UK Hoops Media Day Roundup

Oct. 22, 2013

Cat Scratches: Mitchell counting blessings as season begins | UK Hoops looking to tap into vast potential in 2013-14

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell

COACH MITCHELL: I would thank you for coming out early on a Tuesday morning to cover our program. We appreciate that very much. The academic needs of our team this semester required us to practice in the morning, so some of our seniors could get some classes they needed for graduation in the afternoon. Hope it's not too much of an inconvenience, and again, very appreciative of you all coming out and covering our program.

I was down in Birmingham last week, and we were doing some different things for media day, 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. That's a difficult job, but they wanted me to do it in a very short period of time. So my mind started racing, and started thinking, how would others describe me? 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.

Then I started thinking about how the players might describe me and words like crazy, nuts, not that smart; that's three words, so I moved on from all that. I landed on grateful, and I would describe myself this morning as very, very grateful to have a seventh opportunity to coach the Kentucky Wildcats. I thank God for that. There's just no way I would be here and had the opportunities I've had at Kentucky without the strength that God has provided me and my family and the people in this program. So give all the glory and praise to God this morning for that.

Just a quick personal update. We had a little baby, Presley Blue, six pounds, 12 ounces, future shooting guard here at Kentucky if they don't fire me before then. 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.

Before we talk about this current team, I just want to express my gratitude and tell you how grateful I am for all the former players that have helped us move into this position because we are in a different position than we were five or six years ago. Players like Carly Morrow and Victoria Dunlop 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. 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.

This team has been a lot of fun to coach so far. This is the 17th practice this morning that you all will have a chance to observe, and they've made tremendous progress during that time. They showed up in tremendous shape and their conditioning was strong when they showed up for practice, so they've been a great group to work with. It's a lot of fun to be around them. I think they want to be a championship team.

What we're focusing on this year is real, real simple concept. It's not going to be easy, but it's real simple. We just want to try to be our very best, and we talk about that virtually every day. If we can become our best, we can have a terrific season here at Kentucky.

With that, I'll open it up for questions. We're excited to get started.

Q. This might be basic, but what about the time difference with practice? How has the response been, because that is a change in the routine.

COACH MITCHELL: It is a different situation than we've had in the past. One thing that equips our players to be able to handle that, especially early in the season and in the preseason, we've always trained in the morning. In the summer they train in the morning. They're up even earlier. This is a bit of a break for them. They're up even earlier in the summer. 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 6:00 every morning training.

In the preseason we've always tried to instill some discipline in our team by practicing early in the morning, and so I think we were probably better equipped to handle it than if we had had no experience over the years of going early in the morning.

They get started about 7:40 each morning. 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. We've had very spirited sessions and have worked very hard, so the early practice time I think has a lot of benefits, and they've handled it well.

Q. Could you just talk about Makayla Epps and how you feel she's come along and where you see her fitting in this year?

COACH MITCHELL: Well, Makayla is someone we're very grateful that she chose Kentucky and we're excited about her talent level, and what I've been impressed by is her character. She comes in with a lot of accolades and with high expectations. I'm very impressed with how she has handled all that. Wherever she's had a deficiency and freshmen coming in with some gaps, whether it may be effort because they're not used to the pace of practice or whether it may be conditioning or whatever it is, freshmen have an adjustment period, and every time Makayla has had something presented to her where she needed to get better, her response has been phenomenal. She's proven to be very receptive to coaching, and so when you get a real talented player who is not afraid to address her weaknesses, that's very, very exciting for a coach.

Makayla is so versatile. She can literally play every position on the floor for us, and we've had some versatile players before. The thing that sort of makes her different is she can legitimately play the one, the point guard position, which is the most difficult position on our team to play.

So she can play them all and play them all well, and so we're really excited about her. Last night we had our tip-off celebration with our booster club, and we talked to her and she addressed the crowd, and she said she's just here to help and she wants to win championships. So just is a very humble attitude for a player of that caliber and is exciting for a coach to see. So I'm very optimistic about her future, and I think she has a chance to have a good freshman season.

