Kentucky women’s basketball trending upward in eyes of national media

Kenny Brooks has Kentucky women’s basketball back in the national spotlight.

The Wildcats have made their debut in Charlie Creme’s latest edition of ESPN’s “Way-Too-Early Top 25” for the 2024-25 season, checking in at No. 25 after previously missing the cut.

“The entire program has been revamped with the hiring of Brooks as head coach,” Creme wrote. “Nine transfers leaving and three more coming in. Having Georgia Amoore along with him from Virginia Tech gives Brooks the opportunity to compete in his first year in the SEC. Clara Strack also followed Brooks, and the addition of 6-4 Teonni Key from North Carolina gives Kentucky necessary size. Strack and Key, who have only started a combined three games in their careers, will be forced to progress quickly, however. Lexi Blue is a top-50 recruit, and 6-3 Australian Amelia Hassett is a JUCO transfer; both originally committed to the Hokies and are now in Lexington, as well.”

If Creme’s numbers look off to you, you’re not wrong; this description appears to have been written prior to the signings of Penn graduate guard Jordan Obi (announced by UK on May 2) and Charlotte graduate guard Dazia Lawrence (announced by UK on May 5).

The Wildcats’ roster certainly had lots of potential before the commitments of Obi and Lawrence, with greener players like Blue, Key, Strack and international prospect Clara Silva and more seasoned players like Hassett and returning double-figure scorer Saniah Tyler in the fold with Amoore leading the way. But, as described in Monday morning’s Herald-Leader story on the current state of UK’s roster, experience was sorely needed in Lexington. In picking up Obi and Lawrence, the Wildcats gained more than 5,000 combined minutes of career playing time and more than 2,300 career points.

Despite the fact both players come from mid-majors, their status as First Team All-Conference honorees — and their individual demonstrations of offensive urgency and basketball IQ, particularly over the past two seasons — prove Brooks’ desire to compete right away in the Southeastern Conference.

Also debuting in ESPN’s “Way-Too-Early Top 25” is fellow SEC member Ole Miss, as the pair takes the place of ACC-bound Stanford and recent NCAA Tournament Elite Eight team Oregon State. The list is headlined by unsurprising No. 1, reigning national champion South Carolina and No. 2 Southern California, the latter of which earned a major boost with its additions of ex-Stanford second-leading scorer Kiki Iriafen and former Oregon State veteran guard Talia von Oelhoffen, who chose the Trojans over Kentucky, Louisville and Colorado.

Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart introduced Kenny Brooks as UK’s new women’s basketball coach on March 28. A little more than a month later, Brooks has already rebuilt the Wildcats’ roster.
Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart introduced Kenny Brooks as UK’s new women’s basketball coach on March 28. A little more than a month later, Brooks has already rebuilt the Wildcats’ roster.

The importance of Amoore’s transfer probably can’t be overstated, and ESPN’s transfer rankings reflect that; Amoore was the service’s top-ranked transfer until recently, when Iriafen and Oregon State leading scorer Raegan Beers (now at Oklahoma) announced their intentions to enter the portal.

In addition to the Gamecocks, next season’s SEC members Texas (No. 6), LSU (No. 7), Oklahoma (No. 13) and Alabama (No. 21) each remain on this iteration of Creme’s list. Auburn was named in the “also considered” category.

It’s been a few years since the Wildcats were anywhere to be found in the national rankings — with UK finishing No. 15 in the final Associated Press Top 25 of the 2021-22 season, during which it completed a magical championship run in the 2022 SEC Tournament before falling in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Princeton. Soon after, All-America selection Rhyne Howard was selected first overall in the 2022 WNBA draft. The 2021-22 campaign was also the last time the Wildcats held a winning record, and went at least .500 in SEC play.

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