UK releases non-conference schedule

The same season when Kentucky might get to play its NCAA Tournament Regional games at Rupp Arena, it also will have two big regular-season home games there.

Coach Matthew Mitchell said recently that the games at the downtown venue versus Louisville (Dec. 10) and Duke (Dec. 20) weren’t at all about getting comfy on the Cats’ other home court, though.

“I just don’t think if you play four times in Rupp that you’re going to play great if you’re fortunate enough to get in the Sweet 16,” Mitchell told the Herald-Leader in July. “I just don’t think that way.”

But Mitchell has been pondering ways to build fan support and draw more fans to the women’s game by using games at Rupp Arena.

“We’ve spent more time as a program thinking about how to use Rupp effectively,” he said. “I’m just so gun shy. I just remember the days when we’d get 5,000 in Rupp and we were playing down there seven and eight times.

“Now we’ve got a little momentum there. We’ve had three straight crowds in excess of 18,000 and that is the largest game in the country in women’s basketball for that time period.”

Mitchell always has enjoyed having the Louisville game at Memorial Coliseum, he said, but the NCAA Tournament volleyball regional on the Cats’ regular home court for that date necessitated the move.

“It will be great in Rupp because both teams are very good, so it will be fine,” he said.

The nonconference schedule released on Thursday, has Kentucky facing four teams that appeared in the NCAA Tournament last season, including three who finished in the Sweet 16.

The Cats open the season on Nov. 13 versus Rice and then heading to first-time opponent Arizona State on Nov. 15.

The Cats then host four straight home games versus Morehead State (Nov. 18), Colorado (Nov. 22), Eastern Michigan (Nov. 25) and Jackson State (Nov. 29) before making a trip to Northern Kentucky.

New to Division I, Mitchell said the trip to NKU on Dec. 2 will be fun.

“We’re trying to do our part to take our show on the road and expose people to Kentucky basketball because we are one of the exciting brands in women’s college basketball,” he said, noting that he’s hopeful the many UK fans in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati will attend.

Another part of the equation was setting up a home-and-home that won’t cost UK any guarantee money.

“We are trying to be a good partner here in the athletic department and when we can get regional home and homes that don’t cost you guarantee money,” he said. “It’s a good game for us.”

Eight days later comes the game versus Louisville, then a trip to Middle Tennessee on Dec. 13 before hosting Duke and then Tennessee State on Dec. 28 before Southeastern Conference play starts in January.

The SEC portion of the schedule is expected to be released soon.

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Schedule release is ‘days away’

Kentucky is close to completing and releasing its schedule, Coach Matthew Mitchell said on Wednesday. UK is still waiting for final word from the Southeastern Conference and for a nonconference game contract to be signed and returned.

“That is on the horizon very, very soon,” he said of the schedule release. “Days away. … It will be a good one for a good team.”

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Top players in program history?

A member of the media covering Louisville asked me to offer my list of the top eight Kentucky women’s basketball players in school history. It’s an interesting debate, made all the more interesting to me by how much the game has changed since the 1970s. I have five or six players that I think definitely belong on this list, but it gets interesting beyond that.

For what it’s worth, the Louisville players offered up as the Cardinals’ best in program history are: Angel McCoughtry, Shoni Schimmel, Candyce Bingham, Jazz Covington, Asia Taylor, Valerie Owens, Monique Reid and Nell Knox.

Here are my top six Kentucky women’s players: Valerie Still, A’dia Mathies, Victoria Dunlap, Leslie Nichols, Patty Jo Hedges and Lea Wise Prewitt.

Who else?

 

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Anderson County’s Cann transfers to UK

A former Anderson County star tweeted on Monday night that she’s leaving Cincinnati and plans to enroll at Kentucky.

“Excited to announce I will be transferring to the University of Kentucky & playing basketball,” Makenzie Cann tweeted. “Can’t wait to be apart of the #BBN.”

UK confirmed that the 6-foot guard is planning to walk on at the school and will have to sit for a season, per NCAA transfer rules.

Cann played in all 30 games last season with one start for the Bearcats, averaging 6.9 points and 1.8 rebounds in nearly 23 minutes a game as a true freshman.

She was Cincinnati’s fourth-leading scorer and second-best three-point shooter, averaging 36.8 percent from long range. That percentage is higher than any UK player last season and her 49 made three-pointers last year would’ve been second most for the Cats.

