LARRY VAUGHT | For The Citizen
Just how good is recent Kentucky basketball commit Jada Walker? The point guard is a top 70 player nationally in the 2021 recruiting class but she got her first Division I scholarship from Michigan when she was in the sixth grade.
“That was kind of overwhelming,” said Walker. “I was expecting it to happen eventually, but not in sixth grade.”
The left-handed playmaker had narrowed her college choices to Mississippi State, Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina State and Kentucky before going with the Wildcats. Knowing there likely would be no elite summer league play this year, Walker just felt it was the “right time” to make her college choice.
“Kentucky is just a great fit. I loved the coaching staff. Coach (Matthew) Mitchell kept in contact with me through all this (coronavirus) stuff. I like Kentucky in general. I have played basketball there (in Lexington). For me, the style of play is perfect at Kentucky.”
Also throw in this unique factor that helped Kentucky with Walker.
“I have always wanted to go to the Kentucky Derby one day, so maybe going to Kentucky will hopefully make that easier to do,” she said.
Her mother, AnnMarie Gilbert, has been a college coach — she recently took the head job at Detroit Mercy after being head coach at Virginia Union since 2015 — and knows both Mitchell and UK assistant coach Niya Butts.
Her father, Jon Walker, was a standout player at Virginia Union and has trained/coached his daughter for years. She says basketball is basically in her genes. As a second grader, she played on a team of seventh- and eighth-grade players coached by her father.
“That is when I first started playing,” Walker laughed and said. “We won the national title when I was either in second or third grade. But it was hard. I was the youngest one obviously on the team. The jersey would not even fit. I had a small (jersey) but it looked like an XL (extra large) on me because I was so small.”
She helped Henrico High School in Richmond, Va., make it to the state tournament for the first time in about 20 years last season when she averaged 27 points, six steals, six assists and four rebounds per game. She had a “couple” of triple-doubles and got close to a quadruple double. She’s already score 1,990 points and is aiming to reach 3,000 by the end of her senior season.
“I am an all-around type of player. I think I can do a little bit of everything,” the UK commit, who says she will be staying in Virginia for her final high school season, said. “I can play defense, shoot, score, pass. I don’t like to be limited by what I can do. Whatever my team needs me to do, I think I can do. I obviously have a high basketball IQ with two coaches as parents.”
Walker admits she was not pushed that hard on the court by other players until eighth grade when she started working out with some of her mother’s college players who were obviously not only older but bigger and much stronger.
“I got my competitive spirit playing with them,” Walker said. “They were not going to just let me do anything. I had to earn everything but that was good for me.”
She said her parents have had an “equal” influence on her career. Her father concentrated on her training more and her mom has stressed things she needed to do to become a college player.
“They point out things I do well but also things I don’t do well and if you want to get better, you need that,” Walker said. “I think I was also blessed to be naturally fast. Me and my brother would go to the track every day just to run two miles. I guess that’s where my speed and endurance came from.”
Her brother will be a high school sophomore and she plays basketball with him often.
“Our games are very competitive now. It used to be I would win, but he learned and now the games are head-on. It just depends on the day we are having, but that has been good to have him push me,” Walker said.
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Point guard Daeshun Ruffin — a one-time Auburn commit — is the top high school recruit in Mississippi in the 2021 class — he’s a consensus top 50 recruit — and has narrowed his college choices to Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, LSU, Alabama and Florida. The 5-9 guard averaged 26 points per game last year and led his team to a state title.
Ruffin has had a chance to play against incoming UK freshman Terrence Clarke, a top 10 national recruit and a player many will
be coach John Calipari’s best player next season.
“I love T Clarke. That is my guy,” Ruffin said. “Great player. I like the way he plays with so much confidence. You can tell by the way he plays that he puts in the work at the gym and it shows.”
So does he have a weakness?
“I am not sure. You would have to ask him that. Overall he is just a great player. If you see a weakness, please tell me because I
can’t find one,” Ruffin said.
He’s also gone against incoming UK point guard Devin Askew. He has nothing but praise for him as well and has watched him play often.
“He is great. He is a good point guard with the ability to do everything — pass, score and great on defense. He’s just a really, really good player that Kentucky fans will really like,” Ruffin said.
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Gabby Curry has been part of a historic three years for the Kentucky volleyball program. The team has won three straight Southeastern Conference titles, compiled an 80-16 record and gone 7-3 in NCAA Tournament play.
Curry, a two-time SEC libero of the year, is part of a talented returning group at UK that will be joined by the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class. Curry admits she’s “super, super proud” to be part of the rising legacy of UK volleyball.
“I think my freshman year those seniors started the route. They were the first ones to take the program to the Elite Eight and from there my class has strived to be like them,” Curry said. “We are all very different but my class is honored to be part of the program and what we are doing.
