Monday, December 11, 2023

5-Star UK recruit believes in Cal's staff

Five-star center Jayden Quaintance is a top 10 player nationally but that has not been a surprise for his father, Haminn Quaintance.

“I always knew my son would be a very good basketball player,” said Haminn, a former college and professional basketball player. “I started working with him when he was about 7 years old, or maybe younger. 

“This is not all about how good you are. How do you pick things up? How is your work ethic, self discipline? A lot of things determine how good you will be. At a young age not everybody wants to do it. If it was just me pushing him to play basketball, it would not matter but he wanted to do it and that’s why he got better.”

The 6-10, 250-pound Quaintance signed with Kentucky last month. He’s only 16 years old and will not be eligible for the NBA draft until after graduates from Word of God Christian Academy (N.C.) in the spring.

Picking Kentucky was not a hard choice for Jayden Quaintance.

“It was the Big Blue Nation and all that good stuff,” Haminn said. “There is a huge spotlight that comes with being at Kentucky when you are doing well. But more than anything it was the coaching staff. You have to believe in the coaching staff. We also know we have got to do our work and if we do that then the coaches are going to put us in the best situation. They know what needs to be done.”

Haminn played two years at Jacksonville State and two years at Kent State. He started 104 games in four years, including 35 in 2007-08 at Kent State. He was a 54.5 percent (1,048 of 1,922) shooter from the field and averaged 11.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.8 steals per game during his career.

“I played against Duke (2010) and North Carolina (2009) the year they both won a national championship,” Haminn, who went on to play professionally overseas, said. “I was pretty athletic I think and played basketball for a long time. Jayden is a little bigger than me but I was top 10 in the country in blocks one year. 

“The athleticism is there. Obviously I was athletic and I think some of that passed down to him. But I was 6-7, maybe 6-8 about 210 pounds as a college senior. He is a 16-year-old high school senior weighing around 250 without really lifting weights. There’s no fat on him. He’s actually a slim 250.”
Haminn played often against his young son and “never took it easy” on him. 

“I took him to play with college guys when he was 11 or 12. He always did better than I expected against older guys,” Haminn said. “People adapt to the environments you put them in. I put him in national ball when he was 13. He played against a bunch of top players in the country. Iron sharpens iron if it is already iron. I thought he would be okay and it would make him stronger going against older, better players.”

Quaintance helped Team USA win the gold medal at the 2023 FIBA Americas Championship when he averaged 6.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 18.7 minutes per game.

“He has always played against good players and with good players. You get used to playing different spots. Now he has to get better when he is off the ball. He has always guarded the ball. He can switch on guards. That’s the easy part,” Haminn Quaintance said. “The hard part is being in the right places when you are not guarding the ball. He can guard but I’ve got to get him ready for college.

“I want him to keep playing, be sharp, be aggressive, play hard and put in the work and everything will take care of itself. I am trying to get him to play the passing lanes more and get some steals. Get him to meet the ball better and rebound. Just doing stuff to translate to college and make him a better player.”

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Georgia transfer Brock Vandagriff’s decision to play at Kentucky gives offensive coordinator Liam Coen another player with Will Levis-like skills except that he might be an even more accurate passer.

However, Vandagriff’s father, Greg, says his son is not the most talented athlete in the family. Instead, it is high school senior Audrey, an Alabama softball signee. She hit .641 with 12 homers and 38 RBI’s as a senior. She scored 82 runs in 37 games, was never caught stealing and did not commit an error in center field.
She is the 18th-ranked player in the 2024 recruiting class and a three-time first team all-stater who was named Alabama player of the year in 2023. 

If that’s not enough, she won the 100- and 200-meter dash state track championships both as a sophomore and junior.

“Our youngest child is the best athlete in the family. She is a 6-footer who also plays basketball,” Greg Vandagriff said. “She will hit leadoff and play center field for Alabama. She has run the 100 in 11.9 and hopes to get that down to 11.6.”

Brock Vandagriff’s other sister, Anna Greer (AG), is a sophomore volleyball player at Eastern Kentucky University who made the all-Atlantic Sun Conference second team this year. She averaged 2.85 kills and 0.52 blocks per set. She ranked 10th in the ASUN in attack percentage with the fifth best mark ever at Eastern.

Greg Vandagriff played football at Tennessee Wesleyan while his wife, Kelly, played basketball and softball at Southern Union.

Brock Vandagriff was also a multi-sport athlete.

“It was his eighth birthday and he had never hit a home run. He hit three that day,” Greg Vandagriff said. “He’s always been really talented. I think he actually was better at baseball than football.”

Greg Vandagriff said having a child playing a Division I sport at three different schools is exciting but challenging at the same time.

“You are super excited about no school bills but also concerned about the gas bill to (drive) watch them all,” the father laughed and said. “But all that is a good-bad problem. It is wonderful we will see her (AG) more often as we go to see him play at Kentucky. It is sad he will be six hours away but that’s part of life. Hopefully in two years he will be in the NFL and that will be another good-bad problem.”

Greg Vandagriff says he feels blessed to have three children who are Division I athletes.

“As a father you want to give kids a business. I could not give them an insurance agency. I do not own one,” Vandagriff, a two-time state champion coach, said.  “I am a coach and teaching PE. But competing is something I know about. My theory was I am going to help you be an athlete and the things you learn will help make you successful in life.”

