It’s no fun for Kentucky forward Alexis Jennings at practice.
Her name is constantly being yelled and it’s not usually because Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell is excited about her play.
It’s life for Jennings — a freshman post player on a top 25 team preparing for the start of Southeastern Conference play.
“She is sort of a slow processor as it goes to processing what needs to happen,” Mitchell said of the 6-foot-2 Jennings. “So that creates some tension between us right now because we’ve got to get going defensively here.”
Teammates like Makayla Epps and Jennifer O’Neill have drawn Mitchell’s ire in the past for slow defensive development.
So they are quick to give a pat on the back or a word of encouragement.
“Coach is extremely hard on her,” Epps said. “He’s hard on all of us. Some days she gets it harder than all of us. She’s got thick skin, a tough kid. I give her a lot of credit. Most players would get down, go into slumps. She comes in and practices well.”
At Sparkman High School (Alabama), Jennings was an offensive force, scoring 2,594 career points. She was also the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, averaging 22.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.9 blocks and 3.2 steals a game in her senior season.
She knew she could score. That part was easy.
It became evident in the past four games when she scored in double figures, including a 27-point, eight-rebound performance in the Cats’ win against Tennessee State last Sunday.
It was the most points for a UK freshman since A’dia Mathies had 32 in the NCAA Tournament in 2010. It also was the second highest single-game scoring output of the season for a Kentucky player behind Epps’ 29 points against Oklahoma.
— Alexis Jennings
“She’s a freshman, it’s all new to her, but seeing stuff like that from a freshman, you can only imagine what she’ll be like by the time she’s a senior,” Epps said of Jennings’ scoring ability.
After averaging 2.4 points per game in her first nine UK contests, Jennings has averaged 16.3 points in her past four games.
But on the other end of the court, she called herself “an OK defender” in high school. Now that she’s in college playing at a school known for its defensive pressure, she’s learning that “OK” is not OK with Mitchell.
“It’s a much faster pace and I’ve had to learn to adjust,” Jennings said. “I’m still in the process.”
Jennings still has to fight through fatigue. She has to learn not to take plays off.
But she’s getting better each game.
“I feel good about how she is progressing,” Mitchell said. “One thing that is in her favor is that if she is having a good day offensively, she can really help you and make up for some deficiencies on defense.
“That’s just not a good formula for success, to just score more than you give up. You just want to get solid on defense. When it finally clicks for her, we are going to have a really, really top-level player in her.”
Sophomore guard Linnae Harper has been watching Jennings get more comfortable with each passing game. She sees big things coming from Jennings.
“Her confidence level has increased drastically, and day by day it’s making a difference in the game,” Harper said. “She’s real tough and I think that’s going to help us when we start SEC [play].”