As we all know, Head Coach Matthew Mitchell got an extension to his contract back in May, which locks him up through 2019. One of several stellar moves by AD Mitch Barnhart in the last couple of years. We also know that Mitchell is going to bring his much vaunted "Forty Minutes Of Dread" defense back for another round this year, and that he is going to have more and better personnel to implement it with. So, allowing ourselves to assume that is the case, let's look down the line at the people who are going to be supporting Mitchell and the entire Hoops Squad and how they have changed since last season.
The first issue to address is the departure of UT Alum and Associate Head Coach Kyra Elzy. She has left the program to accept an Asst. Coach and Recruiting Coordinator's position at Tennessee, her alma mater. While I myself think that this is a step backwards for Elzy, going home to assist Pat Summitt in her time of need is an admirable move. And although Summitt herself will not be at the helm, believe me, she will have her hand on the helm as long as she can, as she should. Elzy returns to the site of her accomplishments as a player, where she was a player on not one, but two National Championship teams. UK is definitely going to miss her on the sidelines.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Mitchell went out and got a replacement for Elzy right away. He immediately hired Danielle Santos away from Illinois State to fill the slot. Santos was on a staff the last year went undefeated in every home game at ISU, so she is no stranger to winning, not to mention to Mitchell. She played from him at Florida from 2002-2006. She brings her experience as an assistant at Hofstra and Illinois State to the table to try and help UK repeat as SEC Champions and more this season.
Returning for his fifth season with UK is Matt Insell. Insell is quietly beginning to become Mitchell's right hand man. He is the son of MTSU Women's Coach Rick Insell (yes, the same MTSU that beat the Hoops squad last season), so his bloodline is established, but Insell has also brought himself up from coaching the AAU ranks into Big Time College Basketball. Prior to Kentucky, Insell was the Director of Basketball Operations at Louisiana Tech under Coach Chris Long. Before that, he was considered one of the top AAU coaches in the country, coaching the Tennessee Flight, a Nike Elite Travel Program, for three years. He is surrently serving as recruiting coordinator and working with UK's guards. As their guard play has been one of the staples of UK over the last few years, that shows well for his abilities. As Insell gets more and more experienced, I expect UK's defense to improve even more as the guards are keys to implementing it.
If you want to congratulate UK on the success of their improving inside presence the last few years, look no further than Shalon Pillow. she started out her career at UK by mentoring the likes of Victoria Dunlap, and she has continued through the current crop of UK's imposing post players. Pillow is another of Tennessee'e line of impressive grads who have worked their way into the coaching ranks through hard work and impressive results. She has been instrumental in the development of Samarie Walker, and has some serious size to work with down low for UK this season. If Pillow is successful in getting the post players running the court and keeping up with the guards who are faster than speeding bullets, this UK team is going to be some hard Cats to clean up after.
Also part of this group is the new Asst. AD For Women's Basketball, Ukari Figgs. If the name sounds familiar to you, it is because she too has an NCAA Women's Basketball National Championship under her belt. Ukari was a PG on the Purdue squad that took the NCAA in 1999, and was the 1999 Final Four MVP. Oh yeah, she also, by the way, has an WNBA Championship in her resume as she was the PG for the Los Angeles Sparks and helped them get their Championship in 2001. As you can see, her credentials are impeccable.
Mitchell shows us with this group that he intends to keep winning as the priority for this squad going into 2012-2013. UK should enter the season as the favorite to repeat as SEC Champs, if not as a favorite to win it all. And this coaching staff is going to be no small part of that.