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Freshman 7-footer Aaron Bradshaw will get his first big-time college basketball experience Saturday when Kentucky takes on North Carolina in Atlanta in the CBS Sports Classic.

The Tar Heels already have wins over Florida State, Tennessee and Arkansas but did lose to Villanova, a team Penn beat, and UConn. 

Armando Bacot, a 6-11 forward/center, is a returning All-American averaging 15.9 points and 11.9 rebounds per game this season while shooting 51 percent from the field. He also leads the Tar Heels with 17 blocked shots.

Former UK All-American Jack Givens thinks Bradshaw will be ready for the challenge after his 17-point, 11-rebound, 3-block game against Penn last week in his second game of the season.

“He is getting in better shape and that’s the real key. I know a lot of people think he should come back and give you 25-30 minutes the first game back. You think running in practice, running on the sideline and riding a bike will  get you in shape but there’s nothing like going up and down a basketball floor with guys pushing you,” Givens said.

“We have not seen him scratch the surface of what he can do even with a double-double (against Penn). That’s the most exciting part to me. He’s going to get even better.”

* * *
How big a loss was four-star linebacker Elijah Groves’ decommitment  from Kentucky? He was the sixth highest rated player in UK’s 2024 recruiting class — he is the nation’s 250th overall prospect in the On3 composite rankings while 247Sports has him as the No. 12 linebacker and 130th best player in the nation regardless of position.
He had almost 20 scholarship offers when he picked UK over NC State and Purdue in July. The 6-3, 210-pound Groves is now committed to NC State.

Groves had over 15 offers and was previously committed to Kentucky. He also has two younger brothers who both already have multiple Division I offers.

Josh Edwards, football recruiting analyst for TheCatsPause/247 Sports, believes Kentucky can withstand losing the Tennessee linebacker.

“They have multiple others committed at the position and could potentially return their top three linebackers from the 2023 season. It is disappointing to lose a prospect with the athletic traits that Elijah Groves possesses but it does not impact their short-term outlook,” Edwards said.

Kentucky has lost linebacker Keaten Wade to the transfer portal after he played in every game this season. He has had over 500 snaps the last two years.

“Wade is more of a pass rusher, which I would say is a position that UK should look to address in the transfer portal,” Edwards said. “The problem is that everyone is looking for one of those difference making prospects at the position. As it stands, J.J. Weaver, Tyreese Fearbry and freshman Jacob Smith will be leaned on heavily.”

Edwards believes Groves’ decision was isolated and UK will not see a rash of de-commitments before signing day Dec. 20. Kentucky has added Georgia quarterback Brock Vandagriff and Texas A&M receiver Raymond Cottrell through the transfer portal. Edwards expects UK to add more transfers.

“It is part of doing business in today's college football landscape,” Edwards said.

* * *
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops likes continuity in his coaching staff and despite speculation that he might make several staff changes after UK’s second straight 7-5 regular season, the UK coach only let one assistant coach go.

Offensive line coach Zach Yenser’s name was thrown around as one position coach Stoops might dismiss even though Stoops consistently said the UK offensive line got better in 2023. The UK offensive line allowed 46 sacks — 126th out of 131 teams — in 2022 in Yenser’s first year. This season the line allowed 20 sacks in 12 games.

Yenser was one of four UK assistant coaches to sign contract extensions. Yenser, safeties coach Frank Buffano and linebackers coach Mike Stoops signed contract extensions — their previous deals set to expire in June. 

Defensive line coach Anwar Stewart, a former UK player, had a contract that would not expire until June, 2025, but he also got a contract extension and raise.

Buffano, Mike Stoops and Stewart are signed through the 2025 season. Yenser’s extension runs through the 2024 season.

Buffano ($415,000), Yenser ($650,000) and Mike Stoops ($675,000) will receive the same pay for the 2024 season as 2023 with Buffano, who has been with Mark Stoops all 11 years at UK, and Mike Stoops set to get $25,000 raises in 2025. 

Stewart’s new contract includes a $175,000 raise for next season that will move his salary from $325,000 to $500,000. He would receive another $25,000 raise in 2025. Securing Stewart is important because he’s a big reason star defensive lineman Deone Walker came to UK and did not transfer after the 2022 season.

Offensive coordinator Liam Coen ($1.8 million), defensive coordinator Brad White ($1.6 million), associate head coach Vince Marrow ($1.3 million) special teams coordinator Jay Boulware ($550,000) and cornerbacks coach Chris Collins ($400,000) already have contracts through the 2024 season.

* * *
Quote of the Week: “He can pass. He can shoot. He can attack. It opens the floor up a lot because the defense has to stay on their heels when he has the ball in his hands. They don’t know what he’s going to do with it. He makes the game a lot smoother and a lot easier for us,” UK forward Tre Mitchell on freshman teammate D.J. Wagner.

Quote of the Week 2: “So sad to hear of coach Billy Hicks’ passing. He was one of the best coaches in any sport on any level in our state and beyond. He will be missed,” Kentucky coach John Calipari on the passing of Scott County coach Billy Hicks, the state’s all-time winningest coach with over 1,000 wins.

Quote of the Week 3: “They should just call the transfer portal free agency and get over it. Every year a player can put his name in and let the bidding begin. Agents shop their players and go for the money,” former UK football coach Rich Brooks on the player market in college football.