UK Hoops Media Day Coverage

Oct. 29, 2009

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The Kentucky women's basketball program held its annual Media Day on Thursday in the Memorial Coliseum Media Room and Joe Craft Center. The day included lunch, a press conference, free gifts and open practice.

Five returning veterans join six highly touted newcomers as third-year Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell looks to lead his Wildcats to a school-record sixth consecutive postseason tournament.

With only two seniors in Amani Franklin and Lydia Watkins, the Cats look to their three juniors for additional leadership. Heading that list is preseason All-SEC second team selection Victoria Dunlap. The 6-1 forward led the Wildcats in nearly every statistical category last season and has started in all 65 games of her career. Point guard Amber Smith, who dished out a team-high 114 assists in 2008-09, is back to direct the UK offense and guard Carly Morrow looks to again be a threat from three-point range after nailing a team-best 48 three-pointers last season.

Along with three highly touted freshmen in A'dia Mathies, Anna Cole and Brittany Henderson, three transfers also join the Wildcats' arsenal. Former Miss Kentucky Basketball Rebecca Gray is eligible after transferring from North Carolina while Keyla Snowden, the nation's sixth-ranked three-point shooter in 2007-08, returns to the court after one year at Akron. Crystal Riley, a transfer after one semester at LSU, will be available for action following the 2009 fall semester.

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell

Opening statement...

"We are excited to get the season going. This is what you prepare all year for, to play games and get out and compete. We have been working extremely hard and I like the team so far. The team is forming and the things that I have a pretty good handle on right now are the effort they're giving, they way they're playing together but there still are a lot of questions we have to answer and we're trying to get that done every day in practice. I believe this is a team with a lot of possibilities and this should be an exciting year. This edition of the Wildcats should be fun to watch."

On what things the coaches are learning about the players every day...

"It's going to be a different style of play because the last six or seven seasons we had a low post presence. Our experienced front court players aren't as tall but a lot more athletic and dynamic so it is going to be a different look. We will see how it all plays out, it is easy to talk about but much more difficult to implement but we are trying to be much more dynamic offensively. We are trying to figure out how to be more up tempo and anytime you have that, you'll have a few growing pains here and there. What we try to concentrate on mainly is what kind of attitude we will have to have to play an up tempo style and it is very evident that we will have to score more points than we have the last couple years and I think we will have the capability to do that this year."

On his expectations for freshman guard A'dia Mathies...

"As we recruited her I thought she was one of the best guards that we had ever recruited for a number of reasons. Just her skill set, she's a player that can score. She can shoot threes, she has a mid-range game and she can get to the bucket. There aren't many players out there that can legitimately do all three. She played in a winning program and did a lot of great things in high school. You never know how that is going to translate and how it's going to transition into the college game and we still don't know for sure because we haven't played anybody. But I can tell you from practice that I think we have one of the most talented players that I've seen in a while and it's good that she's wearing the Kentucky uniform. She is somebody I have high expectations for. The reason why I think she will be able to handle that is her demeanor and her maturity. She came in and had very good grades in the summer, she's extremely intelligent, picks up quickly what we are trying to do offensively and defensively and just has a real steady presence in practice every single day."

On junior guard Amber Smith playing without her knee brace...

"It's not an exact science coming back from those knee injuries. Some doctors say once we release you no brace, some say one year post-injury brace. So there are differing views on how to treat that. I noticed it virtually the day she took the brace off. She is a player that I think struggled with the brace. I think maybe it was reminder of the injury instead of a comforting factor. Since taking the brace off, she has been very explosive in practice up to this point. It's going to be a key for us. I felt like that was missing from our team last year, an explosiveness at the point guard position. Amber is more explosive and now you add A'dia Mathies who can run the point, Crystal Riley who is an absolute big-time point guard and that position looks very different for us now."

On the depth of the point guard position helping the new up tempo style of play...

