Kentucky Sports

Kentucky's Goodin-Rogers back better than ever after rough year off

After being forced to sit out as a freshman while she underwent treatment for a blood clot, Kentucky's Kyvin Goodin-Rogers said, she was back on the court the day she was cleared to play. That's when the former Marion County standout realized, "I still have it."
After being forced to sit out as a freshman while she underwent treatment for a blood clot, Kentucky's Kyvin Goodin-Rogers said, she was back on the court the day she was cleared to play. That's when the former Marion County standout realized, "I still have it." Lexington Herald-Leader

If any player on Kentucky's team has had the season opener circled on her calendar, it's Kyvin Goodin-Rogers.

If the forward flips her calendar back almost a year to the day, she will see the date her basketball career could have ended.

It was the day Goodin-Rogers, then a freshman out of state champion Marion County High School, learned she would miss the season after a blood clot was discovered in her lungs.

When doctors first told her what it was, she didn't understand the severity of it or how it meant at least a year on blood thinners, which meant at least a year of not playing basketball.

"I was like, 'Blood clot? Get it out, and I'll be back tomorrow,'" Goodin-Rogers recalled of her Oct. 28, 2013, visit to the emergency room brought on by shortness of breath and crushing chest pain. "That's what my whole thought was until I figured it out."

Once reality set in, once she saw the looks on the faces of her mom and her head coach, Goodin-Rogers didn't know what to do or think.

"When I thought I couldn't play it was just heartbreaking," she said Wednesday at Kentucky's Media Day in Memorial Coliseum. "I felt like I let my teammates down."

Teammates did what they could to help the 6-foot-1 forward.

"We never gave her the chance to worry about it," said Makayla Epps, who had played side by side with Goodin-Rogers for more than seven seasons. "We stayed on her about being positive. She came in the gym and put up shots every day."

Any passing thoughts about missing more than one season were dismissed immediately.

"We always tried to motivate her, 'You're coming back. You're coming back. Don't worry about it. You'll be back. You're going to get to play,'" Epps said. "We just try to keep her real positive about it."

Goodin-Rogers learned to make the most of a season on the bench. It has given her a leg up on the other young post players UK is breaking in this season, such as Alyssa Rice and Alexis Jennings.

Goodin-Rogers knows what the expectations are, how to communicate on the court, what position she needs to be in on defense.

The list goes on and on.

"You can see the benefit of her being on campus for a year mentally, and how she approaches practice and how she's functioning," Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "She's, I think, built some mental toughness through a really difficult situation."

This summer when doctors cleared Goodin-Rogers to play, she was back on the court playing a pickup game with teammates that night. She didn't want to waste another minute on the sideline.

"We had a blast," she said smiling. "I was a little winded, but it was fun. That then helped me realize where I could be today."

It helped remind Goodin-Rogers that she didn't stop being a good basketball player — once ranked among the top 60 in the nation by one recruiting service — because she took a year off to heal.

"Once we started going a few trips, I was like, I still have it; it's still there," she said. "I haven't lost anything."

Epps, who starred on that 39-0 Marion County championship team with Goodin-Rogers, confirmed that.

On Saturday while UK was scrimmaging Marshall, Epps watched her former teammate and good friend fly around and make plays look effortless.

"I was in awe," Epps said. "It was like she didn't even sit out last year. She's gotten way better than she was at Marion County, and she didn't even play last year. That's what's so scary about it."

From time to time, Mitchell has to remind himself to have the "proper amount of patience with Kyvin" because she hasn't played a minute of college basketball.

But he's excited about what she brings to the floor for Kentucky this season, which is trying to replace multiyear starters Samarie Walker and DeNesha Stallworth.

He talked about Goodin-Rogers' "explosive athleticism" and a "mean streak" on the floor.

In the season she had to take off, he learned about her other attributes as well.

"She learned a lot through the adversity," he said. "I certainly learned a lot about her, and what's important to her and how to coach her. To see what she's doing now on the court and how she's approached this season, I think we've really benefited from that adversity."

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