Barnhart: Elzy has ‘earned and deserved’ chance to lead UK’s women’s basketball program

University of Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart removed the interim tag from Kyra Elzy’s temporary job title on Monday.

Elzy, named interim head coach after Matthew Mitchell unexpectedly retired last month, officially received the title permanently after guiding the Wildcats to a 6-0 start to open the season. Terms of Elzy’s contract were not disclosed, pending final approval from Kentucky President Dr. Eli Capilouto.

“Kyra has earned and deserved the opportunity to lead this program into the future,” Barnhart said Monday. “It is my honor to take away the interim title and make Kyra Elzy the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Kentucky.”

Although Elzy, a former standout at Oldham County High School, has settled into her role for more than a month, she’s still somewhat shellshocked over the events of the past six weeks that elevated her to the top spot.

“It still has not sunk in,” Elzy said. “I will get there … it is the people that make Kentucky special and our job as a staff is to make sure that our players have the best college experience possible.”

She added that her approach won’t change even though she’s officially in charge of the program.

“We have a job to do,” she said. “We’re going to lead, guide and prepare for basketball games and make sure our players are taking care of their academic achievements on and off the court. The mentality has not changed.”

Navigating through an unprecedented campaign, Elzy has guided the ninth-ranked Wildcats to a perfect 6-0 start going into Wednesday’s contest at No. 24 DePaul.

“We’ve had to make a big sacrifice in order to play,” she said. “That’s time away from friends, family and not being able to do all of the things that we would like to do. In order to play, that’s the sacrifice that we have to make. It takes a little bit of luck (to play the games) and we’ll keep that. We are appreciative of the opportunity to get six games in and we’ve learned a lot. We are a work in progress (and) we’re not a finished product, yet. What I challenge the team with (is to be) one percent better every day. That’s in practice and in games in order to reach the goals we are looking to achieve.”

The perfect start factored into Barnhart’s decision to elevate Elzy, but he also wanted to spend more time with the former University of Tennessee standout before making a final decision. He added that Elzy made the final call an easy one.

“It didn’t take long, but I wanted to make sure we were on the right spot,” he said. “I wanted to make sure she felt comfortable with the partnership she’s creating with me and vice versa. We all work together (within the athletics department) for years to come and those are the conversations that you need to have before you tie the knot, sort to speak.”

Elzy said her main objective is to inspire, impact and influence her players.

“We want to make sure our players are ready for life after Kentucky (basketball),” she said. “This is a big responsibility and I’m ready for the moment. I want to thank coach Mitchell for instilling in me the confidence and the wings to soar. We hope to make (him) proud and this year is for you, coach (Mitchell). … We will put a team on the floor that (Mitchell) is proud of.”

The core values Mitchell instilled in the program — family, hard work, discipline, accountability and servant leadership — will continue to be the centerpiece of the team’s foundation.

“He has built a great program and I’m blessed to inherit a great team,” she said. “We were so aligned in our approach that is what made our coaching duo so special and we were so successful. The formula is laid. It is a matter of continuing to build and putting my own twist on it. I don’t know exactly what all of those things will be right now, but I’m sure I will figure it out as the season progresses.”