Posted: Oct 23, 2012 6:12 PM
Updated: Oct 23, 2012 6:29 PM
Matthew Mitchell had a packed house in the media room for media day.
MATTHEW MITCHELL: Thank you all for being here today. We are starting a new season, and we always appreciate the interest in our program and you all covering our program.
I think right now Kentucky is the most exciting place in the country to play college basketball. We have just great, great people involved, and for us, it starts with our players. We have some players who are now and have been working extremely hard in preparation for this season. They are working on building their character each and every day. They're working on becoming the most well-conditioned athlete they can be, and right now we're working hard just to form our team. I'm excited to be coaching this team.
We also have some great people that are committed to helping those kids get better every day. I really appreciate the commitment Mr. (Mitch) Barnhart and President (Eli) Capilouto made to us in the offseason by extending the contract and giving us a chance to continue our positive momentum going forward and that confidence I don't take for granted.
We're working each and every day to make sure the confidence they have placed in us is honored with a great effort every day. That's exciting for us as we move into the future for the program.
I'm really appreciative to all the people that are working with the team, our assistant coaches, our support staff. It takes a lot of people working at a high level to be successful in the Southeastern Conference, so we have a great group assembled for the 2012-2013 Wildcats and we're looking forward to getting started.
Q. You were picked by the media to win the SEC ... Can you talk about the possibility of winning the SEC this year compared to years past?
MATTHEW MITCHELL: That is really different because I don't think it's ever happened before so, you know, that is -- I'll answer that this way: There is what it means for a program and what it means for our current team.
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.
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. Then when you turn it to the 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.
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 --[Crowd laughter]
MATTHEW MITCHELL: Well, you can't look at that computer Larry (Vaught) and make a story appear, 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.
Q. Seems like there will be even more of a bull's eye on your back. Do you think the players are ready to handle that?
MATTHEW MITCHELL: I think that is one of the most important functions as a head coach is to make certain that I pay attention to the team and have a pulse on the team and the way we gauge that is in practice every day. I have never been a big believer in the bull's eye being on your back or not on your back. We have had some good success being the underdog before. We have had success in games when we were supposed to win games, so I don't pay very close attention to that.
I do pay close attention to, are they doing the things every day in practice each and every day, is their effort right? That's more how I gauge it than whether we're favored or not favored. One thing we are always trying to get out of our players is their very best. I think that's preparing them for life after basketball, and why I love coaching at Kentucky and why I love being involved with young people is the practice court is sort of a laboratory where you can put people in difficult situations, you can challenge people, they can learn what it takes to really become their best, and we are of the mindset that needs to carry over when they are finished playing basketball and they're striving to be their best all the time.
So I think when that's your measuring stick, that's much more effective than any kind of external expectations people may place on you through polls or predictions.
Q. Early on you play Baylor. Is it hard not to be looking at them with a bull's eye that game with them being 40-0?
MATTHEW MITCHELL: That's a great example of the bull's eye theory, if the bull's eye is on the back of their jersey, I'm not sure what their uniform looks like this year, but if the bull's eye is there, I don't know that that will be nearly as effective than us practicing hard and being ready to go down there and play because we're going to try to have a bull's eye on the basket that day and make a bunch of shots into the basket if we can.
That will be a stern test early in the season and everybody, I think, is familiar with the season they had last year, 40-0, and I'm certain they have to be the No. 1 pick now nationally. Coach (Kim) Mulkey and all those players and notably Brittney Griner certainly have a strong challenge. Certainly that's helped them going in the season and we know there is a sense of urgency because we have a tough test looming.
Right now we're trying to do things that are going to help Kentucky be really good and ultimately whether it's the second game of the season or the last game of the season we're just trying to focus and practice on things that can make this team and this group of players a real team and help us be successful in the court.
Q. Question regarding if UK Hoops is a potential Final Four team this season ...
MATTHEW MITCHELL: 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.
Q. Can you talk about that?
MATTHEW MITCHELL: We try the best we can to explain to them early in that first team meeting what opportunities exist for them. So 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. 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, and it's a long way between today and there, but 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.
Q. Question regarding how he thinks the SEC will shake out this season, including the absence of Pat Summitt at Tennessee ...
