UK Media Day notes: Madness dance a stretch, even for Mitchell

jsmith3@herald-leader.comOctober 22, 2013 

Matthew Mitchell has one of the nation's elite teams.

He has added two freshman McDonald's All-Americans to a roster that already had five of them.

The Kentucky coach has a brand new baby girl born less than a month ago.

But in a room full of media assembled in Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday morning, Mitchell said he knew what the "elephant in the room" was, what inquiring minds were dying to know.

"Everyone wants to know how did I do the split and how did I get to that position at 42 years old," he quipped, referencing the exclamation point on his annual Big Blue Madness dance routine. "And let me tell you, it was not easy to do."

Because of recruiting duties and a "very pregnant wife," Mitchell wasn't able to spend as much time rehearsing as he'd planned, so he really didn't start practicing his moves, which included James Brown and Britney Spears tributes, until 18 days out.

"So the dance choreographer Dawn Walters, God bless her, says, 'You have to do this split," he said. "On Oct. 1, I could barely just get into the position stationary. I was sitting on the floor and I was like, 'There's no way I can get this done.'"

So Walters forced him to start stretching.

"I danced for about 45 minutes back in the dressing room to try to get my muscles loosened up to get the split, so we did the split, and that's really all that had to happen in the dance was the split," he said.

It drew mixed reviews from his Kentucky players.

"It was pretty good," junior guard Bria Goss said of Friday's performance. "It wasn't the best, but I couldn't do it, so I commend him."

When he did the move, the players watching on monitors behind the scenes at Rupp Arena were "just in the back yelling and screaming," Goss said.

After annual routines that have included a Michael Jackson tribute and Mitchell doing the Dougie, guard Jennifer O'Neill said she has tremendous sympathy for her head coach.

"I feel bad for him because now he has to do it every year," she said. "Now it's something that's expected of him."

Senior DeNesha Stallworth has zero sympathy for the aging, dancing, splitting one.

"He looks forward to it," she said. "I think he loves entertaining people, so I think he looks forward to it, actually."

So do his players and potential recruits.

"We love it," Stallworth said. "We have the coolest coach in the nation and we just enjoy him. When he did those splits, we were in awe. It was crazy."

Mitchell's dance routine even caught the attention of a very busy coach on the other side of campus.

"I'd like to see Matthew Mitchell do his dance (in person)," UK football coach Mark Stoops said on Monday.

When asked whether he'd be willing to dance to get a top-level recruit, Stoops smiled.

"That's a good question," Stoops said. "I probably would. As a matter of fact, I know I would. I probably have. I'm just not as talented as Matthew, so I can't do it for everybody to see."

Everything lining up?

Less than a month ago, the NCAA announced that Kentucky would get a chance to play host to the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament this season.

That news broke the same day that Mitchell's newest daughter was born, so the coach admitted he hadn't had time to even discuss it with his team.

"I probably need to go over that with the team and tell them I've had my hands full here the last couple weeks and that slipped by me," he said.

Lucky for Mitchell, his players mostly seemed well aware of the opportunity in front of them to perhaps play in Lexington and then maybe a regional as close as Louisville with a chance to travel to the Final Four in nearby Nashville.

When asked whether it felt almost like divine intervention, Bria Goss smiled.

"We've got all the pieces," she said. "It's really a blessing to us that we'll have that opportunity. We always play well with our fans here and this just opens our eyes to some new opportunities."

Epps connections

One of the most popular players on Media Day was freshman Makayla Epps, daughter of former UK point guard Anthony Epps.

The Kentucky Miss Basketball and McDonald's All-American, whom Mitchell said can play any of the five positions on the floor, didn't mind fielding father-daughter questions.

So what advice did her father offer?

"Just never to get discouraged, never get down on myself, because I have my tendency moments where I do that, just because things don't go right," she said. "But that happens; his best advice is don't get down, don't get discouraged, and just work hard."

And if she needs him, he's just a text away.

"If I ever have a question about anything, I know that I can send him a text and he'll get back with me — in long paragraphs," she said. "It's never nothing short; he always has plenty to say and he always is there to help me."

Do her UK teammates know who her father is or his place in school history? Former Marion County teammate Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, daughter of former Louisville player Tick Rogers, knows, Epps said. And Bardstown native Samantha Drake knows of the elder Epps.

Other than that "I don't know if any of the out-of-state kids know," she said. "I don't know. Maybe they've heard of him."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.

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