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KGR_cw.jpeg Kyvin Goodin-Rogers heard the doctors saying how serious her condition was.

But lying in a hospital bed with her mother and Matthew Mitchell nearby, it had not quite sunk in. She was still thinking she'd be at practice the next day.

"Coach, he was there beside me, and I was like, 'Coach, I'll be there tomorrow,' and the doctor was like, 'No, you're not going to be playing,' " Goodin-Rogers said.

Last October, Goodin-Rogers, a 6-foot-1 forward, was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism and would need to go on blood-thinning medicine for the next several months to ensure her long-term health. Though that was the only reasonable decision, it meant her first season as a Kentucky player had ended before it began.  

"Our doctors and the family decided to put her on blood thinners, which was the protocol that would try to guarantee her recovery and make sure that she didn't have any more problems or another one didn't occur, and so the moment she went on the blood thinners, her season was done," Mitchell said. "That was a tough day certainly for her."

It didn't stop being trying either, and Goodin-Rogers wasn't the only one affected.

Her new UK teammates had gotten to know her as a person and player over the summer and in fall practices and all of a sudden she was relegated to watching from the sideline. For Makayla Epps, who played with Goodin-Rogers at Marion County High School, it was particularly difficult.

"It put both of us down really bad," Epps said. "That's like my best friend. I've been with her for seven years and when I found that out it was real heartfelt for me. Like, I almost got real emotional about it. But we tried to keep her positive about it and all of that."

With the support of her teammates and coaches, Goodin-Rogers made the best of a bad situation.

"It was an eye-opening thing. Over the year I actually got more mentally tough about it. I took it more in a positive way than a negative way because everything happens for a reason."

It would have been easy for Goodin-Rogers to get down, especially when she learned a blood clot is a career-threatening condition for some high-level athletes, but she refused to think in those terms.

"No, never," Goodin-Rogers said, asked on UK Hoops media day whether she ever thought she'd played for the last time. "I knew I would play no matter what."

A year later, she's proven herself right.

Goodin-Rogers, a sophomore who will be eligible to apply for a medical redshirt, is poised to contribute when the Wildcats open the regular season on Nov. 14 against Appalachian State.

"Kyvin Goodin-Rogers has just bounced back from a very difficult freshman year with her health problems, and she looks really good right now and looks like a player we're going to be able to count on," Mitchell said.

Goodin-Rogers began building that confidence when she was officially cleared on April 28 after a battery of tests. Hours later, she was on the floor with her teammates playing in the most gratifying scrimmage of her life.

"It meant a lot because once you start going a few trips, I was like, 'Yeah, I still have this. I haven't lost anything,' " Goodin-Rogers said.

If you ask Epps, Goodin-Rogers has actually gained something. In a preseason scrimmage last weekend, Epps saw a player even better than the one rated a four-star prospect in high school.

"The kid hasn't played in a year and I was on the court with her and I love seeing her out there with me," Epps said. "And then when I was on the bench watching her, she was just going like she played last year. I was like, 'That's crazy. Like, you're amazing.' But she's back and I think she's better than she's ever been. Sitting out a year, that's just crazy. I can't wait to be out there with her for real."

After the scrimmage, there was one final hurdle for Goodin-Rogers to clear this week. She had to get through practice on the one-year anniversary of the day she reported chest pains to senior athletic trainer Courtney Jones.

"Yesterday, I was like, 'If I get past this day, I'm good. I'm going to play this season no matter what,' " Goodin-Rogers said.

That day behind her, Goodin-Rogers has moved her focus solely to preparing for the season. She's a potentially important piece for a UK frontcourt that lost stars DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker to graduation, laying the burden on the shoulders of seniors Azia Bishop and Jelleah Sidney, freshmen Alexis Rice and Alyssa Rice and Goodin-Rogers.

"We just need to keep working hard because we know how to play the game," Goodin-Rogers said. "It's just another game, another practice. We just gotta be mentally tough and prepared and know our positions."

Goodin-Rogers is a contender to start, but she's not overly concerned with that.

"I just want to be there for the team, do my part, do what I have to do, do my role to win games and do better," Goodin-Rogers said.

That's the perspective of a player who knows how much of a gift playing basketball is.

"I take every position more seriously than I ever have in my life," Goodin-Rogers said. "I'm just grateful to be back on the court and show what I have and (can) do, what I can for my teammates."

