Keyla Snowden, a departing senior on this season’s UK Hoops team, was kind enough to sit down for an interview with KSR to reflect back upon her time as a Kentucky Wildcat.
Don’t tell women’s soccer coach Jon Lipsitz, but former UK Hoops standout Keyla Snowden’s first love was actually soccer. “I grew up playing soccer mainly. But I started playing basketball around the third grade. And ever since then it kind of just stuck with me.” UK Hoops coach Matthew Mitchell is certainly grateful that Keyla’s love of basketball was the one that stuck. Keyla’s first love was soccer. Her second love was basketball. But her lasting love will be Kentucky basketball. Keyla Snowden spent some time a few days ago reflecting back glowingly on her time as a Kentucky basketball player. I was not only struck by Snowden’s kind and humble demeanor, but also her affection and deep appreciation and love for her time as a Kentucky Wildcat.
Before we get into her time at Kentucky, let’s backtrack a bit to find out where it all began for Snowden. By the time middle school rolled around, Snowden made the decision to put soccer on the back burner and focus on basketball. It was around that same time that Snowden became a proficient shooter, a skill that anyone who knows about UK Hoops–recognizes has stuck with her. “I have to give my Mom a lot of credit because when I was first learning to play, she was the one who was always with me in the gym. She was the one who taught me to shoot a lay up. It’s funny because she probably can’t even shoot a lay up to this day. Around late middle school or beginning of high school shooting just became something that I really developed.”
Though Keyla Snowden had a standout high school career at Lexington Catholic, the bigger schools weren’t showing initial interest in the recruiting process. “The two schools that were really after me were Bethune Cookman (Daytona, Florida) and Akron. I kind of wanted to get away from home. And actually, along with those two schools, Coach Mitchell was at Morehead State at the time. He showed some interest too. Again, at the time, I really didn’t want to stay close to home. So I chose Akron.”
As fate would have it, the initial reason for Snowden choosing Akron wound up being the reason for her coming back home to Kentucky. “Halfway through my freshman season I got a little homesick. I wanted to come back home. I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone until the season was over. When the season was over, Coach Mitchell was actually coaching at Kentucky. I had the chance to get in contact with him, and that whole process started. At the time, they weren’t really trying to add anyone on with the scholarships. I was starting to look at other schools like EKU, Western and Louisville, other local schools. EKU actually had a scholarship at the time.”
Fate would intervene again for Snowden. As she described it, “Things have a funny way of working out.” Snowden described a moment that would end up being almost prophetic. She said her father called her one night while she was at Akron and told her he had a dream that she was playing at Kentucky. Snowden laughed it off, seeing as she was still playing for Akron at the time. Again, Snowden lamented that “it’s funny how things work out.” Matthew Mitchell ended up having a scholarship available to offer Snowden following her freshman season at Akron.
Mitchell brought Snowden onto the team, but she was forced to sit out for one season due to transfer rules. Ironically enough, she tore her ACL in an early practice that season. “It’s kind of scary to see your whole career flash before your eyes with an injury like that.” Though she was off her feet for quite a while, luckily she was in a position of having to sit anyway. Once again, funny how things work out.
A year later, Keyla Snowden finally got the opportunity she had been waiting for. Not only was she back on the court after a strenuous rehabilitation process, but she was playing in front of her hometown and family for the first time in her collegiate career. I asked Snowden if she felt any pressure from that situation. “Playing in front of my hometown was amazing. I didn’t really feel any pressure at all. If anything, I was relieved to have the support of my town and my family here with me.”
Snowden lit up even more when asked about the UK Hoops’ fan support in Memorial Coliseum. I asked her to describe the difference between the fan support when she initially arrived at Kentucky as a transfer, to the end of her career. “The fans that were there from the beginning have always been great. They are the true fanatics. But it’s neat because it has just kind of evolved over the years. More and more of those people have started coming. It was the same type of passionate and enthusiastic fans, but just more of them now. The fans have always been great at Kentucky. The fans here are known as the craziest and best basketball fans in the country. It was a really good experience overall playing in front of them.”
Snowden then moved on to speak very highly of playing under head coach Matthew Mitchell and the rest of his staff. “He’s really concerned about what you do on and off the court. He cares about stuff outside of just basketball. That is something that not all other coaches care about. They might just be focused on what you do on the court.”
In Snowden’s 3-year stint on the court at Kentucky, she took part in two Elite 8 seasons. The first run came during her sophomore season and the second came this past season, when she was a senior. She reflected back upon both of the runs, explaining how they were each unique, yet very special.
“Our first Elite 8 run, I guess people almost would have described us as a bunch of ‘nobody’s” and we kind of came together and shocked the world. And then this year’s team, we had high expectations for ourselves. We knew we wanted to go to Denver from the very beginning. That was always our ultimate goal. We fell just one game short unfortunately. That first run though, that was a fun experience because we kind of just went with the flow. We were the underdogs. We were upsetting people every game. It was really great because it was the first year we really, really changed the program around. That was really special to be a part of. I’m definitely proud to be a part of the group that changed the program. I’ll remember that forever.”
Snowden set goals for herself in the off-season heading into her senior season to help dedicate herself to the team goal of reaching the Final Four. Those who watched Snowden closely her sophomore and junior seasons, clearly saw a transformation in her game during her senior year. Snowden made a commitment to evolve her game beyond just being known as a “shooter,” adding the ability to drive and knock down more mid-range jumpers. “I just wanted to be a bigger asset to my team and be more of a leader in different ways, beyond just being a senior and a shooter. I wanted to develop my game into something that would be harder to guard.”
Snowden’s hard work paid off, as she became one of the most crucial components to this year’s UK Hoops team. She earned the honor of the “SEC Sixth Woman of the Year” award, and often led the team in scoring off the bench. Snowden averaged 9.7 ppg (3rd best on the team) for her team, while also leading the team in 3-point field goals made with 60.
Snowden’s off-season efforts and contributions to the team helped the UK Hoops win their first SEC regular season title since 1982. Snowden looked back with sincerity in her voice as she described the experience of coming back to Memorial Coliseum after wrapping up the regular season title to be met by thousands of adoring UK Hoops fans. “That was amazing. I had never seen anything like that. To experience that here at Kentucky was just really incredible. When I looked up in the stands and saw my Mom and my family, that moment was just really special. We can’t thank the fans enough for coming out and supporting us. It hasn’t always been like that here.”
In my final question, I asked Keyla Snowden to try to pinpoint her favorite moment or memory as a Kentucky Wildcat. She paused. She tried to begin to answer. And then she paused again. She wasn’t pausing because she couldn’t come up with an answer. She was pausing because she was genuinely overwhelmed by the fact that there were simply so many “favorite moments.” She tried multiple times to answer the question, each time struggling internally because it was too hard to put into words just how much the experience meant to her. It was as sincere of a response as I’ve ever heard when asking someone a question of that magnitude. Her lack of a clear cut answer was in fact better than any other answer she could have given.
“I guess to sum it all up, meeting the people that I’ve met. It’s hard to pick one moment. Kentucky basketball has given me so much. It’s given me a place that I know I can come back to and be accepted. A loving atmosphere that will always be here. No matter what I do, I think I will have the support of the fans, the people around here and everyone involved in the program.”
The interview ended and I was left simply astounded at just how obvious it was that Kentucky basketball meant the world to Keyla Snowden. Soccer was her first love. Kentucky basketball is her forever love. Her journey didn’t begin at Kentucky, but it’s funny sometimes how things have a way of working out.
If you want to know even more about Keyla Snowden, check out KSR College for some more quirky/fun facts that you may not know about her.