High School Sports

Signing Day: Wooten became national recruit before first basketball game with Manteca

“He’s got the motor. He’s got tools. He’s definitely got the athleticism,” says Manteca High coach Brett Lewis of basketball phenom Kenny Wooten.
“He’s got the motor. He’s got tools. He’s definitely got the athleticism,” says Manteca High coach Brett Lewis of basketball phenom Kenny Wooten.

That Kenny Wooten is the most intriguing and heavily recruited basketball prospect to come out of a Manteca high school has been the source of great debate.

What can’t be argued is this: On Wednesday afternoon, the 6-foot-8 Wooten accepted a full-ride scholarship to a Division I university on a court he’s yet to officially grace.

Surrounded by family, friends and coaches, Wooten signed his national letter of intent to play for former NBA coach Eric Musselman at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Wednesday marked the beginning of the early signing period. Wooten was joined by others across the Stanislaus District, including:

▪  Hilmar volleyball star Emily Baptista, who signed with University of the Pacific in a morning celebration with parents Randy and Lisa Baptista, teammates and club coach Gabe Leal of Rage.

Baptista is a two-time Trans-Valley League MVP and cornerstone of a program gunning for a Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship.

“Emily is an anomaly, meaning she comes from this small town of Hilmar and she’s this girl who is 6-2 when both of her parents are 5-6. She’s truly one of a kind,” coach Patti Harris said. “She’s had some good coaching over the years at Rage, really good coaches who have helped mold her.”

▪  East Union’s Brooke Riley (golf), Samantha Owens (softball) and Alejandra Rascon (softball). Riley will attend Northwestern, while Owens will play at Pacific and Rascon at Cal State Northridge.

▪  The Stanislaus State men’s basketball team landed two of the Central Valley’s top high school guards in Jaelen Ragsdale and Fred Lavender of Weston Ranch. The two are coached by former Modesto Junior College assistant Chris Teevan.

▪  Two All-District softball players finalized their commitments to Pacific-12 Conference programs. Ceres infielder Nicole Bates is bound for Washington, and Merced’s Maddy Nickles will play at UCLA.

Wooten had his pick of national offers but chose Nevada for its proximity and new coach.

“He fell in love with Nevada,” Manteca coach Brett Lewis said.

Soon, local fans will fall in love with Wooten who, in a strange twist to this signing period, has never played a game for Manteca. He was forced to sit out his junior season after transferring from Stagg in Stockton. As a sophomore, he averaged 8.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.1 blocked shots for the Delta Kings.

Wooten’s college prospects were born on the AAU circuit, where his length, bounce and natural defensive instincts for DreamVision won favor with many college coaches. Wooten received full-ride offers from Kansas State, Fresno State, San Jose State, Cal State Bakersfield and Louisiana-Lafayette. There was also interest from Georgia Tech, San Francisco, UC Santa Barbara, Portland, Rice and UC San Diego, among others.

“He’s got the motor. He’s got tools. He’s definitely got the athleticism,” Lewis said. “Coaches have told me he has elite athleticism, which is what is so intriguing about him. He’s got a great attitude and keeps working harder and harder.”

Lewis said at least 15 Division I coaches visited the campus over the summer, each intrigued by his raw ability. That kind of attention stirred up a debate between Lewis and former area coaches: Is Wooten the most sought-after basketball player to come out of Manteca?

Lewis spoke with former coach Dave Asuncion, who coached YouTube sensation and Santa Cruz Warriors guard Kiwi Gardner for two years. Asuncion told Lewis no major college coach stopped by the Yosemite Avenue campus to inquire about Gardner.

Manteca Vice Principal Bill Slikker and assistant coach Ryan Bono coached pro journeyman James Nunnally at Weston Ranch, and both say Wooten’s recruiting process is unprecedented for the Manteca Unified School District.

Defending Valley Oak League and Division III champion Sierra had two players sign with four-year schools – co-MVPS Hunter Johnson (Cal Maritime) and Joshua Patton (Sacramento State) – but neither generated nationwide interest.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime deal, especially in a town like Manteca,” Lewis said. “I think he’s been one of the most highly recruited kids from our town.”

With the addition of Wooten, Manteca will feature one of the tallest frontcourts in the section. Wooten will join established stars Anand Hundal, a 6-foot-9 center, and cousin Tydus Verhoeven, a 6-7 combo guard.

“I haven’t won a VOL championship since I played. That’s where my sights are set right now,” Lewis said. “We have the talent to compete for a section championship. Of course, we feel like we can make that run, but at the same time, there are some tough teams in our section and our league.”

Even without Wooten, Manteca came close last season. The Buffaloes reached the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinal round, where they were eliminated by VOL nemesis Weston Ranch.

“These guys are hungry,” Lewis said.

Wooten chose Nevada over a full-ride offer from Kansas State coach Bruce Weber and a long list of others because of Musselman’s ties to the NBA. He is a former head coach of the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors.

Lewis said Wooten also consulted with former Modesto Christian and Kentucky star Chuck Hayes, who recently was waived by the Houston Rockets.

“We’ve been told by a number of people, especially Chuck Hayes, that Kenny has NBA athleticism. Chuck said he was more athletic than some guys playing right now,” Lewis said. “Based on that and Musselman’s ties to the NBA, we all felt like it was a good position to put himself in, going to a guy that knows what it takes to play at that level; and Musselman is known for his player development.”

James Burns: 209-578-2150, @jburns1980