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Where does UK Hoops go from here?


This morning, Matthew Mitchell was dealt another blow when word leaked out that Chanin Scott, his only remaining 2016 signee, reopened her recruitment. Scott is the fourth recruit to decommit from the UK Hoops program since the season ended, and the eleventh player since October to sever ties with Mitchell’s squad, an alarming trend that has only gotten worse in recent weeks. Three weeks ago, I made a timeline of the program’s departures, and since then, assistant coach Camryn Whitaker resigned to take the head coaching job at Northern Kentucky, sophomore forward Alexis Jennings requested a transfer, Chanin Scott decommitted, and there are only six players on scholarship for next semester. To help stem the flow, Mitchell brought back former assistants Kyra Elzy and Niya Butts, and former player Amber Smith to join the staff, but today’s news certainly doesn’t help.

In a surprisingly busy offseason for Kentucky sports, the UK Hoops exodus has been the talk of the Big Blue Nation, with fans everywhere wondering what the heck is happening to a program that, from the outside, seemed to be on the rise. We may never know the true reason for all of the departures, but today, I’ve done my best to break down where Mitchell and his new staff go from here.

No more absentee coach

In an open letter to fans on Friday, Mitchell denied “rumors of some scandal that does not exist,” instead shouldering the blame for not devoting enough attention to his staff and players.

“What I now clearly see is my failure to get what was in my head and in my heart to enough people to prevent something like this from happening,” Mitchell wrote. “Good intentions are worthless if they are not communicated effectively. I needed to be more involved in the details of our success and communicate that to people more effectively.”

Next year will be rocky, but if one thing is for certain, it’s that few things will happen in the Joe Craft Center without Mitchell knowing.

If contracts are any indication, Mitchell has Mitch Barnhart’s support

While athletic director Mitch Barnhart has yet to hold a press conference about the status of the UK Hoops program, he has expressed his support for Mitchell during interviews with the Herald-Leader and the Courier-Journal.

“To say it’s not going in the right direction wouldn’t be accurate or fair,” Barnhart said in an interview with Jen Smith. “The question is: On the journey can we find our way back on the path we want to get on in terms of a little more clear direction? We’re not that far off.”

There’s been more turnover since that interview on April 28, but Barnhart’s support for Mitchell is evident in the contracts Mitchell has signed with Elzy and Butts. Normally, assistant coaches sign one-year deals, but they both received two-year contracts, a clear sign Barnhart is committed to helping the program find some stability.

A “good cop” to balance the “bad cop”

Over the years, Mitchell has developed a reputation as an intense coach that is hard on his players in practice. While that image conflicts with the Mitchell we know off the court, it’s definitely not uncommon in the sport. A popular theory behind the departures is the lack of a “good cop” on staff to offset Mitchell’s “bad cop.” Not any more. In the press release announcing Butts’ hiring, Mitchell said he is confident he’ll help the coaching staff achieve some balance.

“I have thought a lot the last few weeks about chemistry within our coaching staff and one name that I kept coming back to was Niya Butts,” Mitchell said. “I have worked with Niya as an assistant and was fortunate enough to have her on staff in my first year at Kentucky. I have said this before and still have complete confidence that Niya helps balance me out in a way that will positively impact our program.”

The same could be said for Elzy and Smith, the latter of which the program hopes will be a bridge between players and coaches.

He’s got to get players somehow

There are currently six players on scholarship for next season:

  • Sophomores: Maci Morris, Taylor Murray
  • Juniors: Makenzie Cann, Alyssa Rice
  • Seniors: Evelyn Akhator, Makayla Epps

As of now, there are no incoming freshmen or transfers. Lindsey Corsaro, who decommitted from UK on April 26, no longer has the Cats on her list. Given the uncertainty around the program, the odds of signing quality recruits for next season seem very grim. Unless he wants to rely on only one sub all season, Mitchell has to add players somehow, so I’d expect the staff to explore the JuCo and grad transfer routes, as well as hold open tryouts. Ladies at UK, if you have even an ounce of coordination, I encourage you to give it a shot.

