While the football team may have a week off, the women’s basketball team is in full gear. UK’s annual Media Day is taking place today, beginning with a press conference by head coach Matthew Mitchell. We’ll have plenty of notes from the open practice and player interviews coming your way later, but for now, here’s what you need to know from Coach Mitchell’s presser:
Adjusting to life without Epps, Akhator
There are a lot of aspects of this team that will change in the absence of Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator, who both graduated last season. But Mitchell, for one, is not worried about the “basketball aspects.”
“I think I miss the personal part of it. You miss those relationships – those were two terrific young people,” Mitchell said of Epps and Akhator. “But the basketball part… I’ve never been one to be real upset about that part. They come here to try and get better as people and players, and you try to pour in as many good things as you can as a coach. And then it’s on to the next year.”
This team is going to play FAST
Last year’s team was a shooting team, led primarily by Epps and Akhator with strong contributions from then-sophomore Maci Morris. This year’s defining characteristic? Speed. Mitchell spoke on this, saying Kentucky spent this summer building a strong base for a fast-paced season.
“If you look over the ten previous years, it’s been more up-tempo than not,” Mitchell said. “I think that’s what we believe will be the best way for this team to play.”
And if it’s not?
“Clearly there’ve been times when I’ve wanted to do certain things, and the team was better at others,” Mitchell said. “I will always make the adjustment to benefit the team. “
This year’s identity:
If he said it once, he said it a million times: speed, quickness, athleticism.
“I believe the identity is going to be hustle, quickness, speed, athleticism,” Mitchell said. “Try to force the other team to be uncomfortable and make some mistakes.”
With six players who have never seen time in a Kentucky uniform before, it will be a process to get all 14 players to mesh. The team has four freshmen, Tatyana Wyatt, Kameron Roach, KeKe McKinney and Dorie Harrison, one junior college transfer, Amanda Paschal, plus Ogechi Anyagaligbo, a junior who did not play last season because of NCAA transfer rules. We’ll take a more in-depth look at each of the newbies later, but one commonality is obvious: pure athleticism.
Of the new players, the average height is just over 5-foot-9. But that’s factoring in the two new guards, who bring the average way down: Paschal is listed at 5-foot-7 and Roach comes in at 5-foot-six. The forwards are each listed at over six feet.
“I think those six players really inject some depth, some athleticism, some size. We added four players that… have great length. All of them are athletic. All of them have different gifts. Our two guards are explosive and can do things.”
What we can expect at Big Blue Madness
The head coach has become a staple at the annual event, and, thankfully, this year will be no different. Although he didn’t give any hints toward what his performance will include, he did promise there will be dancing.
“Once a year, I have to call my parents and apologize. Every Saturday morning after Big Blue Madness: ‘Mom, Dad, I did it again, I embarrassed the family,'” Mitchell said. “It’ll be another horrific two-and-a-half minutes while I’m out there. Somehow, someway, people enjoy that. I still don’t get it, but we’ll be ready to roll. Don’t you worry about that.”
In case you’ve forgotten, here’s how Mitchell introduced his team at last year’s Madness: