Mitchell doesn't have the same problem this year.
Smith has returned and highly touted freshman Bria Goss has arrived on campus. Although Smith is still short of full strength following the injury and Goss is learning on the job, UK's future at point guard is bright, for both this season and beyond.
Smith got the Wildcats off to a flying start in a 90-51 victory over Mississippi Valley State on Sunday, proving why so many were excited about her return to Kentucky for a fifth season. During the 10-0 run to open the game, the point guard drew a charge, dished out a pair of assists and confidently knocked down a jumper from the top of the key. Smith hasn't completely regained her form from the Wildcats' run to the Elite Eight in 2009-10, but she sure looked close to it during that stretch.
"I think Amber's experience and her talent help us a lot," Mitchell said. "I think she is slowly but surely getting back closer to full speed."
Smith knows there's plenty of work ahead, but she is just thankful to be on the floor again after having to go through the year-long torture of sitting out the 2010-11 season.
"I think I'm taking steps forward each game," Smith said. "I'm just blessed to be out there playing with this team."
Along with the impact Smith had during that opening stretch, her numbers for the game show how solid of an all-around game she is capable of playing on a consistent basis. She finished with 11 points and five assists and Mitchell knows how much she means to his team.
"She had some really good moments today," Mitchell said. "Five assists, two turnovers: that's a good ratio. When she's shooting the ball well like she has the past couple games, that helps us a lot."
Smith, though, created a nervous moment for her coach in the second half, diving over a press table along the baseline in an effort to save a loose ball. Given her injury-riddled past, Mitchell was thankful to see her pick herself up, showing no ill effects of the fall other than some sweet tea stains on her uniform.
"That's just sort of the way we play," Mitchell said. "I would not like for her to go over tables and I would not like for her to run into a chair or anything like that, but I have accepted that's sort of what we have instilled in them in practice."
Even knowing her own history, Smith didn't have a thought in her head about her own safety when she was making the play.
"The only thing that was going through my mind was I was saving the ball on their end of the court," Smith said. "I went for it and we got the ball so I was happy."
Goss also took a hard fall in the second half, jumping high looking to intercept a pass before being undercut and hitting the deck. She briefly exited the game, but returned later and played a few more minutes at the point, where she had a chance to get valuable in-game experience.
Just as Smith is a work in progress, so is Goss, but for different reasons. Mitchell has praised Goss for being one of the best-conditioned players on the team even though she's only in her first season, but she is still developing in a new system. She began her UK career as one of the top-rated incoming point guards in the nation, but played primarily off the ball during preseason practices. However, she has returned to her natural position for parts of UK's last two games.
Last time out against Sam Houston State, she played the position for the last few minutes of a blowout win, but split time evenly with Smith at point guard in the Cats' win over Mississippi Valley State. She responded with 13 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals.
"I think she's really good," Smith said. "She plays hard and I think she's going to be OK at the point guard position whenever she has to play it."
The luxury UK now has because of Goss's experience playing the off-guard position is that Mitchell can play her alongside Smith.
"We have a lot of guards that can make plays in the open floor," Mitchell said. "They can create for other people."
The senior knows how good her freshman counterpart can be down the road at point guard, but for now, Smith wants to keep her primarily off the ball.
"Hopefully I can stay in as long as I can and she can steal some minutes," Smith said. "I want her at the two. She's good at the two."