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Past provided path for Elzy to succeed Mitchell at Kentucky

Kyra Elzy, right, takes over the women’s basketball program and succeeds Matthew Mitchell, left, who retired because of health reasons last Thursday. (UK Athletics Photo)

“I always dreamed of taking over for coach Mitchell as he rode off into the sunset. I never quite imagined it like this. That’s the funny thing about life, it never quite goes like planned.” KYRA ELZY

By KEITH TAYLOR

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kyra Elzy played for the best and coached alongside the all-time winningest coach in women’s basketball history at the University of Kentucky.

Elzy, who won two national championships as a player at the University of Tennessee under the tutelage of late legendary coach Pat Summitt, was named interim head coach at Kentucky last week after Matthew Mitchell announced his retirement.

Now she gets a chance to build on those experiences as a head coach and is ready to “take ownership of what has been placed upon me” and “embrace” the challenge.

“It (the promotion) was bittersweet in so many ways,” she said. “I always dreamed of taking over for coach Mitchell as he rode off into the sunset. I never quite imagined it like this. That’s the funny thing about life, it never quite goes like planned.”

Even though she had no idea of when she would eventually replace Mitchell, she got a glimpse of the future while running the program as Mitchell recovered from brain surgery during the summer after suffering a fall.

“I think that was big,” she said. “First and foremost, relationships with the players no matter what seat you sit in. So, I’ve always had great relationships with our players as well as everyone on our staff, but I thought that was big just for the trust factor, familiarity with them and them with me and this staff, but overall, coach has always empowered everyone on our staff the opportunity to get on the floor and coach and really give our opinion. I don’t think it was that big a shock to the system, to the players, for me to take over (the program).”

When it comes to style of play, Elzy considers herself a “defensive-minded coach” but has learned more about offensive schemes during the last few seasons, taking the advice of Lin Dunn.

“I want to be tough defensively and disrupt,” she said. “Obviously, we are going to continue to play up-tempo and recruit players that our versatile, which our team is extremely versatile now, so there are endless possibilities of what you can do offensively.”

A former standout at Oldham County, Elzy follows the same philosophy Mitchell injected into the program in his 13 seasons at the helm.

“I will make sure that our core values are rooted in family, accountability, servant leadership and an all-in mentality,” she said. “These values are all-encompassing on how we will achieve success on and off the court.”

That success has been mostly through the success of recruiting instate talent and keeping them in the Bluegrass.

“This program is in a totally different place than it was when I was coming out of high school, it was great, but for me personally, it was close to home, not far enough, but I wanted to play for Coach Summitt,” she said. “Now, in-state kids are huge to the success of the program.

“We have Erin Toller, Emma King, Blair Green, all who will play impact roles for us, and it is important for us to keep homegrown Kentucky girls at home, at the state school.”

Going into her inaugural season, Elzy also will rely on past experiences to carry her through the ups and downs of coaching.

“I think Coach Summitt would say to remain poised, remain confident, but prepare,” she said, “Prepare for those moments, those situations. Not only have yourself prepared, but your team prepared, so we know what we’re doing and we’re confident in it. Preparation, that is what coach Summitt would tell me.”

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Keith Taylor
Keith Taylor is an award-winning journalist who has covered Kentucky athletics since 1995. He is the sports editor of Kentucky Today and his work appears in 12 daily newspapers as well as various weekly and web sites throughout the state. Reach him at Keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor 21.

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