Forget Mitchell dancing at Big Blue Madness (which, regardless, I think is a bad idea considering the circumstances). At this rate, unless he wants to make the traditional 5-on-5 scrimmage a 3-on-3, he and his assistant coaches will have to play as well.

Will they be able to win?

Mitchell has already taken the blame for the program’s current state, but even if things come together this season, the staff gels, and the ship seems to be righted, how much can you win with only six scholarship players? Having a player the caliber of Makayla Epps certainly helps, but unless Epps, a senior, pulls a Steph Curry and is unstoppable, stringing together enough wins to make the NCAA Tournament, but they’ll have little room for error.

The 2017 recruiting class becomes absolutely crucial

With two seniors on the roster, including Epps, Mitchell’s 2017 class is now the key to his future at Kentucky. That class once included Top 30 commits Lindsey Duvall and Madison Treece, but is now down to only one player, 5’6″ point guard Kameron Roach. The one thing Mitchell can sell to recruits is immediate playing time, but will it be enough to overcome the negativity? Recruiting is all about trends, and right now, UK Hoops is covered in red flags.

One year of bad performance is expected after all the turnover and turmoil, but without a miraculous 2016-2017 result or an elite recruit or two to serve as the light at the end of the tunnel, when will the pressure on Barnhart to sever ties for a fresh start become too much?

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

20 Comments for Where does UK Hoops go from here?

  1. leon singleton
    7:11 pm May 17, 2016 Permalink

    The mens team has only 2 players returning the rest all declared for the draft.

  2. 2Dogs
    7:21 pm May 17, 2016 Permalink

    Despite the obvious questions surrounding the hoops program at this time I’m surprised at all the people calling for Mitchell’s job. Given the fact he’s raised the program to new heights I would think fans would give him an opportunity to right the ship.

    • cats paw
      8:16 pm May 17, 2016 Permalink

      I bet he takes 6 players and has an amazing year….meanwhile we have a football coach making 3.5 million that will once again be the laughing stock of the SEC. Yet, fans will be calling for another raise for Stoops in order to continue this amazing turn around (in their minds).

    • Sarahvah
      8:54 pm May 17, 2016 Permalink

      what’s it like being a UL fan and on this board 24/7 dude

    • 2Dogs, see my question at #5. Can you answer it?

    • ukkatzfan
      9:20 pm May 17, 2016 Permalink

      cats paw, I bet football team will be better than women’s basketball.

    • Booby Petrino
      1:24 pm May 18, 2016 Permalink

      ukkatz, I’ll take that bet. The football team can’t manage to win 6 games. The women’s team will win more than that.

  3. ukcatsfan2
    7:39 pm May 17, 2016 Permalink

    He and his new coaching staff need to crawl back to the girls that decommitted and get them to re-commit even if that means swallowing a little pride.

    Otherwise cancel the season….

  4. BlueDew
    8:20 pm May 17, 2016 Permalink

    Ok, what if they lose one or two more players off the roster? Then what? Three? If they have granted releases for the others, they will have to do the same for remaining players. I’m shocked that everyone connected with BBN and media have buried their heads in the sand on this one. Everyone is saying MM is a nice guy——so he gets a pass. What–a pass to destroy the program? Yes, he elevated the program to new levels of success and then in months has brought it crumbling down. Some say we need to stay out of it not our business. Well, UK is a public university paid for by public funds. Athletics is self funding to some extent, however, athletics is PART of UK, PART of our state’s land grant university. Except for some donated buildings the student athletes’ classes are taught by public funded faculty, transported in public funded vehicles and most are housed in public funded buildings. When a negative event of this magnitude is developing over a long period of time we deserve answers. The two main reasons we’ve heard at this point is our coach was not around like he should have been, really, I thought he was being paid to attend team functions and oversee the program, and then communication. Pure lip service. Hay, by the way, there is a scandle not far in a westerly direction that has cried all winter and spring he was unaware of thing going on because he was not always around. Media has given him hell. That’s all we heard over the winter; lack of institutional control.

