Q&A with Mitchell before season opener

“After a long summer of strength and conditioning and running and individual skills and long fall workouts and now our preseason workouts, a lot of time’s been spent preparing for the 2014-15 season. So it’s finally here and it’s time to play. Looking forward to this season. Appalachian State we know will be a big challenge for us tomorrow night. It’s the first time this team will really get on the floor in a game-like situation against a Division-I team and we expect for it to be tough. Opening games always are. I’m so happy we’re playing at Memorial Coliseum. It’s a great place to play and we’d love for a big crowd to come out and watch us get the season started. But really looking forward to the challenge tomorrow night and the team’s worked hard to get ready for it.”

On what he wants from his team: “Well, I think if we can stick to our three goals of being fast, being disruptive and being really tough, I think that needs to be on the forefront of our mind. Within those segments or within those goals, I think as far as being an up-tempo team and being fast and being able to use our athleticism, our team speed—the reason we chose fast is because we have a lot of team speed and we can be that. I think we can be, from top to bottom, the fastest team in the country. There may be some players on individual teams that are faster. We may not have the fastest single person, but I just think, top to bottom, that’s a realistic goal. So to use that and to make that important, you have to tax the other team and they have to feel that. So you have to run and you have to be a team where they respect and your speed and they understand what that means for a 40-minute period. So we saw some of that with Pikeville and that’s where the score was what it was because we never stop running. The kids really worked hard and it took a toll on Pikeville. So certainly as the competition starts to level out, it won’t take as much of a toll on some teams as others, but you’re still trying to get that cumulative effect of 40 minutes of just running up and down the court is just not real comfortable for other teams. And so we need to be committed to that in practice and we need to be committed to that tomorrow night.

“Within the disruption standpoint of being the most disruptive defensive team, we’d like to, by the end of the season, be able to be a full-court disruptive team and a half-court disruptive team and we’d like to be able to do that in a couple of different ways. So what I’d like for them to be able to become is to disrupt you probably 85 percent of the time in a real high-pressured man-to-man and then about 15 percent a zone, but still be disruptive in that. We’re not there yet, but that’s what I’d like for them to become.

“And then in toughness, just getting on the floor after basketballs, taking charges. We need to be a great charge-taking team. And then it’s tough to transition from a hundred miles an hour up and down the court and in your face, in your face to when you get into the half-court setting you’ve gotta have the mental toughness to be able to drive the speed limit out on the freeway and now when you’re in the neighborhood and you gotta slow it down a little bit. It’d be much easier to drive one speed all the time. We just have to commit to it. They’re capable of it. They’re already showing some great signs in all three areas, but that’s what I’d like for them to become.”

On if John Calipari came to him asking for advice on the platoon system: “Well, we talk a lot and visit a lot. We didn’t set a meeting up and sit down and talk about that. If anyone needs to be getting instructions on things, I need to be getting instructions from him. Over the course of the summer, we have had some conversations about it. I think the two programs can both tap into the depth that we both have and be successful. For us right now, we are not in a platoon system. To have that, your top 10 need to be able to fill the five positions and we have 11 healthy players right now. I wouldn’t say that our top 10 are ready for one-in, one-out. Hopefully we can get there. There is a lot of advantages to that with the way we play the game, especially to start a game. When we have been successful, we have gone first four minutes, second four minutes and then we would start plugging gaps or who was playing well. We very rarely played a 40-minute game where in was five in, five out like a hockey line change. We haven’t really done that. It can be effective with the way that we play if you have some depth. With the way that we play, we are hoping that our best nine or 10 can wear down your best five.”