Q. Just talk about the depth that you have at this point in the backcourt. I think you have five McDonald's All-Americans now at the various positions back there and what that can do for you.

COACH MITCHELL: Well, I have found this: They don't teach much defense at the McDonald's game. They're not working very hard on the defensive end of the floor, so some of the McDonald's All-Americans have a bit of an adjustment period when they get to Kentucky from that respect.

You know, what I love about our entire team is the talent level, and I don't know where we would land on the most talented team in the country, but we have a very, very talented team, and they are all mobile and agile and athletic. I think that gives us an advantage if we can find a way as coaches to put them in the right positions.

The thing in the backcourt, what I think makes us have the potential to be very dangerous is that anybody really can get the basketball and get it up the floor. That helps with the tempo issue of really pressing the issue tempo-wise. You don't have to wait for one player to come get the ball. And right now in practice, which this is very early and could change and has changed before in our program, but right now Jennifer O'Neill and Janee Thompson are getting the majority of the reps at the point, and they are both so fast and so explosive and both are shooting the three so well that that's two point guards that can keep the pace going, but then you can outlet it to virtually anybody, Kastine Evans, Bria Goss, Linnae Harper, Makayla Epps, really just anybody can take that and push the ball down the court.

It helps you offensively and defensively just to keep the level of intensity up and keep the tempo up, and those are all things that are valuable here at Kentucky.

Q. What are you looking for from DeNesha Stallworth this year as far as her development?

COACH MITCHELL: You know, DeNesha is very, very talented, and what I try to impress upon her is we have a very important season ahead of us, but also she has a very important future ahead of us beyond this season. I have in my mind a real sense of urgency to try to complete the job that we started. She came here because she wanted to become a complete player, and she wanted to really reach her potential, which is another way of saying she wants to be her best.

I'm just looking for that. She has so many physical gifts. She's such a versatile offensive and defensive player, another player that we love because she's so versatile. What I think she needs to do is just take that approach every single day of believing in herself and making sure that happens before practice starts and then practice with that belief I think is really the key for her to break out and be -- and I think she ought to be one of the top 10 or 12 players in the country. I think she should be an All-American. I think she could work herself into the position of being a top-five draft choice.

All of those things are going to happen. I don't think physically, I think it's going to start mentally and emotionally for her.

Just her believing in herself and coming to practice every day, pushing herself to be the best, because she has everything that you need to be an All-American type, SEC Player of the Year type, first-round draft choice type, long professional career ahead of her if she can get those mental and emotional things that will help her stay strong. I think that's really the key for her.

Q. When you make three Elite Eights in this stretch of time, how much time do you spend thinking about the next step, the Final Four, and what do you think separates you from getting there at this point?

COACH MITCHELL: I spend a lot of time thinking about where this program would be and what it would look like if we are the very best we can be. So I think the best version of Kentucky women's basketball is year in and year out one of the top five or six teams in the country. I think that leads you to Final Fours. I think that leads you to think about national championships. So that's sort of an overall thought that drives you every single day.

I don't sit there every day thinking, oh, we've got to put this play in to get to the Final Four. It's not that kind of thought process. It's more of a ‘what kind of culture do we need here, what kind of players do we need here, what is our mission to be our best?’ Not all of that is wrapped up in a Final Four or national championship. A lot of it has to do with what kind of people are we producing, what kind of preparation are we giving these young women for life. So I think about those things a lot.

I sort of think if we can get the right kind of people here operating at a real high level of character and work ethic and some of those intangibles, I think the basketball side is going to take care of itself. If you have talented players that work really hard and do their best, then you'll end up in a good spot. So that's what I'm thinking about every day. As it relates to getting to a Final Four, I don't know that it's any one thing. I think there's a combination of things. I think we've seen that in the women's game, being a No. 1 seed greatly, greatly enhances your opportunity to go to the Final Four. That's just historical.

