Kentucky women’s basketball coach Matthew Mitchell has made huge gains with his program over the last three seasons and once again figures to have a team that will contend for the Southeastern Conference championship and a Final Four berth.
In his five years as UK’s head coach, Mitchell has guided his teams to a 114-56 overall mark and 48-28 record in SEC play. Following the 2009-10 season when his team went 28-8, Mitchell was named the SEC Coach of the Year, Victoria Dunlap was named the SEC player of the year and A'dia Mathies was named the SEC freshman of the eear. The Wildcats joined 1988 unbeaten national champion Tennessee as the only teams in SEC women's basketball history to sweep the major post-season awards.
NCAA Tournament as the No. 4 seed.
Last season the Wildcats finished 28-7 and were 13-3 in league play, won the conference championship and reached the Elite Eight. Kentucky returns four starters, including SEC player of the year Mathies and SEC freshman of the year Bria Goss.
Mitchell shared his thoughts on a variety of subjects going into this season:
Question: What has the offseason been like for you?
Mitchell: “There is certainly an element to the offseason as far as it relates to players and not spending time with them, and that is my least favorite time of the year. We finished workouts in the spring, and then from April until September I was not allowed on the court with them. That is the longest part of the year for me. I would like to be coaching them all the time.
“But we seem to have things going all the time. Recruiting is just an everyday thing. If you are not recruiting, you are not doing what you need to be doing. I spent time with the family. (My daughter) Saylor is growing up. (My wife) Jen and I took a couple of trips and just had a great summer.”
Question: What difference has the success of the last couple of years made in recruiting when you are out now?
Mitchell: “I had some great mentors as I grew in the coaching profession. Something that was a common thread that they all talked about was humility, being humble and looking and things realistically. It was pounded in my head so many times that I am always thinking, ‘This can’t be happening, I’ve got to work harder.’
“But it has just been amazing the level of attention we are getting from kids that three or four years ago we could not even get to take phone calls. It is a huge difference, and sometimes I am slow to recognize or say that. It is safe to say we are viewed as one of the top programs in the country by recruits and are now viewed as a top option, something that is very different. The last three teams have really elevated our program.”
Question: Has that made recruiting easier or harder now that you are going against the elite programs?
Mitchell: “It has made it easier, because I would rather people know who we are and what you are about than to spend lot of time explaining that. It is easier from a recognition standpoint and being involved with top kids.
“But when you recruit top kids, it gets harder because they all have great, great options and the opportunity to go to Connecticut, Notre Dame, Stanford, schools that have been in the last few Final Fours. That gets real tough competing with those schools.
“In general, recruiting is just hard. Everybody is different. You have to spend time getting to know what each individual is looking for. Recruiting is just tough.”
Question: How optimistic are you about this season?
Mitchell: “I am really excited about what this team can become. From a talent standpoint, we are better than we have ever been. Whoever you decide is our best player, and say it is A’dia Mathies, and whoever is the 13th player and getting the least amount of minutes, this is the most talent we have ever assembled. We need to pay close attention to the opportunity we have. We could win a bunch of games and be very good if the players understand what takes to be good.”
Question: What impact can 6-3 Denesha Stallworth make for your team after sitting out last season as a transfer from California?
Mitchell: “From a talent standpoint, she puts us in position to be more talented. She is a real, real talent. I don’t think (I’m) overstating it all to say she has a chance be the best player in SEC if she puts her mind to it.