By LARRY VAUGHT
Normally a new Division I head basketball coach does not inherit a roster loaded with experience and/or talent much less a national player of the year.
Kyra Elzy knows how fortunate she is to have all that now that she is taking over the Kentucky women’s basketball program after the sudden retirement of 13-year head coach Matthew Mitchel Thursday for health reasons.
“It has not totally hit me yet, but I do realize that I am taking over a top team in the country, and I am just going to use it as positivity,” Elzy said Friday about being elevated from assistant coach to interim head coach. “Not every head coach gets to walk in to a team that has been successful.”
Elzy was a star at Oldham County High School before signing with Tennessee where she won not only a SEC championship but a national championship. She has a solid coaching resume and was preparing to be a head coach. She also has a lot of coaching friends across the country who have reached out since she was promoted.
“I have been receiving a lot of text messages and phone calls to mentors, friends and colleagues that are given me advice, and the best advice that I have received thus far … if all else fails, put the ball in Rhyne Howard’s hands, and let her do what she does best,” Elzy said.
That’s not bad advice because not only is Howard, a junior, the first UK player to be named preseason All-American but she’s one of the top candidates for national player of the year honors after being the top player in the Southeastern Conference last season.
“To be able to coach a player like Rhyne, and the talent that we have on this team, you know, I do understand a lot is at stake, and I am ready for this moment. I’ve been there as a player, now as a coach, and now we’re about to put it in action,” Elzy said.
She had been running the team’s day to day operations as Mitchell continued to recover from brain surgery he needed this summer after a fall in late spring. She said a lot of the same things UK has been running under Mitchell have been installed because it fits the team’s personnel.
“I will probably add some more quick hitters as we head into the season, simply because this, our versatility this year and depth makes us different. Unlike last year, we have post presence inside, so we want to play inside-out, with KeKe (McKinney), Tatyana (Wyatt), Dre’una (Edwards) makes us different,” Elzy said.
“With the addition of Olivia Owens, we have people that can score inside. We really relied on the outside shot last year, we were perimeter heavy, so this year we truly can play inside-out, which changes the dynamic of our offense.”