So the way you do that is you don't lose very many games. You've got to win games, and I think this team, with our regular season, every game that's on our schedule I think we could win it. So that's a good spot to be in going into the season. And so to be a No. 1 seed I think you have to just try to see how many of those you can win, and I think that would be the next sort of logical step for us is try to get from a two seed to a one seed, and those are just having the mental strength and focus to win a game on the road at South Carolina like we lost last year or win the LSU game that we lost. I don't know that it's any one big glaring deficiency that we have. I think it's just more little things we'll have to pay attention to, and that gets tough to do day in and day out in a long basketball season.

That would be what I think -- that's the best answer I'd have on how to get to a Final Four or win a national championship.

Q. Does this team have a go-to player on the roster like A’dia was for you the last few years?

COACH MITCHELL: It's just too early to tell. We're still going at each other every day and it's really intense competition and different people are doing well. I think there are a lot of candidates, but sitting here this morning after 16 practices and with the 17th practice underway, I don't have that answer for you. A lot of good options there and we'll just see how that develops.

You know, a lot of times that's a bit more involved than just your physical ability. That's another who reacts well in those situations. So I think as we get in those situations, we will find out. From a coaching standpoint the ball to get to DeNesha Stallworth would be at the top of any list right now. I would want the ball in her hands just from a physical standpoint. She can make plays. I have a lot of confidence in a lot of the players, but I think DeNesha is probably the most gifted and talented offensive player that we have.

Q. You talked about your backcourt versatility this season. Last season you had struggles with identity in the backcourt. Do you think that'll be a problem again this season?

COACH MITCHELL: I think our players in the backcourt, as much as we can as coaches, it's a difficult situation sometimes for them because we value versatility so much, and we play so many people, I think you need to, the best you can, establish what roles players are playing and what they need to do out there.

One thing that we like here at Kentucky is not putting anybody in a box or telling you what you can't do so sometimes that makes defining roles a little bit more challenging. But I think from what I've seen so far that we're not going to have any problems with who we want to be and who we're going to become with our players, and I just think that we have the makings of a very explosive team and our backcourt will be a big reason for that if that happens.

Q. When you're talking about the chance to win a national championship and you look up there and you see there's a chance, Lexington, Louisville, Nashville, where you could be playing, do you kind of feel karma? Do you talk about that with your team?

COACH MITCHELL: I do a bad job of that. I haven't talked to the team about -- I don't even know that I've even mentioned to them that we got the first and second round. I probably need to go over that with the team and tell them -- I've had my hands full here the last couple weeks and that slipped by me.

The day they announced that, of course Jenna had to have the baby on that day, all right, and so I was all tied up. I could barely even comment on that. We were so full with responsibility at the hospital. But that was funny, the day that Presley was born was the day the announcement came, so that was really a happy day, a little added bonus to it.

We're so appreciative of everybody here at Kentucky that -- you just don't write on a piece of paper we want to have the first and second round and you get it. A lot of people did a lot of hard work to get that done, and it is an incredible advantage. You think about we have gone on the road the last four years, and three of those years we've been able to find a way to get to the Sweet 16, where a lot of the top programs have hosted, and I just think it's a big, big advantage that I need to probably share with the team of the opportunity that they have. We've been the last four years 62-3 down here at Memorial Coliseum, so we know it's a place that we've had some success, and to have your first and second round game there if you can do the work that gets you into the tournament, that's a big advantage.

I just usually -- this time of year I try to stay so focused on daily progress, the daily process of trying to build the team that we don't get ahead of ourselves a lot and talk about the end a whole lot. But just sitting here visiting with you good folks, that's a huge development for us where we could stay here and play. So we'll work hard to get into the tournament, and we will enjoy if, in fact, they do the work, and I think they will, we'll enjoy being here in Lexington.

And I have not looked at it closely enough; I'm not sure if they're trying to keep everybody close to home, but if we could go over and be fortunate enough to win the first two and play in Louisville, we've had success there in the NCAA Tournament four years ago, and you know our fans would be excited about that. It would be wonderful if that's how it played out.

Right now we're just trying to become the best we can be, and if this team will do that every day, we'll end up in a good spot in the NCAA Tournament and hopefully set ourselves up for a real successful run. A lot of work to do before that happens.

