John Clay

Why are so many leaving the Kentucky women’s basketball program?

Surely, the reaction to the recent news regarding Kentucky women’s basketball was pretty much the same all over Big Blue Nation if not all over the world of women’s college basketball.

What in the world is going on over there?

It was one thing — not a good thing — when a rash of departures hit the UK program early last season. Transfer Chrishae Rowe and Morgan Rich parted ways with the Cats before ever playing a game. That was followed by the head-turning transfer of junior Linnae Harper, a key contributor, which was followed by the departure of junior forward Kyvin Goodin-Rogers.

“Separate issues,” was coach Matthew Mitchell’s explanation at the time.

That held until Monday when, out of the blue, it was announced freshman forward Batouly Camara, a New York native who started 14 games last season, had been given her unconditional release to transfer to another school.

Another player? Again? You’re kidding?

Tuesday brought a follow-up blow: Kentucky signee Lindsey Corsaro, the 6-foot McDonald’s All-American from Indianapolis and ESPN’s 35th-best freshman prospect for next season, had been granted a release from that letter-of-intent by the school.

Now, we really have a problem. What’s the source of all this chaos? What’s the explanation? Kentucky isn’t saying. Not yet, anyway. There’s been no comment from Mitchell or anyone at UK, except for word that the Kentucky coach will continue to recruit Corsaro, who was one of just two Kentucky signees.

Even in this mercenary age of college athletics, that’s a lot of troubling turnover for one program. That’s especially true for a coach who isn’t (a) new or (b) losing. The 45-year-old Mitchell is 219-89 in his nine seasons at Kentucky. His teams have been to seven straight NCAA Tournaments. They’ve reached the Sweet 16 five times, the Elite Eight three times.

Even with all of last season’s turmoil, which led to a distinct lack of depth, Kentucky finished 25-8 overall and 10-6 in the SEC — although, as a No. 2 seed, it suffered a disappointing Sweet 16 loss to No. 7 seed Washington at (yikes) Rupp Arena.

Even so, there was reason to feel good about the future. Star guard Makalya Epps returns in 2016-17 for her senior season. So does forward Evelyn Akhator, who led the team in rebounding. Mix in rising juniors Alexis Jennings and Alyssa Rice, plus sophomores Maci Morris and Camara. Now add Cincinnati transfer Makenzie Cann with signees Chanin Scott and Corsaro, the latter considered one of the mostly highly regarded signees of the Mitchell Era.

Not now. Little-used Ivana Jakubcova is transferring, as well as Camara. With just one signee, Kentucky has only eight players on the current roster. And, as we know, UK competes in the toughest conference in all of women’s hoops.

“Kentucky has had some uncertainty the last couple months with some coaches and players,” Corsaro’s father, Greg, told the Indianapolis Star.

Yes, coaches have been hitting the bricks as well. The contract of assistant Adeniyi Amadou was not renewed at the end of the season. It was also announced Monday that assistant Tamika Williams-Jeter had resigned. Amadou is the third assistant to be let go by Mitchell in the past three years. Williams-Jeter is the second to resign. When it comes to hiring staff members, that doesn’t make for a stellar track record.

Kentucky is getting one coach back. Former assistant Kyra Elzy is returning as associate head coach after spending the last four years at Tennessee, her alma mater. Elzy was considered an important and productive staff member her first stint on campus. Maybe her return will be enough to get matters turned back in that direction, one where players are coming to UK instead of leaving UK.

Ultimately, however, the responsibility belongs with Mitchell. This time, the “separate issues” explanation won’t fly. He needs to address why so many are jumping overboard, then right the ship.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader