LEXINGTON, Ky. -- University of Kentucky women's basketball head coach Matthew Mitchell (pictured) and his 2016-17 team hit the practice floor for its first official practice of the season Tuesday evening, Oct. 4 for a spirited practice inside the Joe Craft Center.
"We were excited to start and the players have worked hard. We had such a hardworking group this summer that I expected for them to be able to come out with a fast start and they really came out fast today," Mitchell said. "They had great effort. We have a ton to clean up, but with every team you have to build each team from the ground up. You don't get credit for what has happened in the past. I thought that our team really came out today and did a great job. Our veterans showed some great leadership and our newcomers are really hard workers and have some great attitudes. Good first day."
The Wildcats return a "core six" players from last season in seniors Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator (both preseason All-Americans), juniors Alyssa Rice and Makenzie Cann, and sophomores Maci Morris and Taylor Murray. Those six were not only sharp and focused during the season-opening practice, but continued impressive leadership skills that have been building over the summer. Several times during practice as a coach blew a whistle to stop a drill, one of the veterans would start correcting a newcomer's mistake before a coach could. That mindset is nothing but positive for Mitchell and Co.
"That core group that is returning are high-character kids with high basketball IQs and hard, hard workers," Mitchell said. "So what we talk about every day is that if you can come out with the greatest attitude that you can possibly have and you can come out and give your greatest effort then good things are going to happen. That is what we try to focus on and those returners have really taken that to heart and it is a good group."
Epps echoed Mitchell's thoughts, saying its critical the returners from last year to have that mindset and confidence to instruct the other players because they know what the coaching staff wants to see and how to get it done.
"We have a core six players returning from last season that know what Coach Mitchell wants and we know what to expect from each other," Epps said. "We know how to hold each other accountable and we have a lot of new players. We are working for them. We have been through it. We just want them to get to where we are at and we know that it takes time. We are not frustrated with them, we are trying to be teachers. We know what Coach Mitchell wants and it is easier for a teammate to hear it from their teammate instead of their coach sometimes."
Mitchell and Epps talked about the team being ahead of where it normally would be conditioning wise Tuesday, which is something that will be tested early Wednesday morning as the Wildcats return to the practice floor for its second team practice. Mitchell said this time of year is meant to build toughness and having the practices back-to-back will help accomplish that.
"We try to do that (practice late one night and early the next morning) to build some toughness and see where they are and how they respond to a bit of adversity," Mitchell said. "They are used to getting up early in the morning, that is what we do around here. We work hard early in the morning. I think the team will respond and I am looking forward to a great day tomorrow."
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