"I think it helps a great deal because it all starts with the point guard. If you have some explosiveness at that position and they can cross half court in a dribble or two and now you are into your transition game, it makes a big difference. I thought for a variety of reasons that last season, injuries and a thin roster, we were not an up tempo team. We just weren't capable of doing that but I think Amber's progression definitely helps us to get closer to where we are trying to be."

On seeing multiple guards on the court this year...

"That is something we will have to get to comfortable doing and when we say four guards I think what that would look like is a player like Amani Franklin playing a power forward. There aren't a lot of players who can legitimately do that and we are fortunate to have Amani who is tall and athletic and can guard other team's power forwards. That can help you be pretty good but with the make-up of the roster right now I think we are going to have to get to a point where we are comfortable playing with a lot of guards on the floor."

On if it is difficult to cultivate leadership after losing seniors like Carly Ormerod and Eleia Roddy...

"I think if you look at any effective organization and the time they spend on leadership development, I think if you want to be successful that is what you do. We have certainly tried to make that a priority in our program, to develop leadership skills. You have to be born with some capabilities to lead and there are definitely some players on the team that are more capable than others. For young people I think it is important to work hard and try to develop those skills that you need to be a leader. I have been very happy with how people are leading in different ways on our team. Our two seniors, Lydia [Watkins] and Amani [Franklin], are practicing better than I have seen them and I think that's a great leadership by example. It is important to have leadership especially at the point guard position and Amber Smith, Crystal Riley and A'dia Mathies are meeting with their coaches and working on those kind of things which we are starting to see emerge. Carly Morrow, who just doesn't take shortcuts ever, is vocal in practice, works hard and she's displaying leadership skills. It is important for those (leaders) to emerge, it is important for the coaches to have a role in developing those skills and I have been pleased with what I've seen so far."

On if this year's team will be better from the three-point range...

"We want to be able to do a good job shooting the ball. I was listening to someone talk the other day and they said, `We've always had shooters, we just didn't have makers.' We need `makers' not just people who can shoot shots. We have been keeping stats in practice so the newcomers have been adding dimension to that. A'dia can shoot well, Keyla has been incredible from the three-point range and so has Rebecca Gray, obviously. Now we don't have to rely on Carly Morrow for the three-point shot. She has been doing fantastic in practice and I think she is helped by being aware that she is no longer the only option. We should have a greater ability to shoot the three-point shot and that transforms your offense."

On signing freshman A'dia Mathies out of Louisville, Ky., last year....

"It was very key to our long term success here for a lot of reasons. She is the kind of person we want here. Not all players fit in to all programs but we knew that A'dia was someone who could come in and work with our three principles of hard work, honesty and discipline and not everyone is ready to come and do that. We knew that A'dia was the kind of person that could fit into the program and do what we asked her to do. From a talent standpoint she just makes your offense much more dynamic because if it breaks down, she can go make a play and get a bucket when you really need one. You need one or two of those types of players if you plan on being a really good team that can go up and compete at the highest level."

On playing two extra games in the SEC schedule...

"I feel good about it. I'm excited. I feel like one of the great things about coaching at Kentucky is being able to compete in the Southeastern Conference. There is just so much excitement surrounding this league in all sports. And in women's basketball the SEC has been traditionally the best conference. To have the opportunity to play two more games in the SEC is exciting and beneficial for us and helps us in a number of ways, competitively and helps our fans get excited."

On playing a game at Morehead State...

"I think it would be a great thing for us to play more games around the state of Kentucky. When I had the opportunity to come to Kentucky I had years left on my contract and all Morehead State asked was if we would come over there and play which I am more than happy to do because of the opportunities they gave me there and enabled me to come to UK. I think the world of Wayne Andrews the president over there and Brian Hutchinson who is the athletic director, they have been very good to me. It is also a chance for people to see us play who find it hard to get to Lexington for games. Being the flagship university of the state I think it is important for us to be able to showcase our team around the state."

On his thoughts about being picked 11 th in the SEC...