MATTHEW MITCHELL: I am the worst person in the world to ask that question and I appreciate the question and I'm not trying to be funny at all, but I pay so little attention to what everybody else is doing because we try to invest that time in our team. I have a general knowledge of the league and I certainly have an incredible respect for the coaches and the players in this league, but I just go into the season assuming that all the other 13 teams want to be the champion. And when you have those great coaches and great players trying to get there, then I think what serves us best is really staying focused in on us doing the things necessary to be champions, because we want to be SEC champions, that is a big, big deal for us and we were so proud that last year's team worked hard enough to become that.
It is definitely going to be different without Coach (Pat) Summitt patrolling the sidelines and I think everybody here is aware of the opportunity she gave me many years ago and I certainly wish her the best and it will be different without her there. I would say without a doubt that there are a lot of formidable teams in this conference and I would think that it's wide open this year.
Q. Question regarding DeNesha Stallworth's play ...
MATTHEW MITCHELL: She is from a skill set perspective a very talented player and physically she is big, long arms, tall, but athletic, can block shots on the defensive end. But I just think she adds another dimension because she adds to our level of talent. And she is a big, big player and she is coming into this season after a year of practice and I don't care what you say, I'm sure she is very nervous about this season. I know she wants to do well and be a big impact on the team, but we're just trying to make sure we start from ground zero with everybody and make everybody understand how we're all connected and it won't be just one player that makes the difference. But DeNesha, from my viewpoint, is a welcome addition to this team and she'll be heard from, I believe, before the season is out.
Q. In years past the length of other teams has bothered you guys and it seems like this year you have a lot of length yourselves, is that accurate?
MATTHEW MITCHELL: We do. We've transitioned well over the last four years from a team with nobody over 6 feet tall to now several players that have some size and some length. While doing that we have been able to maintain a high level of athleticism, so that's good.
But I think we are deeper with our talent in the post than we've ever been. The hard thing about it is the way that we try to play takes tremendous effort, but before that it takes belief in your mind that you can get it done. And sometimes that's harder to get the post players to understand, and I'm just at the point right now trying to make those kids believe how talented they really are from an athletic standpoint, and I think if we can get that done we're going to be in good shape.
Q. Question regarding Coach Mitchell's relationship with men's basketball head coach John Calipari ...
MATTHEW MITCHELL: 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 (Laughter).
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.
Thank you guys for laughing at that, makes my day that you guys enjoyed that. John is -- 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. 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. He asked ESPN to put us on College GameDay, little things like that that you think are big, but 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.
Q. Question regarding A'dia Mathies' play ...
MATTHEW MITCHELL: Well, A'dia, her talent has not diminished and she is well equipped to take on competition in the Southeastern Conference, so my expectation for her is to really try and make this the most special year of what's already been a special career. It's been an extremely special career. The program has transformed in front of our eyes during the time she has been on campus so I would be happy if she could cap it off with the best year of her career and to do that, I think what she needs to focus on is being consistent in practice, being aware of what the other players on the team need from her. I think if she'll work and be connected with her teammates, I think she has enough around her that we could elevate her game to another level.
So I'm looking for tangible things out of her and I'm trying to take what she can give and I'm trying to help her show leadership and consistency in practice and if she'll do that, then she'll be ready for any challenge that faces her in a game. Sometimes I think for A'dia, the only time she may have a chink in the armor, if she doesn't get a good start in a game, she lets that affect her, so just trying to build that mental sufficiency and not let anything throw her off her game, because we believe if she'll just play she'll be one of the most spectacular players in the country so we're trying to help her with that.
Q. Question regarding the reaction he has received from dancing at Big Blue Madness ...
MATTHEW MITCHELL: It's been overwhelmingly positive, Larry, overwhelmingly positive. People are extremely impressed with my ability to entertain. Madness, it has just been fantastic and I know my parents are so proud of me, my wife, my two daughters -- well, one of the daughters doesn't really know what's going on right now, but I'm sure they are very proud of how I go out and represent our family and dress in those ridiculous costumes.
The way I look at it is if anybody is going to say anything negative, I just run the other way in the chance that there is something negative to be said. Mr. Barnhart didn't fire me after that, so I figure it went over well.
Q. Are you worried about Saylor (youngest daughter) seeing the videos one day and being embarrassed ...
MATTHEW MITCHELL: I guess I'm not worried enough because I continue to do it (Laughter). I continue to go out there and make a complete fool of myself. It may make parenting Saylor tough when I'm trying to teach her how to act and she then pulls up "You Tube" and says, "What are you saying right here?" But it's been positive, Larry.
