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Mark Stoops and Kentucky will open fall camp next week. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops and Kentucky will open fall camp next week. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
LOUISVILLE - Mark Stoops is a man of constant motion.

He bounces from task to task, managing responsibilities as a recruiter, coach and face of the Kentucky football program.

But for a week this summer, he forced himself to stop. Stoops made time for a trip to the beach with his family.

"I took those seven days and even put my phone up for a while," Stoops said, "so I had some missed recruiting calls and some people reaching out to me and later I said, 'I was at the beach and put my phone up,' and everybody was good with that."

Stoops, addressing the media prior to his appearance at Greater Louisville UK Alumni Club Wildcat Kickoff Luncheon, almost sounded as if he pressed pause on his job altogether, but UK fans should know him better than that by now.

"I say I put it away for a few days, it's maybe when I'm at the beach for four or five hours but it's never truly away," Stoops said. "You always have to stay on it."

Nonetheless, Stoops' willingness to take a breather speaks to his confidence. Two years ago or maybe even last summer, holstering his phone for any period of time might have been impossible. There was just too much to be done.

Now, he finally has created enough momentum around his program that it won't slow even if he takes a brief step back.

"I think as things come together and the team gets better, your staff understands what's expected of them and where I'm at, and the comfort level, it certainly gets better as it goes on," Stoops said.

Stoops' confidence was plain to see later on Friday as he spoke to a sellout crowd of 700 at the Galt House in downtown Louisville. Optimistic about his team and pleased with its developing talent and depth heading into the 2015 season, Stoops seemed at ease in a way he hasn't been previously in his three years at Kentucky.

"Any time you put the amount of work in that we put in, then you expect to be more confident," Stoops said. "You expect that to be more confident. You expect it to be more positive because you know you're better. I always use the adage about being sharper. We're sharper. We have sharper tools. Guys, the players, have worked hard. Our coaches have worked hard. You're going into Year Three, we should be better; we expect to be better."

How much better won't be clear until after the season begins on Sept. 5 in The New CWS against UL Lafayette.

"Nothing's going to be given to us," Stoops said. "Just because we're better doesn't mean we're going to win any more games. We've got to go to work and see what happens."

That work begins when the Cats report for fall camp on Thursday.

"It's exciting," Stoops said. "The players have worked really hard. They're bigger, they're stronger, they're anxious to get done with the lifting and running and get on with football."

The time away from football, whether it was spent working out, recruiting or resting, was productive, but Stoops is ready for it to be over.

"It was a good summer," Stoops said. "I feel good. I feel like we made a lot of progress. I feel like our staff has done a nice job of getting some time away but also, as you can tell by some results, by the way our players look and recruiting we don't ever step away from it too far. Guys are anxious and refreshed and rejuvenated and ready to go."

Seven UK student-athletes participated in a service trip to Ethiopia this week. (Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics) Seven UK student-athletes participated in a service trip to Ethiopia this week. (Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics)
This week, Wildcat student-athletes Kate Lanier, Alex Carter, Ale Walker, Morgan Bergren, Sam Day, Kaelon Fox and Cassidy Hale are one the second of two UK Athletics service trips to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics. Today, Carter and Day write about a day in Korah that completely changed their perspective.

Alex Carter (women's soccer)

On Tuesday we went to the city of Korah, which is an extremely impoverished place. At one point it was solely a leper colony. Lepers are considered untouchables in Ethiopian society. In this day and age, however, cities surrounding Korah have grown enough to where their boundaries have merged and there are no longer only lepers residing there. However, it still remains one of the most impoverished places in Ethiopia.

Tuesday morning we drove into Korah and to an organization that does several different projects that have to do with loving and caring for the people in this city. We arrived with supplies such as toilet paper, oil, soap, noodles, rice, matches and other useful things. We were greeted by the leaders of the organization, along with 30 families that we were getting the opportunity to bless that day. As soon as we walked in, we saw so many big and beautiful smiles and kids who were running up to play with us.

After divvying up all of the supplies, the leader of their organization blessed and then passed them out. I cannot describe the joy on the people faces as they received these gifts. It was as if it was the first gift they had ever received. Even though we did not speak the same language, it was awesome to get to go around and hug some of the women and shake their hands. I did not need to understand them to know what they were feeling. We also got the opportunity to hand out candy, stickers and glow sticks to the kids and blow bubbles with them.

Afterwards, we said our goodbyes, got in the van, and headed to the city dump. This is where many people go to scavenge to try and find food for themselves and their families for the day. It was even more heartbreaking when I found out that many women lived in this dump with their many children and husbands, because they could not afford to pay rent for a house in the city. These people would set up what resembled a shelter, with at least a metal sheet propped up over their heads. But in most of these cases, there were five to 10 people having to live in these tiny spaces.

We went into one lady's "house" and started talking to her and learning about her with the help of our translators. She told us that she had problems with her head and her heart and could not work because of it. Her husband also could not work because he was crippled. All he could do is sit out on the street and ask for money. They had seven children who all lived with them in that small space. If they had food that day, it was either from finding it in the dump or from the money her husband collected that day (from one of the poorest cities in the country, mind you). In my mind they were completely hopeless.