Q. People think of you as kind of a defensive-minded team but a lot of your players said you focused on offense a lot this summer. What is your goal with that and what did you see and do you think it'll show up on the court?

COACH MITCHELL: Well, the last two years we've gotten to the Elite Eight against a very good, strong UConn team. They were very good defensive team and they were also a very good offensive team. I just didn't feel like in either one of those games we did as well as we could do offensively. I thought a lot of that, particularly in last year's game, was our lack of poise in that position leading to some bad shots, which really fueled their offense. Their transition offense is really where they killed us and I think more of a product of us not playing poor defense but us playing poor offense and taking bad shots, which led out to transition for them.

You know, as you go through self-evaluation process, we scored a bunch of points last year against some really good teams, but we've been there at the precipice of the Final Four three times now, and in all three games I felt like our offensive execution could have been better. I just think that we need to make sure as coaches we give them enough opportunity to get to a spot where they, under pressure at the most important time, can execute.

So it's a challenge to become your best, but we're just trying to do that every single day. So I think that where we are as a program and how hard we've worked on our defensive fundamentals, if you watch our practice, those kind of things are really engrained in working hard. So I think trying to pay a little bit extra attention to offensive execution will serve this team well, so that's been the goal.

And also in the summer we were so happy to be able to work with our players, but we also didn't want to lengthen the season to a spot where it just becomes no fun. We all start out playing the game on some court shooting the ball into the hoop, and that's usually what people fall in love with. You don't start out the first experience in basketball doing defensive explosion drills. We just tried to make sure that the players were having a productive summer but also it not become a tremendous grind, because the season we'll practice -- if this team does what I think they can do, we'll practice over 100 times. We'll play in nearly 40 games.

The season is tough and it's a grind. To try to get better and to try to make sure it was a productive summer, that's what we focused on.

Q. Are you seeing advantages now?

COACH MITCHELL: Am I seeing advantages now? Yes, yes. Have we progressed offensively? I think so. I think we're much further ahead after 16 practices than we were after the 16 practices last year. But the summer really helps with that.

Q. You talked about the summer conditioning program your players undergo. What sort of conditioning program did you have to undergo to pull off that dance the other night?

COACH MITCHELL: Well, it was very intense to get in a position to perform in front of 23,000. It's no small task. It's very intense. You have to come prepared, there's no doubt about it.

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.

Here's what happened: On about -- I had so much free time in September with the recruiting and a very pregnant wife, I had a lot of free time in September to focus on the dance. I thought y'all would laugh; it was a joke. I had no free time in September.

So October the 1st we brought the team together. It's a very, very involved process. We have costume designer, we have dance choreographer, we bring the team together and say, hey, look, it's 18 days, what are we going to do? So the dance choreographer Dawn Walters, God bless her, says you have to do this split. So on October 1, I could barely just get into the position stationary. I was sitting on the floor and I was like, there's no way I can get this done. So she said, well, this is called stretching. You're going to have to stretch. So over the next 17 days you see the results. 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.

Q. Can this serve as an example to your team that anything is possible?

COACH MITCHELL: There's no doubt. If you're willing to prepare and willing to take risks to get out of your comfort zone, you can do it. That is a great message to the team. That was a fun, fun night. So yeah, there was quite a bit of stretching that went into the preparation.

Q. What have Linnae and Makayla done to the practices in your backcourt, and also the significance of them as recruits? Obviously Linnae is the top rated recruit you've gotten here, and Makayla is one of the best players in state history.

COACH MITCHELL: Well, they've added talent to the practices. They're very talented players. They're high-character young people that I enjoy being around. They're behind defensively. They're just behind because of where our program is and the quality of players in it. But they're making up ground every day, and this week, which is really the third full week of practice, I've started to see them start to narrow that gap and start to catch up and start to sort of get more comfortable with where they are. But they're both really high-quality, high-level players. They'll do well when they come every day and understand how important it is to give a great effort.

You know, Makayla and Kyvin, and Linnae, when they walk into the gym, nobody on our team is concerned with where their recruiting ranking was at all. They're just concerned with can they become a part of our defensive scheme and can they produce offensively. All the recruiting stuff is good because you're getting talented players, but it just doesn't really make anything happen for you on the court.

