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By LARRY VAUGHT
Being picked by Southeastern Conference media members to win the league championship for the first time means one thing to the Kentucky women’s basketball program and yet another thing to coach Matthew Mitchell’s current team.
First, the program.
“For the program it’s a wonderful thing and it just is some tangible proof that the team last year was good, and they did well, and a lot of preseason awards were passed out on what last year’s team did. So we should congratulate last year’s team for helping us be the preseason pick. It also makes you appreciative of where we have come from,” said Mitchell at the team’s Media Day Tuesday.
“Four years ago we were picked 11th so it at least gives you some idea that progress is being made for the program. I’m confident that our fans are excited about that and take pride that we are now considered to be a good program. Those things are really, really positive, and we are appreciative of that.”
Now comes the “but” referring to this year’s team.
“It literally means nothing. It really means absolutely nothing for this year’s team because I think back when we were picked 11th, we didn’t pay attention to that at all, and we saw what that team did (finished second in the SEC),” Mitchell said. So if it didn’t mean anything to that team it can’t start meaning something now.
“We do have a good team. Well, let me say this. We do have good players and we have the capability of becoming a good team, but there is nothing automatic about that. Really, the only thing automatic, when you think about it, is we all in this room are going to die at some point, but other than that …”
What? Was that a playful jab at me since I asked the question and was probably the oldest media member at the press conference?
“Well, you can’t look at that computer Larry and make a story appear,” Mitchell said. “It’s not automatic at all. You got to do something. Outside of going 6 feet under, we got to do something with this team. We’re excited about the possibility of finishing the season first. That will be really what’s important.”
Dynamic coach with a talented team at Kentucky. Sound familiar? But it’s not John Calipari, even though he is both, too. No, Mitchell has worked miracles with the UK women’s basketball program that is now openly talking about reaching the Final Four after losing in the Elite Eight last year. And for the football enthusiasts who insist UK should be able to compete for a SEC championship, the women’s basketball program shows it can be done because it has climbed from the SEC cellar to that point now.
“They’re a potential Final Four team. That’s easier for us to say than it is to happen. But if you look at our roster and if everybody were to come together and play really hard and you get some breaks, I think they are — they have that potential,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell, like Calipari, doesn’t shy away from talking to his team about Final Four aspirations.
“We don’t huddle up every day and say we’re trying to get to the Final Four, but we have tried to make them aware that we believe that they’re championship caliber, that we believe they can be that kind of team,” Mitchell said. “Without going through everything that it takes to get there, we think it’s a possibility.
“I do think you need to set goals and have direction, so we would love to get to New Orleans (for the Final Four). We will try to remind them how special they can be. If they will just really focus on working and being their best, they will give themselves a chance, I can promise you that. If they really, really come together they will give themselves a chance to be there at the end.”