Makenzie Cann is too sweet to say it.
Kentucky’s transfer could give Matthew Mitchell a wheelbarrow of grief for never offering her a scholarship out of high school now that she’s on the UK roster, but she’s far too kind.
The UK coach can’t say enough nice things about Cann, the former standout at Anderson County who played a season at Cincinnati before walking on with the Cats this summer.
“Another compliment to her is that she does not rub it in or throw it into my face,” Mitchell laughed of the 6-foot guard, who is sitting out this season per the NCAA transfer rule, but has become a clutch player for UK behind the scenes.
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“She makes our basketball team so much better because she competes in practice and all those little things that we value she has embraced, and she just brings it every day,” he said. “We would be in a world of hurt if we didn’t have her.”
Cann’s contribution comes in ways that Cats fans won’t see for at least a season.
When Kentucky, which lost four players in six weeks to transfers and dismissals, saw its number of available players drop to nine, Cann’s presence became even more important.
Without Cann, UK can’t go five-on-five in practices. That would be disastrous, especially during the holiday break when the team’s male practice players are unavailable and Kentucky is practicing multiple times a day.
“She practices hard,” junior Makayla Epps said of Cann. “She goes harder than me, dang near anybody on the team. She practices really hard. I can’t wait to see her out on the court next year. I feel like she’s going to be a tremendous contributor to the team.”
She already has been.
True freshmen Maci Morris and Taylor Murray earned tons of praise for their defensive work against Duke star guard Becca Greenwell, but another name that should’ve come up was Cann.
She played Greenwell so convincingly for the UK scout team that her teammates were able to anticipate her moves before they happened.
“When we played Duke, I got to be Becca Greenwell, and that was my game for me,” Cann said. “It was fun.”
While it’s been enjoyable playing every opponent’s best player, Cann can’t help but wishing she was already wearing the Kentucky jersey and playing in actual games.
The sitting out has been hard on the guard who finished with a school record at Anderson County in assists (645) and second in points (2,207) and steals (468).
“It’s teaching me patience, for sure. Definitely patience,” she laughed on Friday as seventh-ranked and unbeaten Kentucky prepared to open Southeastern Conference play with a trip to Auburn on Sunday. “Everyone here’s really encouraging, making me feel important still.”
It’s not just about making Cann feel important, Mitchell insisted.
It’s that she is important.
“I wish she could play this year and I wish everybody else knew what I know that we would not be nearly as good of a team as we are now without Makenzie Cann and her effort and her contribution,” he said. “She is a major part of this team that no one will ever see unless they come to a practice.”
Cann thought she could contribute at Kentucky, which is why when UK hired Dayton assistants Adeniyi Amadou and Camryn Whitaker, Cann made the move.
The coaches had recruited the guard to play for the Flyers and she had a good relationship with both. Growing up a big UK fan and having connections on the staff, Cann made a leap of faith.
Eventually she was rewarded with a scholarship in September.
She doesn’t have any hard feelings that UK initially didn’t recruit her. Or if she does, she won’t say it.
Instead, she talks about her time at Cincinnati as an important part of her maturation.
“I’m big into my faith and I feel like I grew up a lot last year,” Cann said. “I was meant to be there for a year. It made me grow up; I learned a lot. I don’t know if I would’ve been tough enough to play here if I hadn’t gone there first. I think it all worked out.”
Kentucky at Auburn
3 p.m. (SEC Network)