I think that they'll be very successful players here because I like their attitude and I love their talent level.

Q. Looking at the stats from last season, you could say that Jennifer O'Neill's game play was kind of inconsistent from game to game. What have you all worked on just in these first few weeks of practice to help her have more consistent game play?

COACH MITCHELL: Just continued to work with Jennifer on her mental approach to the game and her emotional approach to the game. She's another example of a player that is so physically gifted, I never grow tired of watching her in practice with the ball in her hand. She is so fast and explosive, and I get excited several plays during the practice, she'll do things that you just can't teach anybody to do. She's so explosive. It's the plays where I can teach her to make better decisions with the basketball, don't go for the home run play, just go for the easy or the more simple play, things like that. That's where we are with Jennifer. It's a mental battle every day where she can make good decisions, and it's an emotional battle every day to let go of the bad and get on to the next play and refocus.

So that is where you will see a lot of our players finally end up at their very best is when they pay attention to the mental and the emotional side of their games I think is really the key because Jennifer is a great example. She has everything you need: Great speed; she's not that tall but she's very strong and tough; she can jump; she can run; she can handle contact; she has great court vision; she can shoot the three. Physically there's just not a lot of deficiencies in her game except for possibly how tall she is. Other than that, she has everything. So now it's just her making sure she can handle things properly.

So that's the coach's job, I think, is to make sure that you are paying attention to that and you are supporting that player in that process and thinking about how we can make that happen. That's a great way to end the discussion today is that's really going to be the key for this team are those kinds of mental and emotional situations. Can we be our strongest and our best in those, because we have a lot of physical gifts.

Really appreciate you guys covering the program. Thanks, everybody.

FastScripts by ASAP Sports

Kentucky Student-Athletes

#0 Jennifer O’Neill, Jr., PG

On the intensity during practices...
“Everyone is getting up early and putting work in, this whole summer everyone was working hard. We’re learning a new offense right now, so it’s taking time to get adjusted because it’s new. It will benefit us because it’s changing the way we play as far as pace and not just going 100 miles per hour the whole time.”

On if it was tough to get over the end of last season...
“It’s something you always remember, but if you dwell on it you aren’t going to improve this year so there is no point in dwelling on it now.”

On the freshmen...
“They are doing really well. Linnae (Harper) is doing really well, (Makayla) Epps is working hard and Kyvin (Goodin-Rogers) is doing the same thing. The good thing about them is they mesh really well together and the fact they didn’t have to come in by themselves like Janee Thompson, is helping them a lot.”

On having a positive mindset...
“I have to make sure my mental state is right when I come to practice, as far as not getting frustrated with myself and being impatient because we’re running a new offense and I tend to get frustrated with myself. When I get frustrated then my teammates get frustrated and that isn’t benefitting anybody if I’m not controlling myself. I’m the person who has to run the team so I take full responsibility for that, but it’s definitely something I’ve been working on and I feel like I’m getting better at it.”

#3 Janee Thompson, So., PG

On the freshmen guards...
“I love both of them. I played with Linnae Harper in high school and I’ve actually been playing with her my entire life, so I’m super excited she’s here. (Makayla) Epps is a phenomenal player and she’s been pushing me and Jen (Jennifer O’Neill) to get better every day in practice. They’ve both been doing really well.”

On if she was telling the team about Harper before she arrived on campus...
“Definitely, Linnae is an amazing player and she has all types of accolades that reflect the type of player she is and I was definitely bragging before she got here.”

On what practices have been like for the backcourt...
“It’s rough sometimes because we’re adding a lot of new stuff, but with the talent we have it’s so much fun. There are all sorts of highlights and fun stuff we can do based off the amount of talent we have.”

On the possibility of playing at home in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament...
“It means a lot because our fan base is so passionate and they are so passionate about us. They bring us so much energy, so that will definitely be a plus once we start playing games here.”

#5 Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, Fr., F

On how practice has been going so far...
“It’s going pretty well so far. I’ve adjusted quicker than I thought I would. It’s tough but you just have to do what you need to do to be prepared.”

