It looks like an epidemic: Three players asking to leave and another being asked to go in six short weeks.
But Kentucky’s Mitch Barnhart said he believes the departures from the women’s basketball program are not part of a “systemic issue,” but isolated situations.
“You don’t ever like to see young people leave your program, but having said that, there are sometimes some very unique and specific reasons that they do,” the athletic director said in a sit-down interview with the Herald-Leader on Tuesday.
Barnhart cited personal issues, a lack of playing time or maybe UK not being the right fit as reasons players might want to go elsewhere.
“We want to make sure there’s no systemic issue — and I don’t sense that there is — I think it is some isolated reasons for young people wanting to go and do their own thing,” he said.
“Sometimes in my opinion isolated deals are what they are: isolated deals.”
Since Oct. 15, UK has had three players in juniors Linnae Harper, Kyvin Goodin-Rogers and Morgan Rich leave the program. A fourth player, transfer Chrishae Rowe, was dismissed from the team for not following the rules.
“When you have four situations in a short period of time, it certainly looks like it’s connected,” Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “And it’s hard for people (to understand) if they’re not in it and don’t know each individual. They’re four individual situations.”
Harper, who is finishing out her semester at UK before finding a new school, has not said where she plans to transfer. Her mother, Ericka Harper, said recently via Twitter that Harper was “not happy” at Kentucky.
Rowe was dismissed for her “failure to uphold standards of the program,” and Rich, who was never cleared to practice, opted to transfer.
Mitchell spent the first 20 minutes of his news conference to preview the 11th-ranked Cats’ trip to Northern Kentucky on Wednesday fielding questions about the defections.
He acknowledged the timing is unusual for Goodin-Rogers, who had played in five games averaging 5.6 points and 1.6 rebounds in 11.4 minutes this season, to go.
“Said she was going to transfer and not happy here at Kentucky,” he explained. “So I was sad to hear that. We’ve been through a lot together during her two-plus years at Kentucky. I think a lot of Kyvin. So personally, I was sad that she is not happy here.”
On Monday, Goodin-Rogers declined to comment on why she’s parting ways with UK.
Barnhart said he’s asked lots of questions as players have walked away.
“You want to know why,” he said. “But what this tells me is competition is strong and people are wondering how they fit in. If they don’t feel like they’re going to fit in well and there’s not going to be enough opportunity, then they sometimes want to go where there is.”
The head of the athletic department noted that on the court there’s no sign of a team in turmoil for Kentucky, which is unbeaten this season.
“We have a wonderful group of young women who are playing really well right now and as unselfish as I’ve seen us play in quite awhile,” he said.
Mitchell said he’s seen nothing but cohesion from the group even in the face of scrutiny and adversity.
“The atmosphere around the players in the locker room seems to be really good,” he said. “And if people think things are off the track and falling apart, then time will tell whether that’s true or not.
“I feel better about our program and our culture right now than I have in a long time. I think we’re making real progress as a basketball program.”
In recent postgame interviews several UK players have echoed that sentiment.
“The amount of adversity we’ve had to face has made us come together and brought us a little closer,” senior point guard Janee Thompson said. “It shows up in practice and on the court, the way we carry ourselves and care for each other.”
Kentucky will go to Northern Kentucky on Wednesday night with eight available players. A ninth, forward Alyssa Rice, is expected to return from a foot injury next week as the Cats get into the meat of their schedule.
Nine will be plenty going forward Mitchell said, noting that the players will need to be aware of the lack of available bodies.
“We can’t foul; we can’t make silly mental mistakes,” he said. “We have to defend every night, rebound every night, and we’ll have a chance in every game if we do those things.”
Kentucky at Northern Kentucky
When: 7 p.m.
Radio: WLAP-AM 630
Records: Kentucky 6-0, Northern Kentucky 5-1
Series: Kentucky leads 11-4
Last meeting: Kentucky won 82-64 on Dec. 3, 2014 in Lexington.