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UK Women’s Basketball Head Coach, Matthew Mitchell

Posted on Oct 13, 2017

Wheelhorse

LEXINGTON, KY – The Rotary Club of Lexington held its weekly meeting Thursday, October 12th,  at Fasig-Tipton, 2400 Newtown Pike. The program’s guest speaker was Matthew Mitchell, UK Head Women’s basketball coach.

Matthew Mitchell’s teams are known for using three “winning tools” for success: honesty, hard work and discipline. So it’s no surprise that six seasons into his tenure as head coach he became the winningest head coach in program history. Now entering his 11th season as head coach at Kentucky, Mitchell holds 271 wins and year after year assembles teams who are synonymous with winning on and off the court.

Mitchell’s defensive philosophy, implemented at the beginning of the 2009-10 season, was a big reason for Kentucky’s recent success. The Wildcats used a full-court, trapping, pressure style of defense that was dubbed by many as “40 minutes of dread.”

But the 2015-16 season brought a different pillar of success for the program, combining Mitchell’s emphasis on defensive fundamentals with one of the best shooting offenses in school history. The Wildcats shot 45.5% from the field in 2015-16, which was the highest field-goal percentage for a UK team since 1989-90, while its 35.6% from 3 was the highest since 2002-03. Overall, UK ranked top-10 in single-season UK history in points, scoring margin and field goals made, while its 154 3-pointers made and 475 assists just missed the top 10 by two 3-pointers and five assists. The offensive showcase was noticed nationally as Kentucky ranked 24th in the nation in scoring offense, 16th in scoring margin, 18th in field goal percentage and 26th in 3-point field goal percentage. And although the turnovers and steals didn’t come in at the pace they had in the past, UK’s defense stayed fundamentally strong, limiting opponents to 60.6 points per game and a .372 mark from the field with 131 blocks, 507 turnovers forced and 222 steals.

The balanced attack continued on both sides last season as Mitchell’s 2016-17 team had a .427 field-goal percentage, scoring 70.9 points per game. The Wildcats only committed 14.7 personal fouls per game and only committed 11.9 turnovers per game, which ranked top 10 nationally. UK finished the season with 22 wins, marking its eighth straight 20-win season under Mitchell, which is a program record. The solid season led the Wildcats to another school record as UK played in the NCAA Tournament for the eighth straight season and hosted the first and second rounds of the event for the fourth straight year.

Mitchell’s focus on the fundamentals and his “winning tools” is sure to bring continued success to his program that has reached new heights under his leadership. In his tenure in Lexington, UK has advanced to the SEC Tournament semifinals or better nine times, including eight straight trips, which is the active league record. In 2012, Mitchell led UK to the SEC regular season championship, its first in 30 years. Under Mitchell, the Cats have finished top four in the SEC 10 times and have charted 25-plus wins six seasons. The Wildcats had a stretch of being ranked in the top 25 of the AP poll a school-record 132 consecutive weeks.

Mitchell’s teams have brought excitement to women’s basketball in the Bluegrass like never before. The Cats have ranked in the top 25 in average attendance all 10 years of the Mitchell era, and have a remarkable 125-17 record at home since the start of the 2009-10 season. In 2013-14, UK broke the school record for average attendance (6,727) and total attendance (121,089) and also set a new single-season record when 23,706 fans attended a sold-out game vs. No. 2 Duke on Dec. 22, 2013 in Rupp Arena. It marked the largest crowd ever to see a college women’s hoops game in the Commonwealth and the highest attended regular-season game in the country that season. Kentucky’s attendance numbers have reached impressive heights the last eight years as the Wildcats have averaged 5,000 or more fans each season, while the seven of the eight most-attended home games in program history have all come the past few years under head coach Matthew Mitchell.

Under Mitchell, 16 different players have received All-SEC accolades. A UK player has won the AP SEC Player of the Year four of the last eight seasons and five of his players, Evelyn Akhator, Makayla Epps, Victoria Dunlap, A’dia Mathies and DeNesha Stallworth, have been WNBA draft picks, including three in the first round. Most recently, Mitchell helped Akhator become the highest drafted player in program history as she went third overall to the Dallas Wings in the 2017 WNBA Draft. Epps followed by going 33rd overall to the Chicago Sky in the same draft, marking the first time two UK players had been drafted in the same draft. Dunlap was the 11th overall pick by the Washington Mystics in the 2011 Draft, while Mathies was chosen as the 10th overall pick by the Los Angeles Sparks in the 2013 WNBA Draft.

