UK Women's Basketball

Kentucky women get commitment from nation's No. 5 recruit

Linnae Harper won gold medals on USA Basketball's U-17 and U-16 teams the last two years. She is ranked as the No. 5 senior by ESPN.
Linnae Harper won gold medals on USA Basketball's U-17 and U-16 teams the last two years. She is ranked as the No. 5 senior by ESPN.

Two NCAA Elite Eight appearances in the past three years have put University of Kentucky women's basketball on the map.

And now the recruits are starting to find Coach Matthew Mitchell's program.

Kentucky secured a commitment Saturday from the highest-ranked recruit of Mitchell's five-year era.

Linnae Harper, a 5-foot-6 point guard from Chicago, is ranked by ESPN as the No. 5 overall senior in the country.

One of several high-profile visitors to Big Blue Madness earlier this month, Harper is coming off a junior season in which she led Whitney Young High School to an undefeated record and state championship.

"My one main focus in recruiting was my relationship with the head coach of the team, and I think they have a wonderful coaching staff," Harper told the Herald-Leader on Saturday in explaining her choice. "When I was there for my visit, they showed me a good time."

Mitchell already had commitments for the class of 2013 from Marion County standouts Makayla Epps and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, who are both ranked among the top 100 players in the country.

Harper selected Kentucky over Ohio State, Tennessee, UCLA and Miami, Fla.

In addition to her comfort with the coaching staff, Harper said she enjoyed watching the Wildcats practice.

"I saw two practices," she said. "It was really intense. They get up and down the floor. ... Their style of play is so much like the way I play. I don't think it will be that hard for me to transition from high school to college."

Harper's high school coach, Corry Irvin, said "she can play any position" at Kentucky, which was a big attraction.

"She really felt like Kentucky was home to her," Irvin said.

Harper has represented USA Basketball the last two years, winning gold medals with the U-17 and U-16 teams. Harper was named to the all-tournament team this year after averaging 7.9 points and 4.3 steals off the bench.

Harper said her experience with USA Basketball was invaluable.

"It has helped me expand my knowledge of the game," she said. "Playing point guard two years in a row has really helped me see the floor and get to know where the other players are on the floor."

Harper's game is not limited to running the point. She said she can play either guard position and even some small forward.

"Wherever I fit," she said. "I'm not looking to play one specific position."

Harper averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds as a junior, leading her team to a 34-0 record.

Irvin called Harper the best rebounding guard in America.

"She has a desire to get the ball," Irvin said. "Sometimes people get a real good sense of where the ball is going, and she happens to have that."

Even at 5-6?

"I guess I just have a nose for the ball," said Harper, who had a 17-rebound game in 2010. "Just predicting where the ball is going. Rebounding is something I love to do. I like being physical and getting in the paint and grabbing as many rebounds as I can because they're so important to both offense and defense."

Harper's ambitions extend beyond Kentucky, which was one of the reasons she chose the Wildcats.

"I think she'll be really good at the next level and I think Kentucky has the tools to help her succeed in college and hopefully get to the next level," Irvin said of a professional playing career.

Kentucky gave Harper a little taste of what the college level can look like during Big Blue Madness.

"It was really nice," she said. "It was exactly what I expected. They have a lot of fans, and I enjoyed it."