Notes: Mitchell says new UK women's basketball assistants 'two really, really good hires'

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJune 6, 2014 

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Kentucky women's basketball assistant coach Jeff House, center, talking with head coach Matthew Mitchell during an exhibition game in November, has been fired after one season on the staff.

PHOTO BY JONATHAN PALMER — Herald-Leader

It's been a turbulent off-season at Kentucky with two assistant coaches being let go and a third leaving unexpectedly for another job.

But Coach Matthew Mitchell said he's doing what he can to create continuity for his players.

"We just met a lot," Mitchell said. "I was totally transparent about what was going on. We got in a room where they could ask whatever questions they wanted to ask, get whatever feedback they wanted to get."

When Danielle Santos departed for Florida State recently, he called each player and reassured her that things were fine.

"I'm sure there are some people outside the program that might think it doesn't look all that pretty, but I can tell you we've made two really, really good hires," Mitchell told the Herald-Leader Friday morning. "It's going to move the program forward."

The two new hires, Christian Stefanopoulos and Adeniyi Amadou, met with the media for the first time on Friday.

Mitchell indicated he plans to take his time making the third hire after the loss of Santos, whose departure he called "unexpected."

"I've been so pleased with the two hires we've made, it allows me to really be thoughtful and take some time to fill Danielle's position," Mitchell said.

He's focused on finding someone as committed to academics as Santos. UK's players earned a 3.0 grade-point average in both the fall and spring semesters for the first time in program history.

"She was a good recruiter and had good relationships with the players, so we need to find somebody who's the right fit for that position and blends well with the other two assistants," he said. "Staff chemistry is so crucial."

Mitchell said the players have been open about what they're looking for in an assistant coach as well, which will aid his search.

"They want somebody who can connect with them, who can build a great relationship with them, somebody that can help me, too," Mitchell explained. "The players have been very, very supportive."

'Aggressive energy'

Kentucky's assistants are as competitive in their offices and on the recruiting trail as Mitchell expects his players to be on the court. He thinks that bodes well for the future.

That fire attracted Mitchell to Amadou and Stefanopoulos.

"I just needed some incredible competitive, aggressive energy in recruiting and they both had that," he said, noting that they're competitive (in a good way) with each other.

Stefanopoulos joked that they've started competing to see who can leave his or her office the latest each night.

"We complement each other really, really well," Stefanopoulos said. "I learn from him every day and that's talking about things that we might disagree about, but when the conversation is over, we are on the same page. To me, that's worth more than anything."

International flavor

Newest Kentucky assistant Adeniyi Amadou speaks five languages, including his native language French. His father was born in the western part of Africa.

He might play a part in expanding UK's recruiting base globally.

"At a place like Kentucky, you can feel that effect already on people even across seas, the success of the men's program that helps a whole lot," he said. "The resources are in place. Some of the top, top, top European players have the tendency to stay in Europe and sign professional. This is the right kind of school and if you have the right kind of people in place, you can really reach out to them."

Mitchell said his hope always is to have "every player on our team from the Commonwealth of Kentucky," but he knows that's not always possible and said he looks forward to expanding the Cats' recruiting base.

"I haven't had a real strong connection to players outside the country and so if that can help move us forward and help us become the best, I'm all ears listening," the head coach said.

By the numbers

The two previous assistants, Shalon Pillow ($155,000) and Jeff House ($185,000), made a combined $340,000 when they were let go. Per their contracts, Kentucky's two new assistants will make a combined $335,000 a season.

Danielle Santos' new two-year contract, which was set to go into effect in July, was going to pay her $150,000 per season. She left for a job at Florida State instead.

■ New assistant athletics director for women's basketball Amy Tilley, who replaced Ukari Figgs, is not under contract with UK the way Figgs was.

Because she already was a UK employee, officials decided not to put her under contract. Tilley will make $90,000 a year at her new position, athletics spokesman DeWayne Peevy confirmed. When Figgs left to take a job in the private sector, she was making $105,000, according to her contract.

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

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