Cann, a five-year starter for Anderson County and finalist for Kentucky Miss Basketball, led the Bearcats to a 129-31 record. She finished first in school history in assists (645), second in points (2,207) and steals (468) and fourth in rebounds (748).

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Nation’s top junior college player commits to UK

The nation’s best junior college player who led her Chipola Community College to a national championship has committed to Kentucky.

Evelyn Akhator, a 6-foot-3 forward from Lagos, Nigeria, picked the Cats over Tennessee, Texas and Florida State.

In her two seasons at Chipola, Akhator led the Indians in scoring and rebounding. Last season, she averaged 21.2 points, 16.7 rebounds, 3.1 steals and 2.9 blocked shots.

She broke the single-season scoring and rebounding records for the school as well on Chipola’s way to a 34-1 season and a national title.

Chipola Coach Greg Franklin had high praise for Akhator after she helped lead the school to a junior college national championship.

“I’ve coached four kids in junior college that went on to be first round draft picks in the WNBA, and at this point in time Evelyn is probably head and shoulders better than all of those guys,” he said in a story on the school’s website.

“Everyone says she’s just a physical specimen and she is, but you have to look at the way she has gone about getting better. She has gotten her skill level where she finishes with her left real well. She also has worked on her footwork extremely hard and finishing with balance. When her skill and athleticism finally meet, she’s going to be unreal.

“But as good of a player as she is, she’s that good of a person, and that sets the tone for the whole team.”

At a school awards ceremony last week, Akhator received the Neal Sportsmanship Award for her “unwavering leadership contributions both on and off the court.”

Kentucky returns three post players in Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, Alexis Jennings and Alyssa Rice, and the Cats already have signed 6-foot-2 freshman Batouly Camara, rated as the ninth best post player in the class by ESPN.

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Cats could add to roster still

Even with four new signees joining Kentucky this summer, the Cats still only have 12 scholarship players. The NCAA allows women’s basketball teams to carry 15 scholarship players.

Coach Matthew Mitchell didn’t rule out adding players to the roster during the offseason.

“It’s a consideration,” he said. “I can’t comment specifically on that, but it’s possible that we can add another players and I’m really excited about this roster and who we have currently.

“If nothing changes, we have a very exciting roster. If we can improve it over the next few weeks or the coming months, we’ll always look to do that.”

The Cats return guards Janee Thompson, Linnae Harper, Makayla Epps and (pending suspension) as well as transfer Crishae Rowe. UK also returns forwards Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, Alexis Jennings and Alyssa Rice, as well as junior college transfer Ivana Jakubcova, who redshirted last season.

At least one report has UK in the mix for junior college Player of the Year Evelyn Akhator, a 6-foot-3 forward from Nigeria who played for Chipola Community College. She reportedly has Tennessee, Texas, Florida State and UK on her final list.

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Mitchell: Thompson on the mend

Soon-to-be senior point guard Janee Thompson got word that the broken bone in her leg has fully healed and she can begin the next step in her return to action for UK, Matthew Mitchell said on Wednesday.

There is no specific timetable on when she will return, he added. The team comes back to campus for the eight-week summer session on June 10 and starts workouts the week after that.

“We’ll take it real slow,” Mitchell said. “I know she’s chomping at the bit to get back out there. She’s very excited to have this part of her rehabilitation behind her. She’s very excited the bone healed.”

Thompson broke her left fibula on Jan. 11 during a nationally televised game at South Carolina while scrambling for a loose ball. The Chicago native had surgery the next day at Kentucky.

The 5-foot-7 guard had started 50 of 86 career games, including 31 in a row before the injury.

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UK star Makayla Epps suspended

Kentucky has suspended leading scorer Makayla Epps for an undetermined amount of time for alcohol-related charges pending in her hometown.

Terms of her suspension were not disclosed by UK Coach Matthew Mitchell in a more than 30-minute news conference on Wednesday afternoon, but the First Team All-Southeastern Conference player will miss at least one game next season.

“She’ll have to hit some very strenuous and strict guidelines,” Mitchell said in the wide-ranging interview. “She’ll have to meet guidelines to be reinstated to the team. It is up to her now to make that happen.”

Epps, 19, has pleaded not guilty to several alcohol-related charges stemming from an incident in Lebanon on April 12 at 1:48 a.m. when the point guard was found in a car with another female minor at a park.

