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By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky women’s coach Matthew Mitchell is a lot like Calipari when it comes to touting his team and at the same time stressing the value of team chemistry and hard work. Remember, Mitchell now has five McDonald’s All-Americans on his team. A few years ago that seemed as far fetched as having the UK football team sign 10 five-star players in one recruiting class. But the UK women’s team has won so much under Mitchell that the nation’s best players now want to play for him — and more will be on the way next year.
Why not? He’s charismatic — didn’t you see his Big Blue Madness dance again this year — and knows how to entertain. He’s also not overwhelmed by the shadow of Calipari or the men’s team.
Mitchell was asked Tuesday about his relationship with Calipari. He gave a great answer.
“I think my relationship with Cal has helped him tremendously. He won the national championship last year and I’ve been working with him extensively on, really, every phase of the game and mainly on his public relations skills,” Mitchell said with a straight face. “The guy has had trouble in that area, so I feel good that I’ve been able to bring him along to where there is interest in that program now and maybe I can devote more time to our team and see if we can get to a Final Four.”
Finally, Mitchell laughed and thanked media members for laughing, too. Then he turned serious.
“There are a few things I would like to say about John. One is his wisdom and experience helps me tremendously, and I guess I need to start with just his willingness to help me, and his availability and his encouragement,” Mitchell said. “Those are all functions of him making himself available to me, and from what I can tell anybody on campus that needs his help, he will do that.
“That says something about the kind of person he is. In particular with our relationship, it is so helpful to be able to walk across the hall as a young coach and go to somebody with experience who has done something that we’re attempting to do, take a program that didn’t have a lot of tradition and people didn’t expect those things and trying to move into that spot where we are now where people do expect good things from us. His wisdom and his willingness to share that is powerful, and then he’s just done some things back when we were really trying to get it going.”
Mitchell noted how Calipari asked ESPN College GameDay to put him and the women’s team last year to give the program more exposure. “Just his support is meaningful to me and I appreciate him greatly and I’m confident he appreciates me, too, and all the good work I’ve done for him. He’s been a good guy,” Mitchell said.
However, as good as Calipari has been following Billy Gillispie, Mitchell may actually have done an even better job the last three years taking the UK women’s program to elite status and making Final Four talk seem realistic rather than a fantasy.