Get ready to feel jealous: The Kentucky women’s basketball team will depart for their European tour in just five short days. That’s right, the men’s basketball team isn’t the only group of Wildcats boarding long plane flights, and the ladies are the first to leave. The Cats will spend 10 days in Italy, traveling to Rome, Venice, Florence and Lake Como, beginning Aug. 3.
This summer’s trip marks the first international travel the women’s team has taken since 2001, even though the NCAA allows an international trip every four years. Just like Coach Calipari, Coach Matthew Mitchell will also be allowed 10 extra practices with his team. And it couldn’t come at a better time.
The team was TOUGH this week!! We got better every practice. Working hard in preparation for our trip to Italy! We leave a week from today! Ciao! ?? ?#VaiGrandeBlu #amoquestasquadra #aintnostoppingusnow pic.twitter.com/iJ4B6n1Yr1
— Matthew Mitchell (@UKCoachMitchell) July 27, 2018
Last season was clearly a rebuilding year for the Wildcats. With obvious scoring holes after Makayla Epps’ and Evelyn Akhator’s graduation, Maci Morris had big shoes to fill. And while she led the team in scoring, averaging 17.3 points per game, having one consistent shooter wasn’t enough. Kentucky finished 15-17 on the season and 6-10 in the SEC, failing to qualify for post-season play for the first time since 2004.
But a new season begins in five short days, and the Wildcats are ready for a fresh start. After suffering hit after hit to their roster from 2014-2016, Kentucky finally has more returners than newcomers. Both of last season’s leaders – Morris and point guard Taylor Murray – will be back for their senior seasons, while Dorie Harrison (center) and Tatyana Wyatt (forward) will look for their breakout sophomore seasons after making respectable contributions as freshmen.
Clearly, Morris and Murray will be the team’s leaders in practice. Check out this impressive practice footage:
This is what transpired … pic.twitter.com/sklhnkxEPQ
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) July 27, 2018
Then, there are the newcomers: Rhyne Howard and Blair Green. Both women are likely to serve a major role on the team.
Howard, a five-star guard, will unfortunately not be able to attend the European trip. But don’t worry, she’s taking an international trip of her own. Howard is a member of the USA Women’s U18 National Team, so she’ll be competing at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Mexico City August 1-7. Technically, the rest of the Wildcats will be in Europe until Aug. 13, so she could join them late in their trip, but that has not been announced.
Blair Green, a four-star guard out of Harlan, Kentucky, is a player to watch this season. As a high school senior, she averaged 26 points per game. Praised for her long-range shooting, Green is an obvious candidate to contribute – alongside Maci Morris – from the 3-point line. While Mitchell and the BBN would obviously love to see Green have a standout freshman season, her true test will come next year, once Morris has graduated.
This timing of the trip couldn’t be better. In addition to the in-game experience they’ll earn – the team will play three games – the extra 10 practices will certainly help find and develop that chemistry a young basketball team so desperately needs before the start of another challenging season in the SEC.
Coach Mitchell put it best:
“The importance of these educational and athletic trips cannot be overstated,” Mitchell said in a letter to potential donors. “For example, the last two times our men’s basketball team has made a foreign tour before a season it resulted in Final Four runs in April.”