The officer noted the smell of alcohol and found an open Bud Light in the back seat. The report also noted that Epps had slurred speech and that a Breathalyzer test showed the “presence of alcohol.”

The guard pleaded not guilty last week and has a pre-trial conference scheduled for May 11.

Mitchell said Epps “feels really badly” about what happened.

“Makayla has a very good heart,” he said. “Her decision making is questionable right now, so it’s my job as someone important in her life and someone who loves her and cares about her and has great concern for her well being and her future to now give her the structure and discipline she needs so she can become a great decision maker.”

The coach noted that the suspension is an opportunity for Epps to grow as a player and person.

“She certainly can find her way back and move forward in a positive way, but our players have to understand that they are they most visible group of young women in this state and that there’s a responsibility that comes with that,” Mitchell added.

The 2013 Miss Kentucky Basketball from Marion County is coming off a breakout season at Kentucky, where she led the Cats with 14.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, three assists and 1.3 steals a game.

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Report: Epps pleads not guilty to alcohol charges

Kentucky star sophomore Makayla Epps appeared in Marion County District Court on Monday where she pleaded not guilty to several alcohol-related charges, according to a report in The Lebanon Enterprise.

According to the paper, Epps, 19, was charged with possession of alcohol by a minor and having an open alcohol container in a motor vehicle. She has a pre-trial conference scheduled for May 11.

The police report said Epps and another female minor were parked in a car at Graham Memorial Park at 1:48 a.m. on April 12. The officer noted the smell of alcohol and found an open Bud Light in the back seat upon contact with the vehicle.

The report also noted that the First Team All-Southeastern Conference player had slurred speech and that a Breathalyzer test showed the presence of alcohol, but the report did not give a reading.

The 2013 Miss Kentucky Basketball from Marion County is coming off a breakout season at Kentucky, where she led the Cats with 14.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, three assists and 1.3 steals a game.

The guard was named a First Team All-Southeastern Conference player by the Associated Press and the league coaches.

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Whitaker joins Matthew Mitchell’s staff

Yet another assistant coach from Dayton has jumped to Kentucky, but this time the hire is a name familiar to most basketball fans in the region.

Former Harrison County and Western Kentucky standout Camryn Whitaker has been hired as UK’s newest assistant coach, the school confirmed on Thursday. She signed a one-year deal worth $140,000.

“I have always been impressed with her energy and the power she has to connect with people,” UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said in the release. “I have greatly admired her ability to develop players. She has been a very successful recruiter and her passion for Kentucky and her desire to make a difference in this program are qualities that I greatly appreciate.”

Whitaker fills the opening created by the December departure of Christian Stefanopoulos, who left at the start of last season with what the school called an undisclosed illness.

“To be home is a dream come true for me,” Whitaker said in the release. “I am so grateful to Coach Mitchell and the Kentucky family for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful community.  I think Kentucky is the best athletics program in the country, and I look forward to working with such a quality and high-level staff.”

Whitaker has been with Dayton, which knocked UK out of the NCAA Tournament at Memorial Coliseum this season, since 2012. She’s the second Dayton assistant to land at Kentucky, following Adeniyi Amadou’s hire at this time last year.

Amadou is under contract through June 30, 2016 and fellow first-year assistant Tamika Williams’ deal runs through June 30 of this year.

Whitaker, 33, previously was an assistant coach at Western Kentucky, where she was a star point guard. She also had coaching stops at Missouri State and Austin Peay.

While at WKU, the Cynthiana native started all but nine of her 126 games and led the Tops to 97 wins and helped lead the program to post-season trips in each of her five seasons.

She is top 10 in the record books for career assists (486), games started (117), steals (170) and minutes played per game (29.4).

While at Harrison County, she made her mark on the Kentucky high school record books, too, scoring 2,574 career points, 283 assists in a season (fourth best in state history), 2,510 career field goal attempts (fourth most in state history) with 978 makes, a 39 percent career shooting percentage.

Whitaker also finished with 528 steals in a career.

Whitaker’s father, Mac, coached the Harrison County girls for 11 seasons and compiled a 241-97 record with two trips to the Sweet Sixteen in 2002 (with Camryn) and again in 2002.

He’s in his 38th season coaching Harrison County baseball with 1,026 wins and four state championships.

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