UK Men's Basketball

UK notes: Sam Houston State player has seen plenty of tradition

Playing against Kentucky on Thursday night completes a grand tour of college basketball for Sam Houston State point guard Ashton Mitchell.

As a freshman, he and the Bearkats played at UCLA, which has won the most NCAA Tournament championships.

As a sophomore, he and the Bearkats beat Texas Tech, coached by Bob Knight, the winningest coach in Division I history.

Now, Mitchell faces Kentucky, the winningest program.

When asked Wednesday which milestone opponent meant the most to him, Mitchell said, "Honestly, probably this one. I say that because we played UCLA my freshman year, and I didn't get much playing time. My sophomore year against Bobby Knight, I had limited playing time.

"Tomorrow, I'll have a lot of minutes, and I can really have an impact on it."

Mitchell, who ranked sixth nationally in assists last season (6.8 per game), would be a good story without the marquee opponents.

He lived in New Orleans until his senior year of high school. That's when Hurricane Katrina led his family to make their usual evacuation to Austin, Texas, where an uncle lived. This time was different because Katrina's devastation meant no quick return home.

Mitchell and his mother stayed in Austin, where he spent his senior year of high school.

At Sam Houston State, Mitchell earned a degree in criminal justice in three years. He took 42 hours of classes each of the first two years (15 per semester, plus 12 in the summer).

Then he realized a degree was in sight. "That's when I really pushed for it," he said of taking 19 hours each semester last school year, plus 13 hours in the summer.

This semester, Mitchell is taking 12 hours and working toward a second degree, in sociology.

"I'm glad I did it," he said of having a degree completed. "I'm focused only on basketball. I have a lot of free time."

Sam Houston State Coach Bob Marlin likened Mitchell to a smaller version of UK freshman Eric Bledsoe: strong and athletic.

"He probably should be an NFL cornerback," Marlin said. "I've been coaching college basketball 28 years. He's the fastest point guard I've ever coached with the ball."

Mitchell practiced Wednesday evening with his left wrist bandaged. X-rays revealed no break from a fall against Texas College on Monday.

Chances of Mitchell missing the Kentucky game? Nil. "I'm not going to sit out," he said with a smile.

Chemistry

Mitchell and shooting guard Corey Allmond form a close-knit senior backcourt for Sam Houston State. They are also in their second year as roommates.

"We have that kind of chemistry," Mitchell said. "... We kind of know each other's next move."

Post-up team

UK Coach John Calipari said he sees the Cats as a post-up team. But he said the big men must post up strongly, keep the defender on their back and be prepared to power up to the basket.

Big men who truly don't want the ball will let the defender get in position to force a pass over the top. That pass is more difficult to complete.

With the dribble-drive offense requiring big men to avoid the same side of the court as the ball, how will that mesh with a post-up game?

Calipari said UK will look for post-up opportunities early in a possession. If that doesn't materialize, the Cats should shift into the dribble-drive.

Hood hurt

An injury kept freshman Jon Hood on the bench in UK's first two games. Calipari seemed to suggest that Hood needed to toughen up.

"You don't practice three days, I'm not playing you," the UK coach said. "I think he got hurt. And, again, there's all levels of hurt."

Calipari said he told Hood about Wally Pipp, the baseball player who took a day off. His replacement, Lou Gehrig, thus began a streak of 2,130 straight games.

Etc.

■ Bob Marlin began his college coaching career as a graduate assistant at Northeast Louisiana. One of his players was Brian Hood, father of the UK freshman.

■ Billy Gillispie began his career as a graduate assistant at Sam Houston State.

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