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Kyra Elzy on biggest transition from assistant to head coach: "The game is moving so fast"

Article written by:On3 imageZack Geoghegan


<small>(UK Ahletics | Eddie Justice)<small>

(UK Athletics | Eddie Justice)

Kyra Elzy likes to say her freshmen are getting “baptized by fire”, but the same could be said about the interim head coach, as well.

The first-year head coach of the No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats Women’s Basketball Team didn’t have a typical offseason, even when you take into account the difficulties of navigating college athletics throughout the Coronavirus pandemic. Matthew Mitchell’s retirement was a shock to everyone, Elzy and her staff included, and the timing wasn’t exactly ideal. After spending 13 seasons with the program, a medical issue forced Mitchell to hang it up a little over two weeks before the 2020-21 season was set to tipoff.

For all intents and purposes, Elzy had been acting as the fill-in head coach for the weeks leading up to Mitchell’s decision, running practices and fulfilling the duties a head coach would normally have. But even still, having the tag “head coach” next to her name is a bigger transition than just moving one seat up the bench. Since the transition, Elzy’s focus has completely changed, going from zeroing in on a specific aspect or two of the game to having to watch every single move at every single moment.

I think the biggest difference in moving one seat over is the game is moving so fast,” Elzy said during Wednesday morning’s pre-Kansas State press conference. “There are so many things happening and so many decisions that you need to make, whereas as an assistant coach, you are honed in on what you are responsible for, whether that is guard play or transition defense, and when you’re standing as a head coach, you’re watching the overall picture, trying to think about the decisions that you need to make, also getting input from several different people and having to make the final decision instead of just suggesting these things.

She’s adjusted to the speed rather well through the first week of her head coaching career.

Kentucky has bolted out to a solid 2-0 start to the season, doing so without National Player of the Year candidate Rhyne Howard and senior forward Tatyana Wyatt, who were both suspended the first two games (Wyatt’s suspension will be lifted following the K-State game). Coach Elzy didn’t waste any time putting her foot down. She can’t be the “buddy-buddy” coach that her players could once come to in order to help console them. Even if she didn’t want to suspend Howard and Wyatt, she felt it was necessary for both their short-term basketball development and long-term life development.

“It was a tough decision, obviously,” Elzy said about the suspensions. “It’s not a decision that you want to make any time in your career, when you’re talking about a player of Rhyne’s caliber, however, this program is built on honesty, hard work and discipline, and our winning attributes, one of them is accountability, so, like I have addressed before, I love them enough, the staff loves them enough, that we are not going to turn our head.

“Our job is to prepare them for life after basketball and life after Kentucky, and we want them to be successful on and off the court, so in turn, sometimes you have to make the tough decisions. It’s like parenting. It does not come with a rule book, you just have to go with your gut, and they may not like it, but it is the best thing for them at that time.”

Kentucky’s first two wins came against Murray State and Belmont, who the ‘Cats beat by 26 points and 20 points, respectively. While not exactly powerhouse programs by any means, they’re ones that could have rattled a nationally ranked team with high expectations that was missing its star player. Elzy kept her squad composed throughout and it resulted in breakout performances from Chasity Patterson (30 points and eight steals against Murray State) and Dre’Una Edwards (27 points and 15 rebounds against Belmont), two key players who will have to continue to excel in order for Kentucky to reach its ceiling.

Everything is still a work in progress for Elzy, who won’t experience her first true on-court challenge until Thursday’s game against Kansas State, which will quickly be followed by a top 25 matchup against No. 16 Indiana on Sunday at Memorial Coliseum. Rotations are constantly being adjusted and the staff is still learning exactly what they have in this incredibly deep roster.

Over the next several days, Elzy is going to encounter the same “baptism by fire” as a head coach that she says her freshmen have endured in the early stages of the season.

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