Kyra Elzy knows how to make an entrance. How did the Kentucky women's coach introduce herself to the faithful at last week's return of the full-blown Big Blue Madness in Rupp Arena? By rappelling down from the ceiling.
Her predecessor, Matt Mitchell, had set a precedent at the event in years past with his dancing, as Elzy said, "and I felt like I had to go big or go home."
Clearly, she's not afraid of heights. A year ago, after Mitchell's retirement in November, she started as interim head coach and was named permanent head coach in December. After a 6-0 start, she led the Wildcats to an 18-9 record, 9-6 in the SEC, and a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they advanced to the second round. The Women's Basketball Coaches Association named her Division I Rookie Coach of the Year.
Good but not good enough for the former Tennessee player who learned under the legendary Pat Summitt before serving as an assistant vital to the success of both Kentucky and Tennessee. The way Elzy explained it during her "Build Up 2 Basketball" visit on The SEC Network's Paul Finebaum Show, the Wildcats "have unfinished business" to get done this season.
Or as she told the Big Blue Nation at Big Blue Madness, "This is a team you do not want to miss."
The must-see Wildcats start with 6-foot-2 senior point guard Rhyne Howard, an early favorite for national player of the year. She already has her head coach's vote as well as her full confidence.
"Obviously, Rhyne Howard is the best player in the country," Elzy said, "and we're blessed to have her."
That's high praise considering the talent level in the SEC alone, but Howard has the credentials to back it up. Her list of awards and honors through her first three seasons in Lexington stretches farther than Elzy's ceiling-to-floor trip in Rupp Arena.
SEC and national freshman of the year in 2019. SEC player of the year in 2020 and 2021. All-SEC first team as voted by the conference coaches in 2019, 2020 and 2021. First-team Associated Press All-America in 2020 and 2021. Five-time SEC player of the week. Two-time espnW national player of the week. Second-fastest to 1,000 career points in UK history in her 53rd game. Second in program history in career scoring average (19.9 ppg), third in career 3-point shots made (214) and third in career 3-point percentage (38.1).
"The great thing about Rhyne is she wants to be a leader," Elzy said. "Her teammates love her. She practices really hard, and she wants to be the best. She also knows that she cannot do it alone."
Fortunately for Kentucky, Howard does not have to be a one-woman show for the Wildcats to take the next step this season. Elzy also sang the praises of senior guard Blair Green, junior forward Dre'una Edwards ("is playing unbelievable") and senior Jazmine Massengill ("has just really stepped up in that point guard position.")
"It takes everyone," Elzy said. "Basketball is a team sport for a reason."