"As a coach I have to figure out how to use or not use that. I'm not sure how valuable that is for us to use the `us against the world' mentality. So we're picked 11 th , LSU is picked first in one and second in another and we lost to them by two points. Tennessee is picked first and we beat them by 10. You just don't know how all that is going to work out the next season. It's just not important right now for me to tell our team that nobody respects us. They just need to worry about respecting themselves and understanding what gifts they've been given to play this game and why they're special players and why they're at Kentucky. We need to stay focused on what our possibilities are and work very hard every day."

On 6-7 center Anna Cole...

"Anna is working hard. I'm optimistic about her because of the way she approaches things. She needs to get more aggressive and has a bit further to go development wise that Sarah did but for a player of her size, to work as hard as she works, makes me feel like she can be really successful here. She's such a physical presence, very tall and such a solid build, she doesn't have to learn how to do things exactly right her freshmen year. She can still give people problems as long as she still plays aggressively and gets where she needs to be. If she can be aggressive, she will cause people problems."

On freshman forward Brittany Henderson...

"I've been really pleased with her. She has a junk yard dog mentality. That is the best way I can describe it. She is just tough, nasty, rough, physical and will go out and get a rebound out of her area and if it's one of her teammates and they're shouting same ball she usually comes out with the ball. She is just tough. She is a little unorthodox in the way she shoots and moves around but she is mighty productive in our practice sessions and I have been very pleased with the progress she has made. She is somebody I have a lot of confidence in. Our three freshmen have come in with the best attitudes and have made the smoothest transitions of any freshman class I have ever been in. They come in everyday and work hard. I'm sure they have days where they are down and discouraged and others where they feel better but they don't wear it on their sleeves. They come out and try to get better every single day and we needed that from this freshman class. We haven't had to spend a lot of time on their attitudes but we've been able to just focus on basketball. That makes me even more optimistic about what we can become."

Players

Rebecca Gray, #23, G

On having something to prove this season ...

"This is a new team and a new attitude and we have a completely focused mindset to be better than everyone expects us to be. It's something we work for everyday in practice. We're working harder than ever and we want to achieve great things. It starts today in practice and it keeps going every day."

On how good this team can be ...

"The sky is the limit. We're working hard every day and that's all our coach can ask for. In my mind, we're dedicated and committed and we've got so much passion for this game."

On if this team is capable of shocking the SEC ...

"I think we're going to turn some heads and I don't think a lot of people are giving us much credit but that's okay. That's why we play the game."

On how it feels to be on the court again ...

"It feels amazing. It felt like I was incomplete for awhile, half of me was gone. Being back on the floor with a ball in my hand is a great feeling and it feels great to be back out here."

Victoria Dunlap, #34, F

On the up-tempo style of play this season ...

"It's very interesting and we like the pace. I think everyone is getting into the rhythm of going fast pace. I don't mind being aggressive on the inside but it helps having shooters on the outside and having that fast-paced tempo where you have guards driving to the inside and kicking it out to three-point shooters. It's going to help tremendously because not only do you have to guard people on the inside you have to guard people on the outside too."

On the talent of the point guards...

"We have tremendous talent. Amber Smith is back and her mentality is totally different. She's ready and excited. Crystal Riley is another new talent who is getting to the basket and shooting well. It's just them coming together and helping everybody else. It's going to be great."

On freshman A'dia Mathies ...

"The plays she makes in practice (look hard) but they may be the easiest plays to her and she does them with such ease. She is just out there playing basketball and having fun."

On being a veteran now ...

"At first it was awkward because I wasn't used to being in that type of role, but it's just a part of growing up. It's a new mentality for me, having to help other people out and making sure I get into the type of play I should be for my teammates. I love it."

On being ranked 11 th in the SEC preseason polls...

"I definitely think we're better than how they ranked us in the SEC rankings. It's just us going out there and playing hard and showing that we're not No. 11. We had a meeting in the locker room the next day and we talked about how we know we're not 11 th and we can play much better than what people have seen in the past."