On the difference between high school and college...
“You have to be more focused and know what’s going on. You have to know what play to run and how to run it. You always have to be prepared.”

On the difference between the 3 and 4 position in college compared to high school...
“There’s a lot more movement. There’s a lot of involvement with the 3 in the play because in high school I just had to set down screens, pop and shoot.”

On if a certain player has helped her the most...
“I would say Jelléah (Sidney). She’s helped me since I’ve been here and she’s been very helpful.”

#10 Bernisha Pinkett, Sr., G

On the team’s goals for the season ...
“We are trying to work on getting over the hump, and doing whatever we can to knock down every opponent. We will give our best each night to try and reach our goals. The biggest mental obstacle we all face is focus. Being able to stay focused when we play good defensive teams that try to take us out of our offense because they think we are just a run and gun team. Our focus in tough situations is not letting adversity affect us and being able to stick together through it are all challenges.”

On being a leader as a senior ...
“With me it’s more by example. I’m not a really vocal person. I just try to give my best, and go as hard as I can so the freshmen can watch me do what I do. As far as the physical aspect I try to lead by example. I’m just trying to work hard to get my defense down so when the season gets going I can be one of the major contributors on the defensive end.”

On how the team’s freshmen have integrated so far in the preseason ...
“The freshmen are really good. They are still trying to get going, but I think they’re going to be a major help to us, especially on the wing. All of them can shoot, so that’s a help behind the arc.”

#11 DeNesha Stallworth, Sr., F

On the team’s expectations...
“Everything. SEC Champions, (SEC) Tournament Champions, Final Four, National Champions. We are trying to do it all. We have been doing really well in practice and are going to keep getting better daily.”

On her personal expectations and how her game has changed since last season...
“I am just trying to be more consistent and help out my teammates more by not taking those plays off or taking games off. That is my main focus, consistency and working hard for my team.”

On head coach Matthew Mitchell dancing at Big Blue Madness...
“It’s crazy, but that is what he does. He is so enthusiastic and such a great entertainer. He did a great job.”

On if she feels pressure with Coach Mitchell saying she is the most gifted player on the team...
“I don’t feel any pressure at all. When he says things like that it is something that players should believe in. I think he is really just trying to build confidence in everybody. I will take full responsibility in doing that and trying to get better for my team.”

#13 Bria Goss, Jr., G

On potentially playing the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament in Memorial Coliseum...
“I think the excitement and urgency will be 10 times more because we know what it means to us and the fans know what it means to them. The way we play for our fans is really important, so for them to be there for us will be very beneficial.”

On what the offense looks like at this time compared to last season...
“To begin with, we’ve all gotten in the gym a lot more. We’ll see each other in the gym all throughout the day and sometimes late at night, whereas I didn’t really see that my first two years. Also, just being able to break down our offense during an installation period we have during practice. The focus is really there this year.”

On the freshmen...
“We see a lot of heart. Makayla (Epps) said it best last night at our banquet when she said she was here to help (in any way) get us to the National Championship. That just opened my heart because if they are here to help the seniors and the coaches then I have to be there to back them up.”

On if she sees herself as more of an emotional leader this season with A’dia Mathies gone...
“Those are some big shoes to fill because there won’t be another player like A’dia, but I think my role needs to be more of an aggressor or attacking scorer. I just need to have the mindset going into the game that any situation that’s thrown to me, I should be able to handle it with no pressure.”

#15 Linnae Harper, Fr., G

On her goals this season...
“Just to be a better player and a better person on and off the court. Obviously, we want a national championship, but it takes time, day-by-day, step-by-step to get there, and I think with this group, we have a talented group and a lot of depth. I think if we work hard and do what we have to do we’ll be successful.”

On the guard play...
“It’s pretty good, our backcourt is nice. Our backcourt can upset some games and be pretty good.”

On the depth of the guards and being deep...
“I think so, with practices going well and how fast we go with the tempo, and a hard defense, I think our backcourt, and how much we pressure on defense, will make it easier on offense. We’ll be pretty good.”

