The transition to college hasn’t always been easy and it definitely hasn’t always been pleasant for Batouly Camara.
“There is no one who has gotten harder times from the coach this year than Batouly,” Coach Matthew Mitchell said recently of the 6-foot-2 freshman forward from New York.
“And she just shows up the next day with a smile on her face and tries to get better.”
It happens over and over again. She smiles even though it’s uncomfortable. She claps her hands and cheers loudly even when she finds herself on the bench.
“I just really want to be a great teammate and just be there for my team,” said Camara without a hint of saccharine.
“Coming into practice, I can’t be selfish, and I know he wants us all to get better,” she continued. “When he’s on me I just try to come back the next day and try to correct my mistakes.”
It’s been a season of growth for Camara, who came into UK rated the No. 2 power forward in the nation by one recruiting service and as the ninth-best player overall by ESPN.com.
Camara earned her first start against Tennessee a few games ago and was a Cats’ catalyst with eight points, two blocked shots and nine rebounds in 25 minutes.
Two games later, she spent all but three minutes on the bench at Florida. Mitchell was upset that the freshman forward had quit on a couple of plays on the defensive end.
“The play didn’t unfold the way that she wanted it to and she would just stop and give up a three or give up a basket,” Mitchell said.
And the one thing he can’t have from Kentucky’s three freshmen -- who have been called into action more than most freshmen — is for them to quit on a play.
Mitchell said he’s preaching with the younger players that they are allowed to make mistakes, but they can’t stop.
“Benching her at Florida was trying to get her out of her own way,” her coach said later.
Instead of whining about her three minutes of playing time or scowling at the coach, Camara went back to practice with a smile on her face.
“That’s how she earned the start against South Carolina,” Mitchell said as he was previewing No. 18 Kentucky’s Sunday home game against Louisiana State (8-15, 2-8 Southeastern Conference).
“We’re not trying to play mind games or head games with any of these kids. You’ve got to play hard, first of all. You can figure everything else out as we go along.”
Clearly, Camara figured some things out.
In the loss at second-ranked South Carolina on Thursday night, playing against some of the nation’s elite forwards in A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates, Camara had a career-high 14 points and a team-best nine rebounds.
“She was so very aggressive … offensively and defensively,” Mitchell said. “Made a ton of mistakes, but she played. And when some kids were backing up against that big size, she was going at them. I love that.”
Camara did something the cameras didn’t capture, too.
When UK star guard Makayla Epps was struggling to find her shot, starting that game against the Gamecocks 0-for-6 from the field, it was Camara in her ear.
“Batouly Camara, she kept me in it the most,” confided Epps, who went on to lead the team with 17 points.
Camara’s ability to keep smiling, to keep pushing forward even when things are tough have made her an invaluable teammate, Mitchell said.
“She is a fantastic person and we knew that when we signed her,” Mitchell said. “And she’s been even better than what we’d imagined. We’re excited about her future. She just overthinks things sometimes, and I’d rather a person care too much than care too little.”
And if Kentucky (15-6, 4-6) is going to find its way out of a three-game losing streak and finish out the season strong, it’s going to need a lot more Camara.
Both her play and her attitude.
“At the end of the day, we practice together,” she said. “It’s never about me and the moment I think about that is the moment that I let down my team.”
Sunday is Kentucky’s annual Girls and Women in Sports Day at Memorial Coliseum. As part of the event, various UK women’s teams will lead skills clinics on the concourse starting at 11 a.m.
▪ The UK women will not get new uniforms this season like the ones unveiled on Friday for the football and men’s basketball teams. The new uniforms for the women’s team will be released next season, a school spokesman said. UK will be sporting specialty shoes on Sunday, though – new LeBrons featuring a checkerboard pattern on the swoosh and inside of the shoe as well as the new UK logo for the first time.
LSU at No. 18 Kentucky
Records: LSU 8-15 (2-8 SEC); UK 15-6 (4-6)
Series: LSU leads 32-12
Last meeting: LSU won 84-79 in Baton Rouge, La., on Jan. 18, 2015
TV: SEC Network
Radio: WLAP-AM 630