“We talk about that a lot. We are super thankful to be part of something so special. We have a special culture here thanks to (coach) Craig (Skinner).”
Curry says the depth on this year’s team will rival or surpass what UK had her freshman season. She says then the seniors were dominant at every position and this year’s team will be just as competitive.
“If the freshmen come in and play well, they are going to play. We all know that. I have very high expectations for this year. I say that every year I know but they really do get higher every year,” Curry said. “Our recruiting class is so awesome. They are great players on the court but they are amazing people as well. It was super cool to see how easy they integrated into our culture.
“I am just as excited to see how the girls in my class and the juniors and sophomores have grown and developed. That’s why I am just super excited about this season coming up.”
Curry thinks it is “100 percent a possibility” that Kentucky could win a national championship this season and knows everyone on the team believes the same.
“I can’t wait to see how it goes,” Curry said.
A more mature Curry, though, has learned a little different perspective during this COVID-19 shutdown of way more than just sports.
“My Dad asked me what is my goal for this year and I told him the first thing is to enjoy every moment,” Curry said. “This time away has taught me … not that I have taken things for granted … but just how cool it is to be part of a team and part of something. It has all been an awesome reminder that this is my last year, so make it the best. Being No. 1 is the goal but so is making sure I enjoy every moment I have left being part of this amazing program.”
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Offensive lineman Jäger Burton of Frederick Douglas has accepted an invitation to play in the All-American Bowl Jan. 9 in San Antonio at the Alamodome. The game will be shown live on NBC.
How prestigious is this game? Forty players picked in the 2020 NFL draft participated in the All-American Bowl and overall about 450 players from the game have gone on to play in the NFL.
Burton is the top-rated player in the 2021 recruiting class and is rated among the nation’s top 160 players by two recruiting services.
The 6-4, 275-pound Burton has had a final seven of Kentucky, Ohio State, Penn State, Oregon, Alabama, Clemson and Texas. He plans to make his college decision on Aug. 24, his 18th birthday. He says the date could change but only if he has “no idea” where he wants to go.
Burton has not given anyone any indication where he might be leaning college-wise. That likely won’t happen before his commitment date, either.
“My parents are kind of like me. They don’t say much about it. We keep our conversations about recruiting private,” Burton said. “We are not going to be very vocal about what I am thinking. I really don’t want anyone except me to know where I am going to pick until I announce it.”
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It was no surprise to former Kentucky running back Anthony White that Erik Daniels was not only part of the “Walk Forward Lexington” rally in Lexington last week but also one of the organizers along with Ravi Moss, another former UK basketball player like Daniels.
The rally was designed to give a message of hope as the country deals with political issues involving racism.
Numerous UK athletes including former football players Dennis Johnson, Shane Boyd and George Massey were also at the rally.
“Everywhere I have been since I first met Erik, he is always right there,” White said. “I have gained a lot of respect for him. I think what he is doing in genuine and I appreciate him using his platform to get some recognition for this cause but I just want to say Erik has always been a genuine guy like that. I am not taking anything away from any other guys, but I know first-hand he is genuine and likes helping people.”
White, a former all-SEC running back, came to UK from Ohio and has stayed in Lexington for his business career that includes being on WLAP Sunday Morning Sports. He shared a story Sunday about being arrested once on his way to do a high school football game broadcast for WLAP, a story he had never shared publicly.
“People there apologized for what happened,” White said. “Now is a time people feel they can speak up about stuff that has happened to them. Now I know some people think it is getting out of hand with people sharing stories from years back. But you have to understand you are hearing 40 years of things maybe that some people have been through because now there is a platform for them to use.
“Just listen. It’s not just all. People just want you to know things that have been happening for a long time and I appreciate what Erik and those guys did here in Lexington.”
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Quote of the Week: “I played with him at USA (Basketball) and against him at (Nike) EYBL. He is really good. He is a high flier, plays hard, blocks shots. I think he was one of the top players in our recruiting class,” Jalen Green, who signed with the G-League, on UK signee Isaiah Jackson.
Quote of the Week 2: “Jordan really stepped his game up last year. He’s a former basketball player. He’s really good on the edge, can really bend and run. He’s so long and athletic that it gives tackles and linemen problems. JJ is still a baby. He works really hard. His upside is amazing. He’s big, long and strong. I don’t think he even knows his potential,” UK defensive line coach Anwar Stewart on outside linebackers Jordan Wright and JJ Weaver.
Quote of the Week 3: “My oncologist said I don’t have to take any necessary precautions and, as far as the research goes, I’m good. I feel like we’re all on the same level as an average human right now,” UK defensive lineman Josh Paschal on if COVID-19 is an extra risk to him because of his bout with skin cancer.