UK women's basketball notes: Mitchell optimistic about team

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 26, 2011 

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell posed with coaches during the University of Kentucky women's basketball team photo day held in the Joe Craft Center on the UK campus in Lexington, Ky., Monday, August 22, 2011. Charles Bertram | Staff

CHARLES BERTRAM

Sixteen days after the birth of his second child and just a few days after learning that one of his mentors and friends has been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, Matthew Mitchell reflected on a surreal couple of weeks.

In a brief meeting with the media Thursday, the University of Kentucky women's basketball coach said it was difficult to hear the news about Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt's dementia.

Mitchell served on Summitt's staff for one season as a graduate assistant. He also worked many of her camps early in his career. Two of UK's assistant coaches, Kyra Elzy and Shalon Pillow, both played for Summitt at Tennessee.

So when Summitt says there will be no "pity party" for her, Mitchell believes it to be true.

"She has told us all that she wants us to support her as friends and that she wants to continue on and face the challenge with a lot of courage and face it head on," Mitchell said. "I just admire her, as I always have. My prayers are with her at all times. I just think it took a lot of courage for her to come out and address it."

Back to practice

Wednesday was the first day of school and the first day that Mitchell and his staff could work in small groups with his players.

He admitted it's going to be strange coaching at UK without Victoria Dunlap, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year who was a first-round WNBA Draft pick after last season.

"It is a real challenge for the players on this team to find out how we're going to continue to maintain our excellence," Mitchell said. "Victoria was such a huge (part) and was the centerpiece of the team, so that's a great challenge."

The coach said he was excited by the possibilities as he watched the team come back together on Wednesday.

"Just the depth of talent we have and the athleticism and speed and quickness that we have," he said. "I think this can be a very exciting team."

Mitchell also said he was happy to have senior point guard Amber Smith back for another season. She missed last season after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament.

"It's nice to have (Smith) around and that's a bit of a comfort that we still have a little bit of the old guard there," he said, noting that Smith has looked impressive physically in her return.

Late addition will help

Even though recruiting is a year-round spectacle in college basketball, it's not often that a recruit comes in as late as freshman Bra'Shey Ali, who joined the team this week.

The 6-footer, who originally signed with West Virginia but was released from that scholarship, will be a good fit at UK, the coach said.

She's "very athletic, can really jump, really run and has a toughness about her," he said. "She showed some of the things that we're looking for and will look for her to be: a rebounder, a defender and a player who can come in as a freshman and possibly impact us through our style of play."

New dad part II

When Saylor Rose Mitchell was born to Mitchell and his wife, Jenna, on Aug. 9, it was perhaps the start of a book for the UK coach.

"Now I have a 21-year-old (daughter Lacy Mitchell, a student at Mississippi State from a previous marriage) and a two-week old," he said. "So, there has to be a book somewhere that I could write on that and those experiences."

Mitchell, 40, said the experience with Saylor has been "wonderful" so far.

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