LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Kentucky women's basketball team signed five heralded high school standouts, including three ranked in the nation's top 70, to national letters-of-intent in the fall signing period, head coach Matthew Mitchell announced Wednesday. The early signing period ends Wednesday, Nov. 18.
Sarah Beth Barnette , a 6-foot-2 forward from Lexington Christian Academy in Lexington, Ky., Maegan Conwright , a 5-8 guard from Mansfield Timberview High School in Arlington, Texas, Kastine Evans ( pronounced cas-TEEN) , a 5-8 guard from Norwich Free Academy in Salem, Conn., LaQuinta Jefferson , a 6-0 guard from La Vergne High School in La Vergne, Tenn., and Jennifer O'Neill , a 5-6 point guard from Saint Michael Academy and Bronx, N.Y., have signed to play for the Wildcats next season.
"We're working hard every day to take steps forward as a program and I cannot be happier about this class because we not only got unbelievably talented basketball players, we got players with the kind of character it takes to win championships," Mitchell said. "These five young women understand how special Kentucky is and they wanted to wear the Kentucky uniform. I believe they will do special things during their careers at Kentucky."
Barnette, a Lexington Christian Academy player since the eighth grade, tallied 1,247 points and grabbed 820 rebounds during her prep career. She helped lead LCA to four district, regional and state championships, including three Class A titles and one Sweet 16 Championship title in 2007. Last season, she averaged a double-double with 15.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game and helped LCA become the first team in the Commonwealth's history to win three consecutive Class A State Championships. She has been an All-Tournament team selection three straight years and was named the Most Valuable Player of the Class A State Tournament Championship game. Barnette was named All-Region, All-District and All-State for the 2008-09 season and has been an All-City selection the last three years, including a first-team nod last year. She is an honorable mention preseason All-America choice for 2009-10 as selected by Sporting News.
Barnette, considered one of the lead candidates for Kentucky's Miss Basketball honor, committed to Kentucky early and did not seriously consider any other schools.
"I'm always happy when any player comes to Kentucky but it is extra special when that player is from Lexington," Mitchell said. "We are thrilled that Sarah Beth has decided to join our Wildcat family. She is a very accomplished player and her versatility on the basketball court will help us tremendously. She is a great shooter and has a toughness about her on defense and in rebounding that will make a difference in our program. She comes from a great family and she possesses the type of character we want all of our players to possess."
Conwright is listed as the 36th-best guard in the nation, according to ESPN Hoopgurlz. The three-year starter for Coach Candi Harvey at Timberview High School averaged a team-high 12.4 points and 4.0 steals per game in addition to 3.0 assists per game last season as a junior. She has garnered many honors during her prep career, including being named All-State by both the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches and the Texas Girls Coaches Association in 2009. She also was a two-time TABC All-Region selection and a member of the Dallas Morning News' All-Area team. Conwright was named the District 4-5A Co-Most Valuable Player last year after leading her team to the state championship game with an impressive 37-4 overall record. In 2008, she was named the District 4-5A Defensive MVP after averaging 10.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Her squad is currently ranked preseason No. 1 for 4A teams in the state of Texas. She also participated in track and field, advancing and placing at the regional track meet in the long jump as a sophomore.
Conwright chose Kentucky over TCU, SMU, Arkansas, San Diego State and Southern Miss.
"The first thing that jumps out to me about Maegan is that she is a winner," Mitchell said. "She is a part of one of the most successful high school programs in Texas and she knows how to win. She may be the best perimeter defender in the class of 2010 and that is something that will serve her greatly in SEC play. She possesses the athleticism and tenacity to shut down people on the perimeter. On offense, she is a very explosive athlete who can get to the basket and make plays. She also is a good three-point shooter. Maegan came on her visit and fell in love in with Kentucky. She tapped into the enthusiasm and passion for Kentucky basketball that we all share and she is so excited to play for the Big Blue."
Evans is ranked as the 67th overall player and the 18th-best shooting guard in the country, according to ESPN HoopGurlz. She averaged 19.7 points per game in leading Norwich (Conn.) Free Academy to a 24-2 overall record and the Class LL title last winter. She had a game-high 24 points, 15 rebounds and four steals to earn tournament MVP honors after leading the Wildcats to a 63-42 victory over Career High School of New Haven in the final game. Because of her outstanding play as a junior, Evans was named first-team All-State and the 2009 Connecticut Day Player of the Year. In just three years of high school basketball, she has already amassed over 1,500 career points. Evans also is an outstanding volleyball and track athlete for NFA, helping her teams win two state championships in volleyball and one in track and field. She comes from a family of athletes as her father is former New York Jets player Ray Evans and brother R.J. plays on the men's basketball team for Holy Cross.
Evans chose Kentucky over Cincinnati, Marquette, UMass and Rutgers.
"Kastine is a player we are very excited about signing," Mitchell said. "She is an explosive athlete and has accomplished something as a high school athlete that is rare. She won a state championship in volleyball, track and basketball all in the same year. That speaks to her athletic ability. She is an extremely versatile perimeter player who can play multiple positions. She has the ability to impact a game offensively and defensively and she is an outstanding ball-handler who can push the tempo in transition. Kastine is an offensive threat because she can drive to the basket or shoot from long range. We are very excited that she chose Kentucky."
Jefferson, a three-year starter at La Vergne High School, is ranked as the 34th overall player, according to The Collegiate Girls Basketball Report and the 16 th best shooting guard by ESPN Hoopgurlz. She averaged 17.4 points per game last season and helped lead the Lady Wolverines to an upset of defending state champion Wilson Central in the Region 5-AAA tournament. Jefferson was instrumental in La Vergne finishing with an impressive 22-9 overall record. She is a three-time selection to the Daily News Journal's All-Area team, as well as a 2009 Tennessee Sports Writers' Association All-State selection for Class AAA.
Jefferson chose Kentucky over South Carolina.
"LaQuinta is an outstanding talent and one of the most explosive perimeter players in the class of 2010," Mitchell said. "She has the ability to take over a game offensively. Her size on the wing allows her to play multiple positions. Not only can she score but she also can impact a game on the boards. She is an outstanding rebounder because of her size and jumping ability.
O'Neill, a consensus national top-30 player, is ranked as the nation's 10 th best point guard, according to ESPN Hoopsgurlz. She was tabbed a fourth-team All-American by PARADE Magazine and was a fifth-team All-America choice by Street & Smith's Magazine last season after averaging 22.0 points and 7.0 assists per game at St. Michael Academy in New York. She earned first-team all-state honors in Class AA in 2008-09 after leading St. Michael's to its first Federation championship title. She was named tournament MVP after pouring in 22 points in the CHSAA state `AA' title game and hitting four clutch free throws in the Class AA semifinals in the final 1:01 to lift her squad to a 50-46 win. She also netted a game-high 13 points in the state Federation championship game for the Eagles. Because of her outstanding junior season, the New York Daily News named her the Girls Player of the Year.
O'Neill chose Kentucky over Georgia and California.
"Jennifer in my mind is the best pure point guard in the class of 2010," Mitchell said. "She's an unbelievable playmaker. Her ability to handle the basketball and get herself in position to score or set her teammates up to score is unmatched. She's a very good outside shooter which makes her extremely dangerous on the offensive end. What I like most about her is her leadership qualities and the leadership abilities she has exhibited in high school. That will benefit our team greatly. She is everything you would want in a point guard."