Jen Smith on Basketball

UK’s Mitchell ready to put departure discussions to rest, focus on future

AP

After Linnae Harper’s huge game, which included a near triple-double, Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell was asked about his emotions coaching against the former player who started the mass exodus last season with her departure.

Kentucky’s coach said the emotions of that were long behind him.

“I moved on from that so long ago, as far as the people who didn’t want to be here,” he said of UK’s five total transfers in one year.

“All of my emotion, effort, and work has gone into this particular team,” Mitchell continued. “This was a remarkable team, and I hope that this now puts all of this — finally, we can move forward. Kentucky is a great place. Some people decided not to be here. We treated all of those folks with a lot of respect and let them go and do whatever they wanted to do.”

The coach said he wishes everybody who left the best, but he’s done dissecting the departures, which included all of the original 2016 signing class, most of the 2017 class and all three assistant coaches.

“I don’t spend one second thinking about anybody but these 12 remarkable young women and what it took for us to be the team that we were this year,” Mitchell said. “I was really excited about the game today and had no negative emotion going into it. I hope Ohio State has a fantastic weekend here in Lexington next week.”

After the 82-68 loss to Ohio State on Sunday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Mitchell said he was optimistic about the future of the program even though the Cats are losing a bulk of their scoring and rebounding with the graduations of Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator.

“The character in our program, the character of the kids coming back,” he said of his reasons for optimism going forward. “The character of the kids we’ve signed; the character of our coaching staff. I think we’ve really gone through a galvanizing moment in our program. We know exactly what we’re about, exactly who we need to be. While we might be short on experience and you’re losing two incredible seniors, I just really, really believe in our program and our process and what we can do to be successful.”

Kentucky will return three starters off of this season’s team, which finished 22-10, in guards Taylor Murray, Maci Morris and forward Alyssa Rice. The Cats also have key reserves Makenzie Cann and Jaida Roper coming back.

It looks to be a rebuilding season no matter the spin.

But Murray, UK’s third leading scorer this season, said she’s excited to see what the team can do.

“We’re going to stay positive and keep moving forward,” Murray said. “We’ve got a new group of girls coming in and we know will help us in any way, shape or form. We’re happy about this season. We came a long way; we stayed together. No one thought we’d come this far.”

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