UK women's Media Day

Smith sheds brace just in time for faster pace

jsmith3@herald-leader.comOctober 30, 2009 

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It has been more than a whole season since Amber Smith tore up her right knee.

It has been almost 21 months since her anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus gave way as she went up for a layup at Tennessee.

The Kentucky point guard had successful off-season surgery. She was able to play all of last season, but she never felt much distance from the injury.

It stuck with her via the bulky brace she was forced to wear as a part of the rehabilitation process.

"It was a big distraction," she said of the brace. "After a play, I was pulling it up and not getting in the huddle. ... I was disconnected from the rest of the team sometimes."

Even though she admits it was often just a mental thing, she thought of herself as slower and bulkier and failing as a point guard.

"She struggled a bit with the brace," Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "It was a reminder to her instead of a comforting factor."

The brace came off April 12.

"I might get emotional," the junior said when asked about it. "When I took it off for good, it was like moving on to a different chapter of my life. ... When I got out of the brace, I felt like a different player, a much better player."

When Mitchell discussed this year's version of the Kentucky women's basketball team at Media Day on Thursday, he talked about a team that will be smaller but faster.

"It's going to look a little different than it does in the past when Kentucky has the basketball," Mitchell said of his team. "We're trying to be much more dynamic offensively, more up-tempo."

That all starts with Smith, who averaged 7.8 points and 3.6 assists last season for UK.

She will be key to a new style and attitude for undersize Kentucky, which could move to a four-guard lineup this season.

"It's my bread and butter," Smith said of the up-tempo style. "I love pushing the ball in transition."

Mitchell says Smith is going to be pivotal.

"I felt like that was missing from our team last year, some explosiveness at the point guard position," he said.

Mitchell noticed a change in his point guard "on the first day she took it off."

Brace-free Amber Smith is going to be special, her teammates and coaches said.

"She has been very, very explosive in practice," Mitchell said. "Amber's progression and being more explosive definitely helps us to get where we're trying to be."

Senior guard Amani Franklin said Smith looks like the freshman Smith who had scored in double figures in three of the five games leading up to that fateful day in Knoxville on Feb. 3, 2008.

It's an even better version of the Smith who led UK to an upset win at Georgia and ranked second on the team in scoring and rebounding in Southeastern Conference games.

"This is a new and improved Amber Smith," Franklin said. "You should see her in practice. She's a much better version of Amber Smith."

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