Kentucky's Mitchell lands commitment from top in-state prospect

broberts@herald-leader.comSeptember 19, 2013 

When Matthew Mitchell hits the recruiting trail, very rarely is there a failure to communicate.

The Kentucky women's basketball coach walked into the home of Bell County star Maci Morris on Wednesday night for his first in-home visit.

He walked out with a commitment from one of the best guards in the Class of 2015.

And while he was there, he got a little grub.

"He sat down and ate like a mule," said Maci's father, Lewis Morris. "I bet he ate 18 deviled eggs. I called him Cool Hand Luke.

"As you know, he's very personable. He's just an old country boy. He's easy to talk to and I think that made her feel comfortable."

Mitchell's down-home approach resonated with the Morris family, who had already hosted four or five other college coaches since the September recruiting period began.

Lewis Morris mentioned Louisville, Marquette and Dayton as some of the schools that were recruiting his daughter the hardest. She also had interest from several high-profile West Coast programs, but never got a chance to visit any of them.

By the time Mitchell had finished his pitch Wednesday night, the choice was easy.

"You don't get any better than Kentucky, as far as we're concerned," Lewis Morris said. "Kentucky — that's it. You're at the highest level you can go to. You're at the best program in the country. That's the way we feel about it.

"I'm happy as can be. For a mountain kid to get to go to the University of Kentucky and play basketball — that's a big honor."

Morris — a 6-foot prospect — has visited UK several times, and her father said Mitchell has been involved in her recruitment for two years.

The UK coach was at all of Morris' AAU games with the Kentucky Premier squad over the summer, according to Lewis Morris. Premier is the same program that produced current UK freshmen Makayla Epps and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers.

Morris has been a starter at Bell County since the eighth grade and played on the varsity even before that.

Last season, she averaged 21 points and 8.5 rebounds as a sophomore, leading Bell County to the 13th Region title game, where she had 27 points and 13 rebounds in a 63-60 loss to Corbin. She was voted by coaches to the Herald-Leader's All-State second team.

Bret McCormick of the All-Star Girls Report ranks Morris as the No. 43 overall prospect in the Class of 2015, but added that she has top-25 potential.

Mitchell plans to play Morris at the wing position when she gets to Kentucky in two years. The UK coach won't be allowed to talk publicly about his newest commitment until she signs next year, but Morris' father — who is the head coach of the Bell County boys' team and a former all-state player himself — said Mitchell likes Maci's versatility.

McCormick said Morris plays point guard on her high school team and excels in several areas.

"She does a little bit of everything," he said. "And she just kind of has that basketball gene. ... She has a high basketball IQ."

Morris is UK's first commitment from the Class of 2015. The Cats have one commitment for next year's class — three-star forward Jaycee Coe of Tennessee.

Morris was in Rupp Arena for Big Blue Madness last year, and she told Mitchell that she would be back for next month's season-opening festivities.

The UK women's coach has become one of the main attractions at Madness in recent years, showing off his dance moves in tributes to pop music legends.

That's just another way he's able to connect with his players and recruits, Morris said. Mitchell told the Morris family that he had "something special planned" for this year's Madness, but he didn't tip his hand.

"He may come out doing some Prince," Morris said with a laugh. "That's just my guess. I just know he likes Prince a lot. He's one of those '80s guys."

Morris described his daughter as a "fanatic" when it comes to UK basketball. He said her face lit up with excitement when she told Mitchell she was committing to the Cats.

She wasn't the only one.

"We're excited," Lewis Morris said. "You know how us mountain folks are. We're all basketball down here. I never would have dreamed that one of my kids would be playing at Kentucky. I'm proud, and we're honored and I'm happy for her. She earned it."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com.

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