LEXINGTON, Ky. – Niya Butts (pronounced NIGH-ya), the former head coach at the University of Arizona, who prior to that stint served on Mickie DeMoss’ and Matthew Mitchell’s coaching staffs at Kentucky, will return to UK as an assistant coach, Mitchell announced Saturday.
“I have thought a lot the last few weeks about chemistry within our coaching staff and one name that I kept coming back to was Niya Butts,” Mitchell said. “I have worked with Niya as an assistant and was fortunate enough to have her on staff in my first year at Kentucky. I have said this before and still have complete confidence that Niya helps balance me out in a way that will positively impact our program. I love the way our staff is starting to take shape and I am excited about our future.”
This will be Butts’ second stint at Kentucky after serving as an assistant coach from 2003-07 and associate head coach during the 2007-08 season, which was her final in Lexington before being named head coach at Arizona. The Americus, Ga., native served as the recruiting coordinator her final three seasons, bringing in two top-10 recruiting classes. In her final season, Butts helped Kentucky secure a winning Southeastern Conference record for only the third time in program history and second in the last three seasons.
“Kentucky has always been a very special place for me and I am thrilled to be back,” Butts said. “There are few times in this profession that you get a chance to return to a place as unique and rewarding as Kentucky has been to me, especially getting to work with some great friends in Matthew and Kyra (Elzy). I’m excited to get started and hit the recruiting trail.”
The Wildcats had plenty of success during Butts’ first stint in Lexington, including a memorable 2005-06 season that saw UK defeat Tennessee for the first time in 20 years, rank in the top four of the SEC standings for the first time in 23 years and secure an NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time in seven seasons. The impressive year was the first of two straight 20-win seasons for UK, the first for the program since 1989-90, 1990-91.
As the recruiting coordinator, Butts brought great talent to the Bluegrass State and showed an ability to develop players as well. Butts’ best class included stars Victoria Dunlap, Amber Smith and Carly Morrow. Dunlap, who eventually went on to be a two-time Associated Press SEC Player of the Year and two-time All-America honoree, still ranks third all-time in program history in scoring, fourth all-time in field goals made, second all-time in rebounds and blocks, and third all-time in steals. Smith finished her career as one of the best point guards in program history, ranking sixth all-time in assists, while Morrow hit over 100 career 3-pointers.
In addition to her recruiting success at UK, Butts coached Kentucky’s guards during her first stint on campus, helping develop key players Samantha Mahoney, who was a four-time All-SEC performer, and guard Carly Ormerod, who was named to the 2006 SEC All-Freshman Team. Mahoney’s name is still scattered throughout UK’s record book, sitting eighth in career games played, third in career games started, fifth with 1,601 career points and eighth with 113 3-pointers made.
Butts recently completed an eight-year stretch as the head coach at Arizona, leading the Wildcats to 21 wins during the 2010-11 season, which also marked the program’s first postseason appearance since 2004-05. Arizona claimed 10 conference wins that season to earn the program’s best Pac-12 finish since winning the Pac-12 regular-season title in 2004. The following season, the Wildcats posted an 11-1 start, which was the program’s best start to a season in 11 years.
Butts coached several players at Arizona to all-conference honors, including guard Davellyn Whyte, who was the 16th overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft after earning four straight all-league honors – including Freshman of the Year in 2010 – and being named an AP Honorable Mention All-American in 2012. Two other players, forwards Ify Ibekwe and Soana Lucet, were named all-conference performers in 2011, with Ibekwe earning the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year that same season. Ibekwe was also named AP Honorable Mention All-America in 2009 after posting a team-high 16 double-doubles and leading the Pac-12 in rebounds per game.
Butts spent time at Tennessee Tech and Michigan State as an assistant coach before coming to Kentucky in 2003. In her lone season at Michigan State, she helped the Spartans make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1997. MSU finished with a 10-6 mark in the Big Ten and recorded wins over three nationally ranked teams, including two wins over top-10 teams for the first time in school history.
Prior to MSU, Butts spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Tennessee Tech, helping the Golden Eagles win the Ohio Valley Conference regular-season championship in both 2001 and 2002. Tech finished with a 24-6 overall mark in Butts’ first season and compiled a 22-8 record and were the OVC co-champions with a 13-3 mark in her second year.
Butts played in 111 career games at Tennessee under Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt. The forward was a four-year letterwinner from 1996 to 2000 and a member of the 1997 and 1998 NCAA Championship teams. The Lady Vols won the 1998, 1999 and 2000 SEC titles during her tenure and she was voted the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1997. She also won the Lady Vols’ Unsung Hero Award that season. Butts was a three-time Academic All-SEC selection and earned UT’s Academic Achiever of the Week four times.
Butts graduated in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in social work and a minor in psychology. She received a master’s degree in education from Tennessee Tech in 2002.