UK Women's Basketball

UK women to sign Nelson Co. star Drake

Samantha Drake’s signature on Wednesday could mean big things for Kentucky in more ways than one.

The 6-foot-3 Nelson County basketball star, who committed to UK in 2007 as a sophomore only to reopen her recruitment this season, ultimately will sign with the Cats, her high school coach said.

“She’s signing tomorrow and she’s signing with Kentucky,” Coach Kelly Wood confirmed Tuesday on the eve of the spring signing period. “She’s a great player. I feel sure she is capable of being an impact player at UK.”

Her signature will give Kentucky the fifth-best recruiting class in the nation, according to one analyst.

That would make it the best class in program history.

“Drake is an all-around offensive weapon that will give the Wildcats just one option in an already deep class,” said Chris Mennig, a recruiting expert for BlueStar Basketball. “There is no doubt this past season is just a taste of what is ahead for the fans in Lexington.”

Drake’s signature also will be a big boost for UK’s front line. With the graduation of two of its top three forwards, Amani Franklin and Lydia Watkins, UK was facing a season with just starter Victoria Dunlap returning inside as well as reserve Brittany Henderson, who averaged less than 11 minutes a game.

Drake is the first true post player in this recruiting class, which now features four players rated among the nation’s top 70, according to most recruiting services.

Other members include McDonald’s All-American Jennifer O’Neill (No. 30), Drake (49), LaQuinta Jefferson (64) and Kastine Evans (67) as well as this year’s Miss Kentucky Basketball Sarah Beth Barnette of Lexington Christian, and Maegan Conwright, a top guard out of Texas.

This class will join a UK team that probably will be ranked in the top 10 in the pre-season, with four starters returning — including All-American and Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Dunlap — from a team that advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight.

Drake’s signing also will bring questions about the roster next season. If everyone expected to arrive on campus does, the Cats would have 16 players and only 15 scholarships available. Wood said he thinks Drake, ranked No. 49 in the nation by BlueStar and as the 74th-best player and the eighth-best center in the nation by ESPN’s, was the best overall player in Kentucky.

“She’s an excellent player,” her high school coach said. “For her size, her hands are great. Her hands are like glue. Her ability to catch the ball and run the floor (is great). She can run. She’s very fast. To be 6-3 and catch it and run, there’s a lot of upside there.”

In five seasons at Nelson County, Drake set scoring records for boys or girls, with 3,068 career points (hitting 63 percent from the field) and 1,381 rebounds.

She also owns the Cardinals’ single-game scoring record of 44 points.

This season, Drake averaged 23 points and 8.5 rebounds, hitting 59.7 percent from the field.

Wood said that the center can only get better and that she will under Coach Matthew Mitchell and his staff.

“She needs the motivation day in and day out to be the best player she can possibly be,” Wood said in an e-mail this week. “At the high school level this past season, she was not challenged in practice. She dominated much of what we did.”

UK’s fifth-ranked recruiting class puts it just behind Louisville, ranked No. 4 by BlueStar. The top three classes are Duke, Connecticut and Maryland.

UK has the highest-ranked class in the Southeastern Conference, which has six teams in Mennig’s top 25. The others are Florida (11), Vanderbilt (12), Auburn (15), Georgia (19) and Tennessee (25).