For thousands of high school basketball players across the commonwealth, the dream is to one day play for the University of Kentucky.
Blair Green will live that dream, starting in the fall of 2018.
Green, a junior at Harlan County High School who is among the top ranked players in the nation in the Class of 2018, gave her verbal commitment on Friday to play at the University of Kentucky when UK coach Matthew Mitchell visited Green at her home.
“I will commit to Kentucky. I really feel comfortable with them and I love the program,” Green said. “A lot of kids don’t think that can happen, going to UK from eastern Kentucky. They don’t think people notice them here, but it’s not true. You just have to get out and show what you’ve got.”
While Friday’s decision won’t be official until she can sign with UK as a high school senior, Green put to a rest a question that she had been asked since she arrived at Harlan County High School as a freshman.
The process began even earlier than that though, according to her mom and coach, Debbie Green, who signed with UK as a senior at Harlan High School in 1987. Green went on to earn All-American honors at Lincoln Memorial University and knows better than most what it takes to play college basketball.
“We could tell she had the size and talent at an early age, so I asked her in the sixth grade what she wanted to do with it,” Green said. “She wanted to play college basketball, so we went to work.”
Green knew her daughter would have to sacrifice, spending time in gyms across the nation while her friends were at the lake or on vacation.
“We told her she would have to make choices and keep her circle tight,” Green said.
The younger Green did just that, beginning play with an AAU team, the Tennessee Fury, as a sixth grader. Blair played on her mom’s middle school teams at Middlesboro and joined the Middlesboro varsity as a seventh grader, where her dad, Elgie, was the head coach.
“We knew she had potential. We took her to these skills clinics and one of the scouts there told us she had the potential to a major college prospect,” said Elgie Green. “From that time on, she just kept pushing. She grew and her skill set kept improving. She caught on to things quickly. She got her first Division I offer after the eighth grade from Vanderbilt, and it just snowballed from there.”
Elgie Green, at 6-8, was a center on regional championship teams at Middlesboro in 1982 and 1983 and also went on to play at Western Carolina, then Lincoln Memorial University.
Having two parents who played college basketball aided her in the recruiting process , according to Blair Green.
“They’ve had a big impact on this. They’ve been there and they’ve pushed me and prepared me,” Green said. “They really get on me in practice like college coaches. I think it will help.”
Green, a 6-foot-1 guard, was recruited by approximately 50 Division I schools, eventually narrowing the list to Kentucky, South Carolina, UCLA, DePaul and Tennessee. UK was not among the original favorites but began to gain momentum after Green visited the Lexington campus.
“Kentucky moved up the list in the last month,” Green said. “I didn’t really even consider Kentucky at first. I wanted to be different. But once I went down there it felt in my heart it was right. It totally changed.”
“It kind of blew us away,” said Elgie Green of the offer Blair received during a camp at UK. “We sat in coach Mitchell’s office and he said ‘we’ve watched Blair play, we’ve evaluated her and I want to coach her.’ I was sitting there wondering if this was really happening. It actually brought tears to my eyes because I couldn’t believe it was happening. I’m excited for her, and I think she’s made the right decision. I think it’s a good fit, and I think the coaching staff there is wonderful. I think she’ll do well there.”
Growing up in Middlesboro, Green was a Tennessee fan during part of the program’s glory days with Pat Summitt.
“That used to be my dream. I used to go down there all the time,” Green said. “Pat Summitt was a role model for me. I really loved her, and it was my dream to play for her. A lot of things changed.”
Green becomes the third girls player from Harlan County to play at UK.
Lynnette Lewis, a 1980 Cawood graduate who played on the Trojanettes’ regional championship team in 1978, walked on at UK, eventually earning a scholarship. She was a member of the 1982 SEC championship squad and was a co-captain as a senior in 1984.
Her mom was the last player from the county to sign with UK after leading Harlan to the state tournament in 1987. The HCHS coach says her daughter is better prepared to make the adjustment than she was almost 30 years ago.
“I was a little homesick,” Green said. “Blair has a lot more exposure and experience than I ever did.”
Green will also have a friend on the UK roster when she gets there. Maci Morris, of Bell County, was Kentucky’s Miss Basketball in 2015 and played a key role for Kentucky last year as a freshman.
“I already know a lot of people at Kentucky through her, and I feel I can be myself,” Green said. “I guess that helped a lot. She’s out there starting, so that makes me think I can do it. I want to show everyone an eastern Kentucky girl can play there.”
Kentucky’s program has been under a microscope of late after several players left the team last year, but Green is comfortable with the situation and where Kentucky basketball is headed.
“I’m really close to coach Mitchell, and he says he knows more now and will change some things,” Green said. “He’s not going to rely on everyone else and will make time for the players. He will turn the program back around, and I want to be part of that.”
Green is used to being the focus of attention with college coaches in the bleachers almost every night she played the last couple of years. By announcing her college choice early, Green hopes to eliminate some distractions during the upcoming season.
“I think it will it a lot easier, but it will push me to work harder,” Green said. “I want to try to dominate and show I can play at the next level.”
Green and the Lady Bears will again be ranked near the top of the 13th Region rankings after finishing second to Harlan last year. HCHS brings back all five starters from last year’s 23-9 team, including Green and center Kaylea Gross, both ranked among the region’s top three players next year along with Harlan guard Jordan Brock.
“I think we can win it. Our guards are working and improving and Kaylea has played all summer and will be great,” Green said. “We’re already in the gym working.”
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134