Q. Do you talk to Cal when you are doing things like that?
MATTHEW MITCHELL: No, I try to bring things up to Cal that don't waste his time. He's a busy man, and, no, we are not talkin' about that (Laughter).
Q. Why not sing? That's more your fashion.
MATTHEW MITCHELL: You have to get the monitor right and the sound is too complicated. Clearly we could get that done, but just everything else that's going on, you just keep it simple.
Q. Question regarding Bria Goss ...
MATTHEW MITCHELL: Well, I tell you what makes Bria (Goss) so likeable as a coach and what makes her have a legitimate chance to have a career here is her work ethic and her attitude. Her attitude is one of wanting to get better every day and so when you have those kind of gifts that God's given her, she is tremendously gifted, then you couple that with that attitude of, I really want to come out here and be good today and I'm listening to the coaches and that the way to be good is to work really hard, then you have a chance to have a special player on your hands and I think that's the best way to sum up Bria Goss.
Shooting the ball well from outside right now in the early season practices, shooting the ball great, hustling, playing great defense, just really getting after it and I'm real excited to see how her sophomore season goes and sometimes people worry about a sophomore slump, and I would not bet against Bria Goss this year. She is poised for a great season and she is a mentally tough kid and wants to be good and understands what that comes through, having a great attitude and working hard.
Q. Question regarding the point guard position ...
MATTHEW MITCHELL: Well, we are blessed in one way that we have several players that are capable of playing the point. We ask a lot of our point guards and so it's not the easiest position to play here, so I think that's one of the most important things as a coach for me and the rest of the assistant (coaches) this season is to do the work necessary to make sure that we are playing at a high level at the point guard position, and I can't tell you exactly who is going to do that. I have some ideas, and I have a lot of confidence in those players that can play that position.
But we're still a work in progress. I have a strong belief that we will be good at that position before the season is over.
Q. Do you worry about playing time and chemistry because of all your depth?
MATTHEW MITCHELL: I do. I am a feel-based coach, emotionally-based coach at times. I'm not analytical. I'm not stats driven. I'm thinking about chemistry and I'm a big believer that if we get the intangibles right with this team, that's going to be the difference more so than a certain play or certain scheme.
So when you're that kind of a coach and the relationships with your players matter to you, then that does have an element of concern that you want everybody to feel positive about their contribution. Having said that, then as a coach you have a responsibility to do what's in the best interest of the team.
So you balance all that out and you make tough decisions and the best way I've found to really help that situation function well is to make your practice competitive, and be very clear on what you're looking for, and then give everybody an opportunity. With the way we play and we practice hard and you get a lot of opportunity in practice there is not standing around where you don't have a chance to make yourself known there.
At the end of it what I'm going to try to do is give everybody an opportunity to produce in practice and that will be what dictates who takes the floor in games.
We have proven over the last few seasons that we can get a lot done with a lot of players, so it's not a huge concern. But I would be lying if I told you that's not something I think about a lot and I want to make sure the chemistry is good because if you're not concerned about team chemistry, you aren't concerned with winning a team championship because that's a huge part of it.
Q. What are you expecting from Janee Thompson?
MATTHEW MITCHELL: I'm expecting her to work every day to become as emotionally tough and as strong as she can because that's the biggest jump from high school to college especially when you are jumping from a high school-level program where she has been tremendously successful and now you're jumping into a college program that has a lot of confidence in you and also wants to compete at a high level.
The difference there is in high school you're not going to make anywhere near close to the mistakes or you're not going to have to pay for them like the mistakes you make in college. You're going to make more mistakes and they cost more and that wears on a young player's mind so I think that's a big responsibility for our coaching staff to make sure that we are helping her learn every day in practice but really trying to show her the places in practice where she has opportunities to become mentally stronger and emotionally tougher because she has all the physicality. She is a highly-skilled offensive player and I think for her we need to focus on getting her as tough as we can get her.
Q. Question regarding Geno Auriemma making comments about lowering the goal ...
MATTHEW MITCHELL: Lower the goal? My initial thoughts on that would be that we are having a hard enough time getting the ball in the goal right now. I think if we make any adjustments right now it's going to be tough on our team. I would have to give thought to that down the road. Coach Auriemma coming off the experience with the US National Team, maybe has had some talks with people and they have given thought to that, I haven't given a lot of thought to that.
I think right now our game is exciting at Kentucky, and a lot of people are coming out to watch us play and are excited about our team. So if something made it more exciting it might be good, but I haven't given a lot of thought to that. Thank you.
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