LEXINGTON, Ky. – Amber Smith, who spent the past two seasons as the director of player development has been named assistant coach, and Lin Dunn, who has been an assistant coach each of the last two years has been named special assistant to the head coach, it was announced by UK Monday, May 7.
The women’s basketball staff received further stability with associate head coach Kyra Elzy and assistant coach Niya Butts both signing contract extensions. Monday’s announcement comes after head coach Matthew Mitchell (pictured), the winningest head coach in program history, received a five-year contract extension in November 2017, ensuring his seat in Lexington until 2022. All four contracts can be found online by visiting the UK Office of Legal Counsel’s website.
“Rearranging the roles of Amber and Lin and extending Kyra and Niya gives our program the stability that it needs for us to continue our success on and off the court,” Mitchell said. “This staff has worked tirelessly in the gym, in the film room and out on the road recruiting the last two years to ensure the best possible experience for our student-athletes and bring exceptional young ladies to the University of Kentucky. We are excited to get the team back this summer and get to work.”
The staff has been instrumental for the program since arriving in the summer of 2016, signing back-to-back top-20 recruiting classes according to All Star Girls Report. In 2016-17, the staff guided a short roster to 22 wins, a top-four finish in the Southeastern Conference and a national seed in the NCAA Tournament while facing one of the nation’s toughest schedules.
Mitchell and Co. have also showed an incredible ability to develop players as two Wildcats had All-America seasons in 2016-17 in post Evelyn Akhator and guard Makayla Epps. Both earned first-team All-SEC honors and were named honorable mention All-America by multiple outlets. After the season was over, Akhator became the highest draft pick in program history, going third overall to the Dallas Wings in the 2017 WNBA Draft, while Epps went 33rd overall to the Chicago Sky in the same draft. It marked the first time in program history that two players had been drafted in the same draft. Of the eight returning players from 2016-17, six improved or equaled their scoring averages in 2017-18 while four newcomers averaged four or more points.
Smith returned to Lexington in the spring of 2016 as the director of player development after spending three years in the coaching ranks at the Division I level. The native of Winter Haven, Fla., started her coaching career as a graduate assistant coach at Tennessee before a two-year stint as an assistant coach at Louisiana Tech, where her main roles were recruiting and on-court development. During her time in Knoxville the Lady Vols won 29 games, including winning the Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship and advancing to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.
A member of the most successful senior class in Kentucky women’s basketball history, Smith played in 123 career games for UK at guard with 109 starts. She was a member of the 2008 SEC All-Freshman Team and ranks sixth all-time in program history in assists and eighth all-time in assists per game. During her tenure, Smith averaged 7.0 points per game and 3.4 assists per game, helping Kentucky advance to four consecutive postseason tournaments, including two trips to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight.
Smith has been recognized nationally for her success after college as she was one of 50 participants chosen to attend the 11th-annual Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s “So You Want To Be A Coach” program in April of 2013. Additionally, Smith was one of 12 recipients of the NCAA’s UPLIFT Registration Scholarship, allowing her to attend a professional development symposium for aspiring young basketball assistant coaches in 2014, and the Steve and Kaye Maynard Women’s Basketball Graduate Assistant Scholarship.
A May 2011 graduate from UK with a bachelor’s degree in integrated strategic communications, Smith is part of Mitchell’s 100% graduation rate at Kentucky.
Dunn’s new role will involve similar responsibilities she has handled the past two years as an assistant coach. The native of Dresden, Tenn., will continue to scout future opponents, help the coaching staff game plan and break down film and carry out special projects and assignments from the head coach. Per NCAA rules, she will not be permitted to work with/instruct student-athletes.
The 2018-19 season will be the third official season that Dunn has spent working with Mitchell and Co. A member of the prestigious Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2014, Dunn is known worldwide as a pioneer for not only women’s basketball but women’s athletics. Before joining Mitchell’s staff in May of 2016, Dunn coached 11 seasons in the WNBA and guided the Indiana Fever to the 2012 WNBA Championship. Dunn spent 25 years as a college head coach, winning 447 games and advancing to four Sweet 16s and one Final Four.
Elzy and Butts both joined Mitchell’s coaching staff in the summer of 2016 starting their second stints with the program. The duo’s return to the program was noticed immediately as they spearheaded the installation of a zone defense that has helped Kentucky become multiple on the defensive end and also limited UK's foul trouble each of the last two seasons. The 2016-17 team won 20 games, advanced to the NCAA Tournament and finished with a No. 14 RPI after playing the second toughest schedule in the nation. Their focus on fundamentals helped Kentucky rank top-10 nationally in 2016-17 in fewest turnovers per game.
When Elzy and Butts arrived on campus in the summer of 2016, the Wildcats had only one committed recruit in the 2017 class but collectively they went straight to work signing a top-20 class that included four nationally ranked high school stars and a junior college transfer that had a national championship to her name. The staff followed with a another top-20 class in 2018 with the signing of in-state product Blair Green and Tennessee’s 2018 Miss Basketball Rhyne Howard.
Amber Smith on being named Assistant Coach
“I am extremely blessed and humbled to have the opportunity to coach at my alma mater. This university and program hold a special place in my heart and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I’m grateful to everyone that played a part in making this dream come true. I’m excited and ready to get to work for BBN.”
Lin Dunn on being named Special Assistant to the Head Coach
“I’m looking forward to working with Coach Mitchell and the Wildcats this upcoming year in a different role. I’ve been so grateful for the opportunity to work at UK with so many great people and I am excited to continue that. This reorganization creates a wonderful opportunity for Amber Smith to have new responsibilities that will help her grow as a young assistant coach. I’m excited for what’s ahead.”
Photo by Jamie H. Vaught