys, that prepared me for my own opportunity,” Daniels said. “I’m really excited about it and my family’s excited about it. We’re looking forward to it.”

Woodford County’s basketball programs are among those that will move from the 11th Region to the 8th Region. The Yellow Jackets also recently hired Jaron Brown, a former Bryan Station and University of Pittsburgh star, as their new boys’ coach, giving them a young tandem to lead a new era of competition.

“This’ll be a new step for the school and myself,” Daniels said.

Daniels played 127 games at UK, all under former head coach Tubby Smith. He scored 1,053 points (8.2 per game), grabbed 520 rebounds (4.1) and had 222 assists (1.7) in his time with the Wildcats. He was selected to the All-Southeastern Conference First Team as a senior in 2003-04 after averaging 14.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, and part of the 2003 team that reached the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight before falling to a Marquette team led by Dwyane Wade.

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Erik Daniels and Rex Chapman were defended by DeMarcus Cousins during the UK Alumni Charity basketball game in Rupp Arena in 2017. Mark Mahan

The Sacramento Kings signed Daniels as a free agent after he went undrafted in 2004. He played 21 games for the Kings in the 2004-05 season but did not play in the NBA beyond that. Daniels continued to play professionally for 10 years, signing multiple contracts in what was then known as the D-League (including an All-NBA D-League First Team selection in 2009) and with teams overseas. He helped Hapoel Gilboa Galil Elyon win the Israeli Basketball Super League championship in 2010.

He’s stayed in touch with Smith, who resigned from UK in 2007. Daniels took his family to watch Smith’s teams at Minnesota and Memphis play when they traveled close to Lexington.

“He’s one of my favorite coaches that I’ve ever played for,” Daniels said. “I learned a lot from him, so any chance I get to speak with him or get to go watch and support him, I try to.”

Now Daniels hopes to take what he’s learned from his experiences and impart them to the next generation. He loves teaching basketball.

“This is gonna be fun for me,” Daniels said.

One of Daniels’ earliest pupils was his daughter, Niyaune Gentry, who averaged 5.6 points for Frederick Douglass last season as a sophomore. He isn’t sure if she’ll follow him to Woodford County.

“I’m trying to get her to come but it’s hard for girls, they wanna be with their friends at that age,” Daniels said. “She’s been with ’em since middle school and it’d be tough to take her away from that. But we’ll sit down and talk about it. Whatever’s best for her and the best transition for her, that’s what we’ll decide.”

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