Video: Player interviews on UK Hoops media day

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Bria Goss and Azia Bishop


Makayla Epps and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers


Video: Mitchell's media day press conference

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Jennifer O'Neill (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Jennifer O'Neill (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
As a college basketball player, Jennifer O'Neill has just about done it all.

Three Sweet 16s. Two Elite-Eights. A Southeastern Conference title. A 43 points on national TV in a football stadium. The list goes on and on.

But for the UK guard, plenty remains to be done. And she's put in a lot of time and effort to reach new heights in her last season at UK.

A player of O'Neill's stature -- having among other stellar credentials wowed a national audience with that school-record scoring performance in AT&T Stadium last season -- could be forgiven for lacking motivation. Yet given the work the senior has been putting in building up to the 2014-15 season, inspiration doesn't seem to be in short supply.

The fire that burns inside O'Neill is unique to her.

"So much motivates me," O'Neill said. "Definitely my mom, who set the bar high. My family, I want to be an example to my younger siblings and cousins. I read a quote that said, 'Work hard in silence and let your success speak for itself.'

"That's my mindset. I'm not worried about what people have to say about me, what people think about me. If I know what I'm doing, and I know I'm doing the right thing then I have nothing to worry about."

For her part O'Neill has always put in plenty of time in pursuit of improvement, but four years into her journey as a college basketball player, she has a more effective and efficient practice routine.

"When I first got here I was really out of shape, so I worked on my fitness and nutrition," O'Neill said. "I started taking it seriously and understanding when I was able to eat certain things at what time. Not counting calories, but really watching what I ate, when I ate it, at the time I ate it and stuff like that.

"Now I really work on my mechanics. Little things I could do to get better. As far as footwork, making sure how my follow-through goes so my wrist isn't twisted to the side. I'm constantly working with the coaches as much as possible. I get as many shots up as I can. Really that's it, just my mechanics and technique is what I'm working on right now."

As a player O'Neill can always work on her game, but as a senior expected to play substantial minutes, she could also be called on to assume a leadership role.

The role of veteran leader is a bit novel to O'Neill, but it's one she has already started growing into.

"I talk a lot more now," O'Neill said. "Sometimes I get quiet and I don't even realize it until Matthew (Mitchell) says things or my teammates say something. I'm definitely talking a lot more than I ever have since I've been here.

"I'm trying to lead by example by really showing my teammates what they need to do in order to get better. It's something I didn't do my freshman year."

While O'Neill may not have initially been comfortable showing the way to her teammates, some of the UK Hoops newcomers have taken notice of O'Neill's influence early this year.

"Players like Jennifer O'Neill have taken me under their wing," freshman Alexis Jennings said. "She's made me feel like I'm sisters with everyone on the team already. She's been here a while, and I can count on her to give it to me straight. Every practice she encourages me."

Indeed O'Neill's embrace of a role as a mentor was likely outside her comfort zone, but it's indicative of the attitude she's taken on since arriving at UK.

"I've grown up a lot; I've learned a lot," O'Neill said. "I've been exposed to a lot of knowledge from coaches. They have just passed their knowledge down to me and just showed me what I needed to do. How I need to improve."


Video: UK Hoops at SEC Media Day

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Top five moments from Big Blue Madness 2014

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Another Big Blue Madness is in the books.

Continuing the tradition of an event unique to Kentucky basketball, it was a night of fireworks, dancing, dunks and even a pop-star impersonation by Matthew Mitchell. But more than anything else, Big Blue Madness was a celebration of a new season, and the capacity crowd in Rupp Arena enjoyed every second.

Let's relive the top five moments from Big Blue Madness 2014.

5. "The story isn't over"


After UK Hoops had its introductions and on-court action and the 20-time national champion Kentucky cheerleading team turned in an impressive routine, it was the men's team's turn. Before any of the Wildcats made an in-person appearance, the team's new intro was shown on the two massive video boards installed on the baseline stage.

Aaron Harrison's prediction of "It's going to be a great story" from after a loss at South Carolina last season came over the speakers. The words came to define UK's magical run through the NCAA Tournament during which the Cats proved all their doubters wrong.

Harrison then came into view and walked toward the camera. Turning a phrase, the clutch sophomore shooting guard said exactly what UK fans wanted to hear: "Our story isn't over."