Keyla Snowden, #4, G

On the new up-tempo style...

"We like it a lot. We're full of guards on our team this year and pushing the ball and being active is what Coach Mitchell wants from us this year."

On her knee injury last year and how she has recovered...

"I've been doing well so far keeping up with the tempo. Coach has been encouraging me and my teammates. I'm doing rehab now to maintain and keep my knee strong. I had some mental obstacles to work out from the injury but I'm overcoming them now. It was really hard to watch my teammates last year and I've been working really hard to get back on the court this season. I'm trying to bring my shooting ability and be a good leader because I've played in the NCAA Tournament before. I'm just trying to stay positive and encourage my teammates."

On being ranked 11 th in the SEC preseason polls...

"We definitely are better than that, but we're not focusing on the rankings. We're just going to show people what we can do."

A'dia Mathies, #1, G

On her decision to come to Kentucky...

"There were many factors, but the coaching staff was a big one. I also like the UK fan base. UK has one of the best fan bases and a lot of tradition. It's also a great school and I wanted to get away from home."

On her role on the team...

"I need to contribute in any way that I can. I need to score, rebound and make plays. I can play the three (position), but if I need to run the point, I'll run the point. I also need to be aware of how the game flows. My role is to be a scorer and get the ball in my hands if that's what we need. I need to make plays, help others and keep the team together."

On adjusting to the high-tempo offense...

"You have to be in shape, because you are running the whole time. Based on practices, I think it's going to be good. Shooters will open up the inside-outside game and make things easier. It will be really beneficial to us."

Amber Smith, #24, PG

On implementing an up-tempo offense ...

"I came from a high school that played up tempo, so I came here to play up tempo. Injuries plagued us so we couldn't go up tempo the whole game last season. But, it's my bread and butter and I love pushing the ball in transition. Lydia Watkins will benefit because she runs the floor hard. This year, we have Rebecca Gray and Keyla Snowden and they will really shine. We can kick it out to the shooters and they will be open to knock it down."

On removing her knee brace this year ...

"It's probably mental, but I feel quicker. I feel like I'm doing things I couldn't do with the brace. I feel great and I think I've improved."

On freshman A'dia Mathies ...

"I'm very excited about her. I love passing her the ball, because I know she'll make things happen. She gets to the basket and she can shoot. I'm thinking she can be SEC Freshman of the Year. I have high expectations for her."

On the team's chemistry...

"What Coach Mitchell has tried to instill in us has come through to the team. Everyone is getting the concept, the culture is good and the team chemistry is great. We all get along and I'm ready to get on the court with these girls."

Carly Morrow, #5, G

On the strengths of this year's team ...

"We're going to be a huge threat on the outside since we have more people. We have such excellent three-point shooters, Keyla (Snowden) and Rebecca (Gray) especially. Amani (Franklin) has always been a consistent three-point shooter and we've had some post players develop a three-point shot. It's really going to open up the inside play for us, moving from inside to outside much faster and much easier. It's going to open up a lot for Vic (Victoria Dunlap) to do some things down low."

On feeling less pressure on her shooting game this year with other contributors on the team...

"Oh yeah, it takes a lot of pressure off of me. I still have to make shots. That's why I'm here, to make three-point shots and play good defense and be a team player. To have Rebecca (Gray) or Keyla (Snowden) come in and be able to do that as well gives us a lot of confidence as a team, not just having to rely on one player to do a certain job. We have options."

On the different styles of three-point shooters on the team...

"'Bee' (Rebecca Gray) can shoot very deep and Keyla (Snowden) is a good catch and shoot player. They both can come off of screens really well. I like to catch and shoot and shoot in transition."

On the potential of this year's team...

"The potential of this year's team is out the roof. We have a lot of versatility in our line ups, a lot of versatility as players. The match-ups we're going to throw at people are incredible, up and down the floor. We have very talented players, very talented coaches and we want it more."