On the speed of the guards moving the ball in the exhibition: “I thought last week before the exhibition game, we took a step forward as far as stop dribbling the ball because the pass is faster than the dribble. We really looked to kick the ball ahead and throw the ball ahead and you can’t always do that. If you can’t, that means now you have the floor spread out and they’re trying to take away the forward pass, so now you’re trying to get it to the middle of the floor and you can start to make some things happen. We don’t need to be a big dribbling team. To be fast, we need to be a good passing team. The ball needs to move and I think one lesson we’ve tried to learn as we really broke down taking some steps forward this year, is sometimes when one player dominates the ball with the dribble, it actually slows us down. You either need to be moving the ball ahead or you need to be taking penetrating dribbles to take the ball to the rim, or you need to be getting the ball moving. I think our three players who are capable at point guard did a nice job in the exhibition. The competition level goes way, way up. That’s no disrespect to Pikeville, it just does. It’s a really tough opening stretch for us and I think we’ll be able to learn a lot, but our point guards have been having some good days in practice recently.”

On how it came about that men’s and women’s openers are on same night: “I think it’s above my pay grade. The thing is you’re just trying to fit games in. Twenty-nine games, you have to play them at some point; and the thing you’re always working with is you’re not just working with one team. That one team is working with everybody on their schedule; you’re working with everyone on your schedule. So sometimes these things are unavoidable. So fortunate that the network put it on at 8 p.m., so we’ve got a little room there.”

On the stretch of three games in six days: “We would like to be able to see where we are. The biggest thing for me right now is I’m not quite sure what we’re going to see tomorrow and as a coach, that’s a little scary, and I’m talking about from our team, I’m not talking about our opponent. You just don’t know exactly how effective your preparation has been. We had a good practice this morning. I was encouraged with some things I saw this morning, but it will be good to get some games under our belt to figure out really where we are and start honing in on some objectives in practice that are maybe a little more detailed instead of as broad as the three objectives that we’ve had. We’ve constructed all the practices to be fast, tough and disruptive, so what are you doing well? Sometimes you do things a little bit better than you give your team credit for as a coach. You’re a little too critical sometimes, maybe you haven’t worked on something that maybe you haven’t felt like was going to be really good and it’s not. The information we can gain will really, really help us as a team. This team has so much room for growth it’s incredible. I do know that about us right now: we’re going to get much, much better than we are right now. You just have too many young players who are thinking too much right now. And there’s no way around it. You have to teach it. You have to give them the information and so if we look like a million bucks this week, we’re going to look like $5 million at some time. If we look less than that, we’ll increase in value with this team. I don’t know exactly what that’s going to be. And we’ll have a better idea after this opening stretch.”

On who the fastest player on team is: “It’s a great race. You’ve got a lot of really fast people. Jennifer (O’Neill) is very fast. Janee (Thompson) is fast, Bria (Goss) is fast. Azia Biship is really, really fast. Azia Bishop is sort of freaky fast for as tall as she is. That kid can really, really run and is very fast. I may be leaving somebody out, but I’d probably say if we went end line to end line, probably feel like Jennifer would win, she’s probably the person. She’s really fast.”

On if he can beat any of them personally: “Well, I would be near the bottom as far as speed would go. I need to find one, like Linnae Harper, I need to tell her that I’ll race her. She’s fast, but sometimes she forgets to run fast. No I’m not faster than any of them, but I am in fantastic shape right now. I am involved in very strenuous regimen that has me in tip top shape at the beginning of the season. I don’t know if you guys have noticed but I’ve lost some weight and I’m feeling good. I’m not sitting up there eating Krispy Kremes up in the office, I’m out working.”

On final thoughts: “Just want to ask all the fans to come out Friday night. Be a great chance to see the team play. A lot of fun in Memorial Coliseum always, so we’d love to see a big crowd. Looking forward to getting the season started.”

About Jennifer Smith

Jen Smith has been a sports writer at the Herald-Leader since 2000, covering everything from high school sports to auto racing to various University of Kentucky sports. A native of Louisville and a graduate of the University of Kentucky (much to the dismay of her Louisville graduate mother and Indiana graduate father), Jen now resides in downtown Lexington with her husband and two young sons. You can follow her on Twitter @jenheraldleader or send her an email at jsmith3@herald-leader.com.
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