4. Drake introduces Coach Cal


After the Harrison twins were the final players to have their names called, there was one more introduction to be done before John Calipari appeared. Drawing possibly the loudest cheer in a night full of them, rapper Drake came on stage.

Lint roller in hand, Drake addressed his fellow UK fans and introduced Coach Cal.

"This is family to me," Drake said. "This is a real thing to me, you know, and tonight I want to introduce a man who is definitely one of the most important people in my life. Despite his busy schedule, he always takes the time to check in with me through the highs and the lows. He's the godfather for us that bleed blue."

Drake would then suit up in a practice uniform and go through the layup line with the team.

3. The basketball

Although Big Blue Madness has become more of a spectacle than anything else, it technically remains the first open practice opportunity for UK's two basketball teams. And so, there was actually some basketball played.

UK Hoops was without three players and needed a substitute male player to play a five-on-five scrimmage, but the Cats look poised to be among the nation's best yet again. Jennifer O'Neill was dynamic as a scorer, while McDonald's All-American Alyssa Rice seemed more than capable of playing immediately in the post.

On the men's side, the Cats were as competitive as you'd expect in both three-on-three and five-on-five scrimmages. Andrew Harrison played much like the point guard that led UK to the national championship game, while Tyler Ulis did nothing to hurt his fan-favorite status. There were thunderous dunks aplenty from the likes of Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles, while Dominique Hawkins showed renewed confidence in his outside shot.

The final three minutes of the five-on-five scrimmage were particularly heated, as players on both sides turned up the intensity. White would close out a 42-36 win before Coach Cal closed the night.

"This is going to be a process," Calipari said. "We're trying things that have never been tried before, but this is a talented group of great young men representing you."

2. Mitchell one-ups himself ... again

Mitchell had exhausted nearly all his dancing options in recent years, culminating in routines in which he channeled MC Hammer, Britney Spears and James Brown. The only thing left for him to do, apparently, was sing.

Doing his own unique take on a few Bruno Mars hits, Mitchell serenaded the crowd in a way only he can. He likely won't be quitting his day job anytime soon, but the performance was impressive. See for yourself.


1. Cal drops the mic


Abandoning the state of the program address he delivered last year, Coach Cal cued the tape from his speech at Big Blue Madness 2009, his first as head coach. When the clip was over, Calipari was fittingly brief.

"Enough talking, let's ball," Calipari said, dropping the microphone and closing the book on the offseason.

Live blog: Big Blue Madness 2014

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Live Blog Big Blue Madness 2014
 
The 2014-15 Kentucky women's basketball team. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) The 2014-15 Kentucky women's basketball team. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
Leading UK Hoops in its ascendance to among the best programs in women's college basketball, Matthew Mitchell has coached some truly elite players.

In recent seasons, Victoria Dunlap, A'dia Mathies and DeNesha Stallworth have been capable of carrying Kentucky to wins and they often have. Thanks in large part to them, Mitchell's teams have made four Sweet 16 trips in five seasons.

This year, UK's roster looks a little different.

"I think that we don't have a real definite superstar that's going to carry us," Mitchell said.

Based on that fact, Mitchell collaborated with his coaching and marketing staff to shape the theme for 2014-15. They settled on "Our Season," and the meaning behind it is simple.

UK might not have a superstar capable of taking over on any given night, but the Cats do have a collection of talent that can carry them to the same heights as in previous years. In fact, they believe they can sail even higher if they live out the mantra.

"We're really going to have to do it together," Mitchell said. "The players are going to have to take great ownership in their team and really become a group."

Mitchell and the Cats took a first step toward doing that by participating in an exercise of self-reflection.

"What can you really become?" Mitchell said. "What limitations does the team have? What limitations do I have as a coach? What can I do well as a coach? What can the team do well?"

Through that exercise, Mitchell, his staff and players identified three superlatives the Cats need to work toward.

First, Mitchell believes UK can be the most defensively disruptive team in the country. Based on his background coaching his "40 minutes of dread" style, his opinion has some weight.

Next, Mitchell sees potential for Kentucky to be the fastest team in the country. Considering UK returns all but one major contributor from a dynamic backcourt of a season ago - including point guards Janee Thompson, Jennifer O'Neill and Makayla Epps, a trio that can even play together - that seems a possibility.

