By LARRY VAUGHT
If Kentucky needed a big play last season — or the year before — it could usually get it either from Makayla Epps or Evelyn Akhator.
Now both are gone and coach Matthew Mitchell knows he has to adjust and cope with not having last year’s stars.
“We have had a lot of good players leave and you don’t ever want to see them leave because you get attached to them and love them so much as members of your family. Evelyn and Makayla were like that,” Mitchell said Tuesday.
“I think I miss the personal part of it. Makayla just came to the office, she is in class here and finishing up her degree and Evelyn is in Russia (playing basketball). So I was on FaceTime with Evelyn a couple days ago and then I saw Makayla today and you miss those relationships. Those were two terrific young people.
“The basketball part, I don’t know if I have just accepted it as a coach, but it is just the rhythm of it. I have never been one to be too upset about that part of it. It is just the rhythm of life. They come here to try to get better as people and players and you try to pour in as many good things as you can as a coach and then it is on to the next year as a team and as a coach. The thing that we have really tried to embrace here over the years and I think we have done a good job of is this is the only opportunity that we have for the Wildcats. I haven’t thought a lot about last year other than to gain any wisdom that would be helpful for this edition and we don’t focus much on the future.”
He has told his team to “pour everything” into this year because there are no future guarantees for anyone.
“How can this team be successful? When I think about Makayla and Evelyn, I think about how can I support them and help them in their lives where they are right now. I don’t think a lot about trying to replace them individually. The kind of team that we have, a freshman is not going to step in and replace Makayla Epps,” Mitchell said. “A freshman isn’t going to step in and replace Evelyn Akhator.
“You hope your seniors are better, your juniors are better, your sophomores are better and then your freshmen get better throughout time. You do it as a team and you do it as a group. That is sort of where my mindset is on that.”