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Notebook: Mitchell counting blessings as season begins

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Matthew Mitchell interacts with a fan at the Big Blue Madness campout. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Matthew Mitchell interacts with a fan at the Big Blue Madness campout. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Matthew Mitchell normally has no issue coming up with answers to questions lobbed at him by reporters, but he was stopped in his tracks as he made the rounds at Southeastern Conference Media Days.

"I was down in Birmingham last week, and the league, we were doing some different things for media day," Mitchell said on Tuesday, "and we were doing some promotional work to promote women's basketball and doing one of these commercials, and the league asked me to describe myself in one word."

 Searching for a response, Mitchell began thinking of how the important people in his life would describe him. Naturally, his wife came to mind first.

"So I started thinking, how would Jenna describe me in one word, and I thought about that for a second and I quickly moved on because I didn't want to use that," Mitchell said to laughs.

His players were next, and he joked that words like "crazy," "nuts" and "not that smart" would likely be first on their lists. Again, not what he was looking for.

Finally, Mitchell came up with an answer of his own.

"I landed on grateful," Mitchell said, "and I would describe myself this morning as very, very grateful to have a seventh opportunity to coach the Kentucky Wildcats."

Mitchell has accomplished things that no head coach in UK Hoops history has, but he credits others for his success. Above all, he's thankful to God. He appreciates the athletics department administration for hiring him and now supporting his program. He'll never forget the players who helped him build UK into a perennial contender.

"Players like Carly Morrow and Victoria Dunlap and Lydia Watkins and Amani Franklin, A'dia Mathies, those kind of kids that came in here and really did things not their own way, but they embraced the Kentucky way, which is honesty, hard work and discipline," Mitchell said. "Really grateful to them, and we find ourselves with this '13 '14 team in a great position to have an outstanding season, and so we would not have been able to do that with all the efforts of the people that have come before this team."

Those players also helped pave the way for UK's successful bid to host the First and Second Rounds of the NCAA Tournament in March, which is another reason for Mitchell to be grateful.

"You just don't write on a piece of paper we want to have the first and second round and you get it," Mitchell said. "A lot of people did a lot of hard work to get that done, and it is an incredible advantage."

UK has advanced to the Elite Eight in three of the last four seasons in spite of never enjoying that advantage. Of course, it's on the Wildcats to earn an NCAA Tournament berth, but the idea of playing two postseason games in Memorial Coliseum -- where UK has a 62-3 record over the last four seasons --is exciting to Mitchell and his players alike.

"I think the urgency would be 10 times more," junior guard Bria Goss said. "We know what it means to us, the fans know what it means to them and the way we play in front of our fans is so important. So just for them to be able to be there for us during those times is going to be beneficial."

On the day the news about the NCAA Tournament came down, Mitchell was otherwise occupied. His wife gave birth to the couple's second daughter early in the morning on Oct. 9, giving Mitchell yet another reason to step back and count his blessings.

"We had a little baby, Pressly Blue, six pounds, 12 ounces, future shooting guard here at Kentucky if they don't fire me before then," Mitchell said. "She is doing well. Jenna is doing well. Our family is just so blessed. We thank God for that, as well. Things are really good."

Flexibility -- literally -- the key to Mitchell's Madness dance

Mitchell outdid himself once again at Big Blue Madness, channeling The Godfather of Soul, James Brown, before dancing to Britney Spears' "...Baby One More Time."

Other than the wig he wore for the opening act, there was one particularly jaw-dropping moment from the performance that Mitchell addressed on Tuesday.

"The real issue, I think, just the elephant in the room, is everyone wants to know how did I do the split and how did I get to that position at 42 years old, and let me tell you, it was not easy to do," Mitchell said.

Just a few weeks ago, the move would have been impossible.

"So on October 1, I could barely just get into the position stationary," Mitchell said. "I was sitting on the floor and I was like, there's no way I can get this done."

With the help of UK dance team coach and choreographer Dawn Walters, Mitchell went to work.

"So over the next 17 days you see the results," Mitchell said. "I did the work, I stretched out, and we really -- the video before the dance would have been -- we could have sold that. I danced for about 45 minutes back in the dressing room to try to get my muscles loosened up to get the split, so we did the split, and that's really all that had to happen in the dance was the split."

With the splits behind him, Mitchell can rest again, at least until next October.

Cats adjusting to early-morning practice

Habitually nocturnal media members had an early wakeup call on Tuesday, as Media Day activities began at 8 a.m. ET to account for UK's new morning practice schedule.

The change from afternoons to mornings was made to allow some of UK's five seniors to take classes needed for graduation and Mitchell hasn't noticed any issues coming along with it.

"They get started about 7:40 each morning," Mitchell said. "We huddle up and circle up and then get going after that. There's a lot of folks in the world going to work a lot earlier than that, so it's not all that tough. And the players have just handled it great."

The Cats have plenty of experience with hard work in the morning. In fact, in-season practices offer somewhat of a reprieve considering UK's summer schedule.

"They're up even earlier in the summer," Mitchell said. "It's unbelievable what our players do when they choose to come in and go through the voluntary workouts during the summer.  They're up before 6 every morning training."

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