Last, Mitchell wants his team to be the toughest group in the nation. With indefatigable senior guard Bria Goss leading the way, it would be unwise to discount the Cats on that front.

"I believe those are all reachable goals for us," Mitchell said. "Now, where does that land us? I don't know."

The destination might be unclear, but the path is not.

"I think that when you focus on those things, then your practice has to look like that every day," Mitchell said. "You've got to have tough practices, you've got to have fast-paced practices, you have to spend the time to be disruptive on defense."

Even though Big Blue Madness - historically the first practice of the season - isn't until Friday, the Cats have been at work since Oct. 5. What Mitchell is asking in demanding his team become the most disruptive, fastest and toughest in the game isn't easy, but the Cats are responding to the challenge so far.

"It's real, real difficult to be your best," Mitchell said. "It's real difficult. Most people are just kind of getting by, and most people are just sort of existing and doing enough to get whatever done and is required. So, we're trying to go above that. The thing that I continue to tell them is that we're not asking you to do anything you can't do. You're capable."

Fitting right in so far is UK's highly touted freshman class of guard Jaycee Coe and post players Alexis Jennings and Alyssa Rice. The same is true of gifted sophomores Epps, Linnae Harper and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, though Goodin-Rogers fits in more with that freshman group since she sat out last season while recovering from a pulmonary embolism.

"Last year's freshmen to the sophomores this year are miles ahead of where they were," Mitchell said. "The freshmen this year, from a work standpoint, are miles ahead of where the freshmen were last year. That young core that we have that we're depending on, there have been some real signs of optimism."

When the freshmen face inevitable lapses, Goss will be there. She has been a consistent positive presence in topping the 1,000-point mark through her first three seasons at UK, but her leadership figures to be even more valuable now that she's one of four seniors on the team.

"She's very vocal, very committed, great example of what we want our players to be from a character standpoint," Mitchell said. "She's really shooting the ball well, shooting the ball great right now. I think she'll be a big key to us."

As important as Goss may be, UK's success isn't all about her or any single coach or player. The Cats are calling 2014-15 "Our Season" for good reason.

"I just think that they have great, great promise and ability to be a great team," Mitchell said. "But they're going to have to do it together."

UK Hoops freshmen Jennings steps into big shoes

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Alexis Jennings (UK Athletics Photo) Alexis Jennings (UK Athletics Photo)
Alexis Jennings has big shoes to fill in more ways than one.

Yes, UK Hoops is looking to replace departed post plaers DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker -- two of the most productive players in program history.

But the 6-foot-2 true freshman forward has been following in hallowed footsteps her entire life.

Her mother, Tracy McCall, is a former professional basketball player and one of the best players in the history of the University of North Alabama.

Jennings hasn't shrunk from her strong basketball heritage. She's seemed to take on every challenge she's faced in the game in excelled so far in her career.

To date, she has lived up to, if not exceeded, the expectations one might have of a player from such a distinguished pedigree.

"My mom has always motivated me to be the best player I can be," Jennings said. "She's been there. She's in the Hall of Fame at UNA, where she did great things. I see myself as following on her path."

Jennings was rated the ninth best high-school post player in the nation and the No. 64 overall prospect class of 2014 by ESPN.

She was named 6A State Player of the Year and the 2013-14 Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year in Alabama after she led Sparkman High School to the state championship, averaging 22.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.9 blocks and 3.2 steals with an 81-percent free-throw shooting percentage.

So perhaps the challenge of stepping in and contributing at a perennially elite team right away isn't that daunting for Jennings.

"I want to come in right away and make an impact," Jennings said. "I will have a role to fill, and I want to do that to the best of my ability."

Jennings chose UK largely because the team's style of play seemed to fit her game.

"Alexis is an extremely versatile post player who possesses all of the characteristics we look for at Kentucky," UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "She is strong, athletic and skilled. Her ability to run the floor was attractive to us.

"Alexis has 3-point shooting range which will stretch the defense and she can also put the ball on the floor and get to the basket to score. She is hard-nosed and tough on the defensive end and she will be very effective in full-court press situations. I am thrilled Alexis chose Kentucky. She will be a significant player here."

When asked to describe her style, Jennings seemed to agree with her coach.

She made it a point to mention her ability to run the floor, but asserted that her post game was her strongest asset.

