By LARRY VAUGHT
Since it is Thanksgiving, let me tell you how thankful I am that I know Kentucky women’s basketball signee Emma King.
No, that’s not what a media member usually would admit, but there have been very few athletes I’ve been around during my nearly 44-year career that have made an impression on me like this Lincoln County senior has.
She chose the Stanford Presbyterian Church for her UK signing ceremony. It’s the same church where she’s active in the youth group and often goes to early morning Bible study before heading to school.
“I was blessed to be raised in a Christian home. That’s one reason I am who I am,” said King. “I prayed a lot and I am thankful for the guidance I received. It meant the world to me to do my signing at the church. I believe 100 percent I am in the position I am now because the Lord blessed me.
“Having my ceremony at the church was not a last-minute decision. Me and dad talked about it and I just felt it was a place where I know a lot of people have supported me for years. It’s just a place I feel at home.”
She got the same “home” feeling at Kentucky — where her two older sisters are students and cousins and friends have also gone to school — and verbally committed to play for coach Matthew Mitchell the summer between her sophomore and junior seasons rather than waste the “time, money and energy” of other schools trying to recruit her.
King averaged 20.6 points and 5.0 rebounds per game last season while shooting 84 percent from the foul line and 39 percent from 3-point range. She enters this season with 1,970 points and soon will become the school’s all-time leading scorer.
The 5-11 King was voted as the state’s top player in polls released this week by the Lexington Herald-Leader and Louisville Courier-Journal. That makes the UK signee the preseason favorite to be named Miss Basketball.
“I am not going to lie. Of course, I have thought about it and I would love to have that honor. But I can’t dwell on that,” King said. “I want to try and be the best player I can be but being Miss Basketball is not my main goal. I would much rather win state, and I think my team is capable of that. If I have the kind of year that is deserving of Miss Basketball, that’s great. But if there is a more deserving player, I want them to win. I will just do my best and hope for the best for my team and me.”
Lincoln lost 67-64 in the 12th Region Tournament semifinals last year to eventual state champion Mercer County. King had 32 points while Miss Basketball Seygan Robins, a Louisville freshman now, had 30 for Mercer. Lincoln lost 83-67 in the 2017 12th Region title game to Mercer when Robins had 31 and King got 13 for Mercer. Lincoln also lost 64-54 to Mercer in the 2016 regional title game when King was a freshman and had 17 points and four rebounds.
“This is a time I have dreaded but also been waiting for,” King, an honor student, said. “None of us seniors want our time playing together to end. We’ve been together since third or fourth grade. But I am very confident about what we can do this year. I am proud of all my teammates. They have all been working so hard.
“Other than Mercer, we are always the team with the target on our back. Every single person is going to bring their best against me. That used to bother me. Now it just makes me want to please people but if I have a bad game I will not let it bother me too much and just be grateful for the opportunity. Every single team is going to bring their best against us. But I really think we can have a special season.”
Mitchell has encouraged her to work on her midrange game as well as “figuring out” how to get stronger before she gets to Kentucky where two other in-state players — senior Maci Morris and freshman Maci Morris — are playing well this season.
“The team has been playing really well. I love the intensity they have. Love the way they are pressing and turning people over,” King said. “I think they are going to have a great year.”
King played AAU with Green, who is from Harlan County.
“She has been a great role model. I love how hard she is working,” King said.
The Lincoln senior can’t exactly remember the first time she saw Morris play. However, she’s been compared to the former Bell County star a lot.
“I always knew about her and what a great player she was, but I never really thought about being like her until everybody said I reminded them of her. To me, that’s a great compliment because she’s terrific and somebody I would love to think I could be like at Kentucky,” King said.