His players also excel in the classroom as 34 Wildcats have been SEC Academic Honor Roll members and 100 percent of Mitchell’s players have received their degrees.

Last season, Kentucky secured its eighth 20-win season under Mitchell, advancing to the NCAA Tournament for a school record eighth straight year. Once again, the Wildcats were chosen to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament and defeated Belmont in the first round before falling to Ohio State in the second round. UK finished the season with a No. 14 RPI after playing the second-toughest schedule in the nation as 25 of its 33 games were played against NCAA RPI top-100 teams. Mitchell and Co. won 11 SEC games, which was its most league wins since 2012-13 and earned another top-four seed in the SEC Tournament.

The Wildcats advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in 2015-16 for the fifth time in the last seven seasons, becoming one of just seven schools nationally that can claim that honor. UK defeated eight ranked foes on the season, taking Mitchell’s career wins against ranked foes to 44, which is over half of the program’s all-time wins against ranked teams.

Mitchell led the 2013-14 team to a 26-9 record, helping UK become one of just 10 programs to chart 25 or more wins in five straight seasons. UK finished No. 10/11 in the final national polls after advancing to its fourth SEC Tournament championship game in five years and a school-record fifth straight NCAA Tournament, including a third straight Sweet 16 appearance. One of the many highlights of the season will be revered as arguably the most epic women’s college basketball game in history. UK outlasted ninth-ranked Baylor in a four-overtime thriller, 133-130, in a double-header with the UK men’s team in the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. The 263 combined points set a new NCAA record and UK set school records for points (133), free throws made (49) and free throws attempted (66). Junior guard Jennifer O’Neill came off the bench to record a school-record 43 points in the win and she went on to earn National Player of the Week honors from the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, College Sports Madness and SEC Player of the Week. Other highlights of the season include the Wildcats’ nail-biting upset of No. 4/3 Louisville, 69-64, at home, a thrilling 75-71 win in Thompson-Boling Arena over No. 8 Tennessee – UK’s first in school history – and a 68-58 upset over No. 4/6 and top-seeded South Carolina in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament.

In 2012-13, Mitchell assembled one of the most successful seasons in Kentucky women’s basketball history. The Wildcats won a school-record 30 games and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season and third time in four years. The Cats set school records for consecutive wins (17), consecutive home wins (34), 3-point field goals made (240), 3-point field goals attempted (731), blocks (181) and steals (429) in a single season. They also won a school-record tying 13 games in SEC play and advanced to the SEC Tournament championship game for the third time in four seasons.

The 2011-12 season also set new records as the Wildcats finished 28-7 overall, including 18-0 at home, and advanced to the Elite Eight. The Wildcats won their first SEC regular season championship since 1982 with a school-record 13-3 mark in league play. The Cats finished No. 12 in the final AP poll and No. 8 in final USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll, marking the highest final AP ranking since finishing 11th in 1983 and the highest final ranking in the coaches’ poll in school history. Mitchell was named SEC Coach of the Year for the second time in three seasons by the AP and was awarded a new seven-year contract extension in the spring by UK?Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart.

In 2010-11, he led the Wildcats to an outstanding season with a 25-9 overall record and 11 wins (11-5) in the SEC. UK?took a second-place finish in the league standings for the second consecutive year and advanced to the second round of the NCAA?Tournament as the No. 4 seed.

Year three (2009-10) was a pivotal season, as Mitchell was named SEC Coach of the Year for his remarkable job in turning around a team that went 16-16 overall, 5-9 in conference play a year prior, to an impressive 28-8 overall record in 2009-10. The Cats’ 28 overall wins, including 11 in SEC play, represented a school record. UK finished second in the league despite being picked to finish 11th in the preseason polls.

Mitchell became Kentucky’s head coach on April 23, 2007, when he was hired by Barnhart. An imaginative salesman, Mitchell presented a vision of Kentucky as a powerhouse program and a warm and loving family.

In his first season at UK, the Wildcats went 17-16 overall and finished fourth in the SEC with an 8-6 mark, just one win shy of the school record. The eight league wins were the most by a first-year head coach in school history. Mitchell also became the first head coach in school history to lead his team to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament in his/her debut season. The Wildcats earned a first-round bye and upset No. 23/21 Georgia in the quarterfinals (57-50) before falling to NCAA Final Four participant LSU in the semis. UK went on to defeat Middle Tennessee and James Madison in the postseason WNIT before falling to eventual champion Marquette in the quarterfinals, 69-64.

