Kenny Wooten propelled the Manteca High School boys basketball program to its first CIF state championship, coining the slogan “For the City.”
With less than three weeks left in the school year, the springy 6-foot-9 forward – an All-District large-school and all-state MaxPreps Division III first-team selection – has left that city for another.
Wooten withdrew from Manteca High on April 28 and enrolled at Trinity International Schools in Las Vegas, as confirmed by athletic directors on both campuses.
This is definitely a gamble and a risk, but I truly hope it works out for him. The kid is a heck of a talent, and anybody would be lucky to have him.
Bill Slikker, Manteca High athletic director, on former student-athlete Kenny Wooten
“As an administration we met with him and talked to him about his options,” Manteca High athletic director Bill Slikker told the Manteca Bulletin. Slikker did not return messages left by The Modesto Bee. “It’s not a decision I would make but one that his family would have to make and did. We told him, ‘We support you and we’re here to help.’ He thanked us for the time he had at Manteca High and we wish him well.”
Trinity International is an accredited high school that is not a competing member of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, according to athletic director and boys basketball coach Greg Lockridge. Instead, the Trinity International boys basketball team plays a national schedule, comprised mostly of post-graduate academies.
Last season, Trinity International went 46-12 and reached the Division I final of the National Christian Schools Athletic Association Championships in Ohio. Trinity International lost to Sunrise Christian of Kansas 35-30.
“We were asked to help out,” Lockridge said, “and we think we can do that.”
Wooten, who transferred to Manteca High before his junior year in poor academic standing, was on track to graduate May 27. According to a source, he had “two A’s and two B’s” in his final four courses, a schedule that included Spanish, Algebra II and no electives.
Trinity International is not a competing member of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, according to athletic director Greg Lockridge. Instead, Trinity International plays a national schedule, comprised mostly of post-graduate academies.
Lockridge said Wooten will meet all of his graduation requirements by June, but will re-classify for the Class of 2017 to improve his transcript and continue his personal development.
“The way the NCAA works, you can’t take a class off your transcript, but you can put a class on,” Lockridge said. “He’ll use the upcoming year to clean up his past work and develop physically, emotionally, mentally and athletically.”
The move leaves Wooten’s future at the Nevada in doubt. He signed a letter of intent with the Wolf Pack in November.
Nevada is coached by former NBA coach Eric Musselman and enjoyed postseason success this season, defeating Morehead State in the best-of-three final of the College Basketball Invitational. But Musselman chose not to retain coaches Jay Morris and Jermaine Kimbrough, and top assistant Doug Stewart took a promotion with Tulane. Each assistant reportedly played a pivotal role in recruiting Wooten to the Mountain West Conference program.
The coaching shake-up left Wooten uneasy, one source said. Lockridge confirmed Wooten’s desire to reopen his recruitment but said Nevada would have to release the four-star recruit from his commitment.
He has professional explosion right now in high school. I think he can play 14, 15, 16 years in the league with his body type. It’s my job to get him ready right now. That’s the goal here.
Greg Lockridge, Trinity International Schools athletic director and boys basketball coach, on transfer Kenny Wooten
“It’s my understanding that that’s the wish of the family,” said Lockridge, a former assistant at Fresno State, San Jose State and Sacramento State, among other jobs.
“Again, it has to be something that is mutual. The family thinks Kenny didn’t understand the entire process of it all when he signed. Kenny has been in some tough situations and various environments. The move here was to settle him down, give him a comfortable environment and room to grow.”
Like many, Lockridge is intrigued by Wooten’s natural athleticism.
Wooten didn’t begin playing basketball until his freshman year at the behest of his mother and sat out his junior season at Manteca High for violating CIF transfer rules. With another year of maturity and training, Lockridge believes he can put Wooten on the NBA path. He envisions Wooten as a stretch-four – a player who can play on the block and “stretch” the defense by playing on the perimeter – at the next level.
“He has professional explosion right now in high school,” Lockridge said. “I think he can play 14, 15, 16 years in the league with his body type. It’s my job to get him ready right now. That’s the goal here.”
Wooten is an ESPN four-star recruit. He earned his fourth star after a takeover performance in the CIF State Division III championship game, where he had 26 points on 11-of-13 shooting with 18 rebounds and nine blocked shots as the Buffaloes pulled away from Ayala of Chino Hills 60-51.
The news of his departure has stunned a close-knit campus community. In less than two years, Wooten had become a popular figure at the Manteca Unified School District’s oldest campus.
Teachers appreciated his work ethic and drive, while the athletic program embraced a wunderkind. Not only was he a rising national recruit on the court, Wooten had state-meet potential in track and field. As a junior, he qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters meet in the triple and high jumps.
Wooten’s short stint at Manteca High was full of intrigue and controversy. He transferred from Stagg High before his junior year, but was forced to sit out the entire season after the section ruled his move was athletically motivated. Administrators and coaches at Manteca High fought that ruling to no avail.
Even in street clothes, though, Wooten built a cult following amongst Manteca High fans, many of whom taunted the section with cheers of “Free Kenny Wooten.”
Wooten began his senior season with a signing day celebration inside Winter Gymnasium. His commitment to Nevada hinted at his place as one of the top recruits in Northern California. His play throughout the 2015-16 season confirmed it.
4 Stars awarded to former Manteca High forward Kenny Wooten by ESPN’s recruiting services
Wooten averaged 13.6 points, 10.9 rebounds and 4.0 blocks for the Buffaloes, who won a state championship without winning a league or section title. Manteca was second to Weston Ranch at both stops, but soared to new heights in the state tournament on the wings of Wooten.
“For someone who started playing as a freshman and missed his entire junior year, the sky is the limit for Kenny,” Slikker told the Bulletin. “As coaches and ADs, our job is to get these kids to graduate and be successful after high school and I think we were on the right track with Kenny.
“Personally, I would have liked to have seen him go straight to college. This is definitely a gamble and a risk, but I truly hope it works out for him. The kid is a heck of a talent, and anybody would be lucky to have him.”