Jen Smith on Basketball

UK assistant: Moving on from Cats’ coaching staff is ‘best thing for me’

Camryn Whitaker will always be a Kentucky fan, but she needed to move on from Kentucky’s staff.

The Cynthiana native, who is the third and final member of Matthew Mitchell’s UK coaching staff to depart in the last two weeks, said she’s looking for another job.

“The best thing for me and for everybody is that I’m pursuing other opportunities,” Whitaker told the Herald-Leader on Wednesday, declining to go into details surrounding her departure.

“That’s about all I can say right now. … I don’t want to say anything bad about anybody or anything like that. I loved it a lot. I enjoy being at Kentucky. Kentucky’s a place I love.”

It’s been a period of transition for Mitchell’s staff, with him first not renewing the contract of assistant coach Adeniyi Amadou, Whitaker’s former staff mate at Dayton, then the abrupt departure of Tamika Williams-Jeter on Monday.

Then Mitchell confirmed Wednesday morning that Whitaker was moving on, looking at finding a head coaching or assistant coaching position elsewhere.

Meeting with a full room of media later in the day, Mitchell said initially he had hoped to retain Whitaker and Williams-Jeter.

“I was very much in favor of them returning; I wanted them to return,” he said. “I tried to explain to them how it would all work together and fit together. … That was a staff I would have loved to have gone forward with, but they had to decide what they wanted to do.”

The staff from this season, in which Kentucky went 25-8 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, had a great experience on the court, and they spent 200 or more hours together off the court planning practices.

“We had a great time in those team rooms talking about basketball,” he said. “The other behind the scenes (stuff), and them meshing together as a staff, that just didn’t work out.”

Mitchell, going into his 10th season at Kentucky, said he still has some soul searching to do about why it didn’t work.

When pressed about the departures of the three assistant coaches and if there was any inappropriate behavior or other issues, Mitchell said that was not the problem. “There’s nothing lurking, looming there with that.”

Now, what he called the “three-year revolving door of staff” keeps spinning, creating what he called “tremendous upheaval” for the Cats’ remaining players.

Ending the upheaval will fall on Mitchell, who is trying to put a stop to it with the rehiring of Kyra Elzy, which UK made official on Wednesday morning.

The former UK assistant-turned Tennessee assistant will be an associate head coach under Mitchell.

“I had the honor to be here earlier in my career for four great seasons and those years were some of the most rewarding years for me as a coach,” she said in a statement. “I fully believe in Coach Mitchell and this program and look forward to continuing this program’s national pedigree.

“Coach Mitchell and I have a great chemistry on and off the court. I know together we can spread that throughout the program and give current and future players the experience of what Kentucky basketball is all about.”

Mitchell hinted that the rest of his staff would be in place in the coming days and that it probably will be filled with familiar faces.

He’s looking to avoid a repeat performance of the past few seasons, which has included eight different assistant coaches since Elzy left for her alma mater in 2012.

He said: “This is going to be a staff that’s like, ‘Hey, we want to be together. We want to be at Kentucky. We’re all invested in this. We’ve all had a hand in building this thing.’”

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