Despite another tough schedule and injuries to key players throughout the season, the Wildcats again advanced to postseason play with a second-round finish in the WNIT in his second season. It marked their school-record fifth consecutive postseason tournament appearance. Mitchell became the first head coach since Terry Hall in the 1980-81 and 1981-82 seasons to advance to postseason play in his first two seasons as head coach.

The Cats finished 16-16 overall, 5-9 in the SEC and defeated No. 13/19 Tennessee 66-56, their first win over the Lady Vols in Memorial Coliseum in 23 years. Mitchell also captured his 30th win at UK on Feb. 5, 2009, vs. South Carolina. He did it in only 56 games, becoming the second-fastest coach to reach 30 wins behind Hall, who earned it in only 38 games during her first two seasons in 1980 and 1981.

Mitchell came to Kentucky in the spring of 2007 when Mickie DeMoss resigned as head coach after four seasons. So when Barnhart went about the daunting task of finding a coach whose skills, personality and charisma could build on the success and excitement that DeMoss had brought to the program, he immediately thought of Mitchell, who had played a key role in UK landing four brilliant prep performers in the fall of 2004 – a class ranked No. 6 by the All-Star Girls Report.

When DeMoss resigned and buzz around the Bluegrass quickly shifted to her replacement, Barnhart needed to look no further than 60 miles east on Interstate 64, where Mitchell already had established himself as an up-and-coming head coach at in-state Ohio Valley Conference school Morehead State.

When Barnhart interviewed Mitchell, Morehead State was fresh off two exciting campaigns in which he had revived a declining Lady Eagles women’s basketball program with a 30-29 record (.508) – the third-highest coach’s winning percentage in school history. The Lady Eagles were coming off a 5-22 record a year prior to Mitchell’s arrival and earned a 16-13 overall mark and 11-9 league record in his first season. The Lady Eagles also reached the semifinals of the OVC Tournament.

Barnhart also was impressed with Mitchell’s coaching pedigree. He had served as an assistant coach and recruiter at Florida under Carol Ross beginning in 2000. He helped the Gators compile a 51-36 record, and during his first two seasons the Gators recorded a 19-9 league record en route to two NCAA Tournament appearances (2001 and 2002). With Mitchell’s help, the Gators had a program-tying 24 wins and tied the school record with 11 SEC wins in 2001. He stayed at Florida to serve under then-new UF Coach Carolyn Peck during the 2002-03 season. As the primary recruiter at UF, Mitchell brought in the nation’s ninth-ranked recruiting class in 2002 and the No. 2-ranked class by All-Star Girls Report in 2003.

The Louisville, Miss., native began his collegiate coaching career as a graduate assistant at Tennessee under Hall of Fame Coach Pat Summitt during the Lady Vols’ run to the Final Four in 2000. UT advanced to the national championship game before losing to top-ranked Connecticut. The Lady Vols finished No. 2 in the national polls with a 33-4 overall record and a 13-1 mark in the SEC.

Prior to his stint at Tennessee, Mitchell spent one year in Yazoo City, Miss., as a coach and teacher at Manchester Academy. He taught American history and served as both the boys’ and girls’ head basketball coach.

A 1995 graduate of Mississippi State, Mitchell’s first head-coaching experience came in 1996 at Central Holmes Academy High School in Lexington, Miss. Mitchell performed multiple duties at the school, including head coach of both basketball teams as well as the track and golf teams. He also served as the defensive coordinator for the football team.

Mitchell is married to Jenna Ramsey Mitchell of Amelia Island, Fla., and has three daughters, Lacy Lea Mitchell, of Starkville, Miss., 5-year-old Saylor Rose Mitchell and 3-year-old Presley Blue Mitchell. The Mitchell’s are expecting their first grandchild in the fall of 2017.

The Mitchells are very active in community service. In June of 2014, Matthew and Jenna pledged $1 million over the next 10 years to the University of Kentucky Athletics Department. Just a few months later, they launched The Mitchell Family Foundation,  a non-profit organization set to benefit charities in the Lexington community. The first fund-raising event of the Foundation in September 2014 brought in renowned author and leadership expert, John C. Maxwell. In October of 2016, Matthew and Jenna were presented the 2016 Community Service Award by the National Urban League of Lexington.

Jenna also serves on the board of the Children’s Advocacy Center and Matthew is an honorary Rotarian in the Lexington chapter.

For additional information, or to attend this meeting, please contact Peggy Trafton at trafton@rotarylexky.org. 

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