By LARRY VAUGHT
Matthew Mitchell would like to think of his three freshmen — Marion County’s Makayla Epps and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers along with Chicago’s Linnae Harper — could eventually be special players.
“The best thing I like about them is the way they have approached life at Kentucky,” Mitchell said. “They have great hearts and are high character kids. They are really talented, too.”
Harper, a point guard, spent part of the summer playing for Team USA and missed time at UK with her future teammates.
“It will help her down the road, but it did slow her down as far as having a chance to really kind of get together with the rest of the players in the summer and mesh,” Mitchell said. “She is a little behind from that standpoint knowing exactly what we are trying to do, but in the long run that experience on that big stage and with that kind of pressure on you to perform for your country can only make her better.”
Epps and Goodin-Rogers both initially gave verbal commitments to Louisville before signing with Kentucky.
“I think they ended up doing what they wanted to do,” the Kentucky coach said. “I think Kentucky will always be Kentucky. I think we will always have players that want to play in the state and that will not have anything to do with Matthew Mitchell but it will be because of what the University of Kentucky means to the people of the commonwealth. As long as somebody sitting in my seat works hard and is a person of integrity and upholds the right values, then Kentucky kids will always want to play at Kentucky. Some won’t, but for the majority of people in the state of Kentucky, playing here is really special like it is for them. That is going to happen no matter who signs here or who coaches here. Kentucky kids love Kentucky.”
Mitchell will have a team expected to contend for a SEC championship again and then finally try to make it to the Final Four for the first time in school history. Whatever happens, he knows how lucky he is to have gone from UK assistant to UK head coach after a stint as head coach at Morehead.
“I may be different than a lot of coaches. I feel God had a plan for me and led me to Kentucky. I’ve always felt God had planned something for me,” Mitchell said. “When I got to Kentucky and felt how special it was and how connected I got so quickly, I loved it. I felt God working in my life. This is the most special place and where I am supposed to be. In coaching a lot of times you are searching for where you want to be and where that next great opportunity will be. The most special thing for me here is that I am at home and where I am supposed to be.”
However, he’s become so much at home that while he may not be the celebrity that UK men’s coach John Calipari is, he is well known wherever he goes.
Any regrets about always being recognized by UK fans?
“Heavens no. We go wherever want to go and we are just part of the community,” Mitchell said. “People are so kind it is an honor to be in the position we are in and to have people say positive things about us and our program. (My wife) Jenna and I have not let up one bit. We just live our lives and appreciate the people of Lexington for letting us be part of the community.
“Lexington is a small town and great community. We don’t mind people knowing us when we go to a movie. We probably go out to eat too much and spend too much money doing that. But we love being part of this community and having people excited about our program.”