On her bond with Makayla Epps...
“Yeah, we’re really close. We met at the McDonalds All-American game, and ever since we’ve always stayed in contact. We always talk to each other and help each other. I think our bond is even deeper.”

#23 Samarie Walker, Sr., F/C

On how practices have gone so far ...
“I’m playing more freely. I think I just let go a little bit. It’s my senior year. I have nothing to lose at this point so why not go all out? The talent level is great. I think all of us are talented. The freshmen are talented, but yes they are behind, which is to be expected because they’re only freshmen. The veterans have been doing a pretty good job of keeping them ahead of the game, trying to help them out.”

On her goals for her senior season ...
“I think we all want to reach the next step from the seniors down to the freshmen. It’s something we have been talking about since I’ve been here. I think we actually have a chance to do it this year. You never know. Of course that’s what we are thinking about but we will see how it goes.”

On focusing on offense ...
“We are working a lot on our offensive execution. That’s something we struggled with last year. That is a big reason we lost to UConn (in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight). We couldn’t execute our offense. We are doing a great job with that this year. That’s definitely what we are focusing on. We added a few new things, but mostly things are still the same as far as our plays. We are just working on it more. We have a drill that’s called ‘perfect execution.’ If we don’t run it perfectly we have to get on the line and run. It is putting things in perspective and helping us focus.”

On the team’s versatility ...
“This team is very versatile. You have Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, DeNesha Stallworth and me, who can step out on the wing. You have Azia Bishop who can shoot the three as well. Kastine Evans, Bishop and Makayla Epps can play the post so having a versatile team helps a lot.”

#25 Makayla Epps, Fr., G

On Coach Mitchell saying she has the ability to play all five positions on the court...
“I’m a taller, stronger and larger point guard than most of the guards out here, so whoever is guarding me is primarily going to be smaller than me. That’s what we’re looking for are mismatches and right now I’ve been playing the one through the three positions. Coach Mitchell knows what he’s talking about, so if he believes I can play the 4 or the 5 then I can.”

On playing the point guard position in college...
“Playing the point guard is more of a challenge than it was in high school because the talent and the competition is so much more intense. They push me to my limit every day and I get better day by day. I feel myself getting better. I’m so much better now than I was back in March when I played in the state tournament. Every day they are just pushing me to get better.”

On if she will play other positions throughout the season...
“We’re a team of seven guards out of 13 players, so we are guard-heavy. I’m just going to go out there and if he puts me at the 1, then I’m going to handle the ball and run the game, but if he puts me at the 2 or 3 then I’m going to do what I’m told to do.”

On what she has seen defensively from the team in practice...
“The defense here is way more intense than what we ever did back in high school. We primarily played a 2-3 zone, whereas here I’m challenged to move my feet and guard my man one-on-one, so that is a big challenge for me. I’m not the strongest defensive player, but we do defensive fundamentals every day in here, so I’m getting better. I feel like I’m getting better.”

#32 Kastine Evans, Sr., G

On being a senior and in what ways she is stepping up to lead the team...
“Really just a mentality and having that culture on the team that we have had the last couple of years of playing hard, always playing together and being there for each other. Just continuing that leadership role that I have had in the past and helping the freshmen along so we can make a run like we did last year.”

On possibly playing the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament in Lexington...
“I think it is a great thing for us. If we can take care of business first and do what we have to do throughout the season to get that No. 1 seed, which is one of our goals, then the NCAA (Tournament) could be a good run for us especially having that home court advantage that we like to take advantage of.”

On taking the next step to the Final Four...
“Really just (trying to improve) our offensive mentality and taking open shots and having great offensive execution. Some of the things that some better teams have done to take us out (of the NCAA Tournament). Some of the things that we have done over the summer and early preseason are offensive execution and just being really consistent on the offensive end.”

On her being a leader...
“I laugh because they call me, ‘Momma Kas’. Everybody has their mom and sometimes you have to be hard on them. That is the role that I have taken and something that I want to do. Really, I am just trying to be that front leader and help everybody out. If they have questions they can come to me and ask. Just being that person they can come to and being that backbone.”