Matthew Mitchell honored for UK women’s basketball legacy
Robyn Benton has the distinction of forming a personal bond with and being recruited by Matthew Mitchell, only to never play a single second under his guidance.
Benton, a senior guard on this year’s Kentucky women’s basketball team, spent the first two seasons of her college career at Auburn before choosing to transfer to UK in April 2020.
That decision was based on conversations between Benton and Mitchell, and Benton’s admiration for the powerhouse women’s basketball program Mitchell had built in Lexington.
“I liked the way that he ran his program and the way he (was) with the girls,” Benton said. “That just made my decision real easy to come to Kentucky. Coach Mitchell, he’s a legend, the most winningest coach in the history of UK. I’m thankful for him, thankful for what he’s done for the program.”
Mitchell resigned as UK head coach and retired from coaching in November 2020, just prior to the start of the 2020-21 season.
The decision meant Benton never got to play for Mitchell, but the importance of Mitchell to the current infrastructure of the Kentucky program is still evident to Benton and everyone who came to Rupp Arena on Thursday night.
Kentucky’s home loss to DePaul served as a chance for the UK program to formally honor Mitchell for his contributions to the program.
Mitchell is the head coach with the most wins, 303, in program history. Kentucky was unable to properly honor Mitchell last season due to restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic, but a proper sendoff and recognition for his efforts came Thursday night.
Several former UK players played a part in the celebration, either by attending Thursday’s game in person or contributing video messages honoring Mitchell that played on the Rupp Arena scoreboard.
Mitchell spent 13 years as UK head coach and was a three-time Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year, overseeing three Elite Eight trips for Kentucky and five Sweet 16 appearances, in addition to leading UK to the SEC regular-season championship in 2012.
During halftime of the UK-DePaul game, Mitchell briefly addressed the Rupp Arena crowd of 4,906, a season-high for Kentucky at home. For the halftime ceremony, Mitchell was joined on the hardwood by his family, along with Kentucky Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart.
“Will never be able to put into words how special it is to be a part of the Big Blue Nation and the love and support they gave our family has been incredible,” Mitchell said.
Current Kentucky head coach Kyra Elzy had two different stints as part of Mitchell’s coaching staff in Lexington. The first was from 2009-2012 and the second lasted from 2016 until Mitchell’s departure, which led to Elzy becoming the interim head coach and then the permanent head coach.
Elzy served as UK’s associate head coach under Mitchell during her second stint on his coaching staff.
“He deserves it,” Elzy said of Mitchell being honored Thursday night. “He’s done so much for Kentucky women’s basketball. He put this program on the national scene. He has taught me so much coaching-wise as far as sticking to your standards, how you run a practice and surrounding yourself with great people. So I love him. He’s my brother, friend, mentor and forever thankful for him. He will always be a Wildcat.”
Kentucky men’s basketball head coach John Calipari posted a video message on social media earlier this week that paid tribute to Mitchell and encouraged UK fans to attend Thursday’s game, and Calipari was also in attendance Thursday night and spoke with Mitchell before the game.
This story was originally published December 10, 2021 10:27 AM.
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Cameron Drummond works as a sports reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader with a focus on the University of Kentucky women’s basketball program, in addition to other college, high school and professional sports in the area. Drummond is a first-generation American who was born and raised in Texas, before graduating from Indiana University in 2020. He is a fluent Spanish speaker who previously worked as a community news reporter for the Austin American-Statesman newspaper in Austin, Texas.