By Boyd Hayes
Most leaders can be heard from a distance, showering teammates with encouragement, constructive criticism, and sometimes what players and coaches might call “tough love.”
Every once in a blue moon, in this case the Blue Moon of Kentucky, there comes a leader who can be seen from a great distance, but not heard.
A’dia Mathies, a UK Hoops senior ready to take on her final season at UK, is among those silent commanders. Her career in the Bluegrass has done all the talking, allowing Mathies to send messages to her team, her coaches and the sports world without even moving her lips.
With the calm and cool technique that has taken her and the Cats to two Elite Eight appearances in the past three seasons, Mathies has consistently topped the charts in points and steals for UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell.
The Louisville native has plenty to put on her basketball resume, as she was named the 2010 SEC Freshman of the Year, the 2012 SEC Player of the Year, and recently predicted to be named 2013 SEC Player of the Year in a coach’s poll.
With the big wins and the accolades already to her credit, what could possibly be missing from her college career? For starters, she’d like to take the Cats to the next level this postseason.
“We’ve been to two Elite Eights since I’ve been here, and now I hope to make it to the Final Four,” she said.
New Orleans is a long way off, and in between now and March lies a schedule that will challenge the team, in conference and out. Does this faze Mathies? Has any specific game on the schedule got her worried? Not at all, Mathies said.
“I’m looking forward to every game, actually,” she said. “We can’t make it a great year and make it to the Final Four without taking careful consideration to every single team we play. We’ve got big games on (the schedule) like Baylor, Louisville, Tennessee and all the others, but I think even the first game, Delaware State, is what we’re going to focus on right now.”
Based on her history, Mathies certainly has the ability to take this team deep into the postseason, but she is not resting on her laurels. Over the summer she worked on her game, as well as her intangibles.
“I’ve been taking steps to be sure to be more vocal and lead by actions out there. This is yet another year that I’m trying to take us to the next level,” she said.
“I’ve been trying to improve my free-throw shooting. It’s never been terrible, but I want to get into the consistent 70s at least, so that I know I’ll be able to get fouled and make shots,” Mathies said of her work over the summer. “Also, I’ve been working on being able to (be) more than a spot shooter — coming off of screens and being able to shoot threes, something like that.”
Mathies’ continued progress has coincided with the program’s growth under Mitchell.
After being predicted to finish No. 11 in the SEC several years ago, Mitchell and Mathies, as well as former UK stars Victoria Dunlap and Keyla Snowden, have turned the program into a powerhouse, garnering an AP preseason ranking of No. 6 for 2012.
Mathies certainly has been a part of many big moments in her time at UK, but what she calls her biggest moment comes as no surprise.
“The biggest moment for me would be when we won over Tennessee and I hit the game-winner. People talk about that like, ‘Oh, it was a great game,’ but I feel like it was more because it was the first time, and you never know how things go, it might be the last time, that we beat Tennessee. Hopefully not, but that was the first time and the only time that we’ve beat them since I’ve been here.”
Beyond how her accomplishments reflect on her, she’s proud of how far the team has come since she arrived on campus as a freshman.
“It’s meant a lot just to be one of the people to come in here and help change this program around to a powerhouse and finally get national recognition. It means a lot for me and especially my teammates, because they work so hard every day. So to be able to leave here and know Kentucky is being put on the map now means a lot to me. It’s very humbling,” she said.
Last year marked the best season (28-7) in the program’s history. Finding out if this season’s team has what it takes to top last season and make it to the Final Four will be a test for Mitchell. Mathies certainly believes her team has the right formula.
“I think this team has even more talent, even more potential, so I’m looking forward to this year,” she said.
With a difficult schedule, new names on the roster and season tickets nearly sold out, Mathies, with her cool, quiet demeanor, may be the only person in Memorial Coliseum who is not shouting during games this season.