"I'm a versatile player," Jennings said. "I like to run, and I think I'm more effective in the open floor. I think I'm very strong down low and I can step back and shoot the 3."

So Jennings' game seems to fit Mitchell's up-tempo, pressure defense-based playing style, but she chose for Kentucky for reasons bigger than just basketball.

"I came here because it's a family-oriented program," Jennings said. "And its been evident since we started practicing. Players like Jennifer O'Neill have taken me under their wing. She's made me feel like I'm sisters with everyone on the team already. She's been here a while, and I can count on her to give it to me straight. Every practice she encourages me."

So far things seem to have gone smoothly for Jennings, but bigger stages and bigger challenges await.

In terms of stage it won't get much bigger than Friday's Big Blue Madness.

Rice ready to run in year one at UK

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Alyssa Rice (UK Athletics Photo) Alyssa Rice (UK Athletics Photo)
Through eight years as head coach in Lexington, Mathew Mitchell has built an identity for the UK hoops program. The Wildcats under Mitchell are known for their stingy, full-court pressure defense and fast-break offense.

The formula has by any measure paid dividends over the better part of the last decade as the Wildcats have advanced to three Elite Eights and four Sweet 16s in the last five years.

Not only has the program's identity resulted in strong results on the court, but the Wildcats are now able to recruit some of the best players in the country because Mitchell's aggressive style has become attractive to prospects looking to play an exciting brand of basketball.

Such was the case with freshman center Alyssa Rice.

"A big reason why I decided to come to Kentucky was the style of play," Rice said. "I came from a high school that was really defense-oriented. I've always felt I was a stronger defensive player and it came more natural to me. Kentucky playing the defense they play and being more up-tempo is definitely one of the things that drew me to Kentucky."

The Reynoldsburg, Ohio, native was a McDonald's All-American as a senior, and rated as the 20th-best high school senior in America in 2014, as evidence of her prowess as a playmaker near the basket.

"Alyssa possesses all of the qualities we desire in a post player." Mitchell said. "Her incredible combination of size and speed make her a perfect fit for Kentucky. She is clearly one of the top post players in the 2014 class.

"Her versatility makes her very difficult to defend. Alyssa is a great ball handler, a great shooter and a tough finisher around the basket. Her ability to run the floor will be very valuable to our program. Alyssa has a tremendous work ethic and I am confident that her Kentucky career will be filled with success."

And all the qualities Mitchell outlined about Rice were what she herself said were her strong suits.

"I would describe myself as hard-working, fast-paced, defense-oriented and a versatile player," Rice said. "Rather than playing just with my back to the basket all the time -- like a lot of post players do -- I like to be able to take it off the dribble as well and I'm trying to expand my outside range just so I can score in a variety of ways."

Rice might be expected to contribute right away as UK will be looking to replace the production of two front-line starters from a year ago: DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker.

The makeup of UK's roster down low gives Rice an opportunity to contribute right away. She might be buoyed by the fact that current teammates the likes of Linnae Harper and Bria Goss saw plenty of time in their debut campaigns.

"Especially since we lost a lot of seniors last year and definitely at the post position there is a wide open gap in the post," Rice said. "I'm just trying to work hard and there's going to be a definite need for post presences. All of the posts have just been working hard to try and do our best because many people look at the post right now as a weakness for our team this year so we've just been doing our part for the team."

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  • Stephen brown: Kayla, great words. Nicely written. Chris Stevenson, your PA for meets is a friend of mine. He got permission from read more
  • Anthony Spurlock: I'm 56 and have waited a very long time to see a uk football team with football player. So proud read more
  • John: wildcats doing awesome this year read more
  • Guy Ramsey: He mentioned coaching numerous times in his postgame press conference, including his opening statement: "OK. You know, there's not a read more
  • Brian: Funny that Stoops said they got outplayed but forgot to mention that he and his staff were also out coached... read more
  • William Bagshaw: The Kentucky Madness was a failure for the fans that was not on court. This was useless to put on read more
  • justin: Poythress is a straight beast. read more
  • John Lee: On the article, it says "early in the fourth quarter," but it should be 'first' instead..because we only trailed early read more
  • Hugh Jones: We'll be in Memorial and Rupp for all your games. Love you gals! Go Cats! read more
  • Ryan: This is intense, I've never seen a live blog like this, keep up the good work! read more