  5. I’m tired of posting only mild criticism about this. This is a pure, unequivocal, unmitigated, disaster. I have NEVER heard of ANY college team in any sport that has had this kind of mass exodus (much less one in which the HC actually retains his job). If anyone here has, I’d like to know about it.

    • WeareBBN
      11:38 pm May 17, 2016 Permalink

      We don’t know the reasons but why would a couple ex assistants and former player come back to his staff? They know MM well having worked and played for him a few years, would think if this was all MM they would have run when called. Until facts are known I will wait to make judgement. The recruits leaving could be ties to an assistant that left or concern over what is going on but seems funny so many people think the answer is to fire someone when they have no idea what is going on. Lets just electric chair anyone who is accused of crimes, don’t need facts of the case. Mitch is in charge of MM so guess he should be fired as well on your so called logic. Plus there are 6 pretty good players staying, so far at least, and one would think if MM is that bad all would leave. MM is hard on them in practice and maybe those that left are afraid of hard work, or did not like the hard work. Some can’t handle being told their weaknesses in this all about me world of today. There is a problem but we need to wait to know facts. Mitch I am sure knows the facts and he thinks MM should stay, that is all we have to go on right now.

    • Larry Pratt
      11:53 pm May 17, 2016 Permalink

      If someone were this negative on the show thread, pertaining to football or men’s basketball, you and your buddies would be all over them. Troll!!! Troll!!! Let’s give Mitchell the benefit of the doubt until he is proven to have done something wrong. He’s assembled a good staff, again. One he can trust. Let’s give the guy time. I think he’s earned that much.

    • 2Dogs
      10:06 am May 18, 2016 Permalink

      To answer your question, I don’t follow every college but I’m honestly not aware of another situation where players, recruits and coaches went elsewhere in this fashion. That said, if I’m in charge I’m not pulling the plug on Mitchell until I see evidence he’s done something worthy of termination.

  6. Jiminy Crickets
    11:11 pm May 17, 2016 Permalink

    Am I the only one that sees a young Pitino in that pic?

  7. sweet wm
    11:51 pm May 17, 2016 Permalink

    The Scandal is getting around, the girls are talking. Stay tuned.

    • Larry Pratt
      11:57 pm May 17, 2016 Permalink

      Really? And what are they saying? Have any links, or proof?

    • Angelo
      2:00 am May 18, 2016 Permalink

      It’s about time! We have not heard one word from these ladies…How hard can it be for someone to call and ask?

  8. StuckinLville
    3:32 am May 18, 2016 Permalink

    So they say after he had his kids, especially his last one, is when things have started to go down hill because he is focusing on his family. Don’t women do the same and are they criticized for it? I just feel like there is something going on in that locker room and I feel Mitchell is taking the heat for it. People dont leave at the rate because the coach isn’t paying enough attention to them. Mitchell’s players always seem involved in his family, Samari Walker was a prime of example of that. It just really sucks because the Cats had a helluva roster lined up for next year, especially if players like Harper didn’t leave, and they could have been final four contenders the next few years. As far as firing Mitchell….why? There is absolutely no reason to fire him. DeMoss helped put UK back on the map, but Mitchell took it and kept it a top 25 team, winning SEC titles, and went two or three years in a row of battling UT in the championship. Not to mention the big wins over the years against UT, Duke, and UL. Should we worry? Yes. Should we panic? No. So people need to chill and let Mitchell handle this. Maybe he can get back in good with some of those recruits now that he has his coaching staff. Amber played here through some of the best years, maybe she can help have an influence.

    • StuckinLville
      3:35 am May 18, 2016 Permalink

      I also say not to fire him because, when is the last bad season they had?

  9. MikeCaseyunderappreciated
    7:35 am May 18, 2016 Permalink

    It is really hard to believe that a program can fall apart just because Coach Mitchell was ‘hands off’ while attending to his family. Even if it is true, the only way to stop this collapse is to start fresh with a new coach. That would wipe the slate clean and give a new staff a chance at healing the wounds. Otherwise, even if he somehow has a decent year this season, next year and the next couple of years after are where you’re going to feel the pain. The whole team has to be rebuilt with new faces.