After hearing their story, our guide, Mark, asked her in she was one of the families that were part of this program that we had just served earlier that day. She said no. He told her and the leaders of the organization that she qualified to be in this program and that they would set her up an appointment to be interviewed. When she heard this news she burst into tears and bowed, thanking God and us again and again. Wow. That just ripped my heart right out of my chest. This lady was given an interview to POSSIBLY receive a few supplies a month, and she was filled with such joy and hope (possibly for the first time in her life) that her and her family might be redeemed.

In the U.S., our society says that success is ultimately the most important thing. You can see this drive everywhere you look. We have Instagram, Twitter and Facebook where we post selfies or other pictures that make people understand just how important we think we are. We strive for the best education and the best resume that will set us up for the best job to get us the best car and the best house and a perfect family. Many times we strive more than anything to be known, powerful and liked, and we place value on those people who are, regardless of character. Success is what drives us, and we are willing to push whoever and whatever down to get there.

Here, I look around this city dump (and really around the whole country of Ethiopia) and I see people our society would count as nobodies. They are literally forgotten or ignored all of the time. In fact, the city has come several times to bulldoze the houses of the people in this dump, because they are considered illegal homes. They are seen as pests that are just in the way. It was at this moment where it all came together for me, and I experienced God's love more than I ever have before. Every time I looked at one of these people we were visiting, I could not fight back the tears. I just kept thinking, "God knows you name, child. He knows what you're going through. He sees your struggles and your broken spirit. He values your soul equally with mine (even with all of my falsely perceived self-importance) and every one else's. He designed and created you EXACTLY how he intended, without any mistakes. He has a plan and purpose for your life. Even though this world counts you out, you are important to Him. He wants you to seek him with all of your heart. He loves you." This was so humbling, and it changed the way I thought of these people. It is easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged and view this experience as a big and hopeless sea of problems. I started thinking of them as individuals that God loves.

The truth is, this life on earth is so short when compared with eternity. Even though I was surrounded by heartbreaking circumstances with heartbroken people, I could not help but be overwhelmed with joy, because I knew for a fact that all of the women we had met and served that day loved God and were saved. Tears of joy streamed down my face. I was filled with hope when I realized that these women have what counts. They have the only thing that matters in this life: faith and hope in Jesus, maybe even more so than me. It is easy for me to take God out of the equation in my life, where I grew up getting everything I wanted and needed. It is easy for me to think that I am the reason I am doing so well.

In a strange way, it was rather beautiful to see these women and families in such low circumstances, because they literally put every ounce of their hope in the Lord. When anything good comes their way they fall on their face and praise God. I wish I had faith like theirs. In Revelation it says, "and He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, or any scorching heat. For The Lamb at the center of the thrown will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." I kept saying this over and over in my head, and suddenly was filled with hope for them. I prayed, "God, you truly know what these people are going through. If they could just hold on, if they could just keep hoping in you, even if they make it out by the skin of their teeth, one day soon they will be crowned in heaven and be made whole, healed, and forever satisfied in your presence. It was there that I truly felt the love of God and saw the true beauty in these people.

I have to admit somewhat embarrassingly, that beside my prayers, I was not a great help to my team that day due to the fact that I was such an emotional wreck. But let me tell you, that forever changed the way I see people in poverty, or with any other seemingly hopeless situation in life. I am so grateful for this opportunity I have been given to come to this beautiful country and meet and serve these beautiful people.  I hope to one day go back again and be able to bless and serve these people, in which God has broken my heart for.

Sam Day (swimming and diving)

As I planned and packed for this trip, I had to prepare myself mentally and emotionally, as well as physically. After spending five days in and around Addis Ababa, I have realized no matter what I did to plan for this trip, it wasn't possible for me to be fully prepared for these experiences.

On our final day in Addis Ababa we visited a community in Korah, which is also the place of the city's dump. One of our leaders said that there are between one hundred and one hundred fifty thousand people that make their living and provide for their families by scavenging through the dump. Even after nearly a week of working in Ethiopia, my heart continued to break for these people.

As we pulled into the community and up to the church, the people of the area flocked to our van. Everyone was interested and wanted to know what we were doing there. I hadn't seen poverty like this on the trip. Everyone was so desperate and in need. I struggled with this because if I tried to help anyone, I would have to help everyone and I wasn't able to do so. We went into the church and organized the supplies we had brought. Everyone was so joyful and happy to see us; the attitude of the people inside was the opposite as that of those outside. There was hope in their eyes. We introduced ourselves and passed out the supplies. Everyone was so thankful and appreciative. It was hard for me to wrap my head around why. How could people be so thankful for so little? But this was the reaction of everyone all week. Seeing this has caused me to take a step back and look at how grateful or ungrateful I am for everything I have.

From there we went to a community next to the dump and visited people in their homes. I will never forget the odor of the hillside we were on and will also never understand how people can live with such a smell engulfing the air. We pulled up and in the same way the people gathered near our van at the community center, they did here as well. Most of the homes were behind a makeshift fence that surrounded the community. We were able to meet and pray with a few of the people living here. They were all women and children because they were either widows or their husbands were out begging for money.

One of the women was living with her 1-year-old baby in a shack with barely enough room to sleep. I was utterly stunned when she said all she wanted was something to stop the rain from running through her house. A woman with almost nothing didn't want a new home but merely an improvement on the one she had. We visited another woman who had three children, 13, 9 and 1 years old. Her husband was crippled and out sitting on the street begging for money. She was very happy to see us and asked for our leader to pray for her. We continued through the community and met a few other people. I was blessed with the opportunity to be able to pray with a woman who let a few of my team members and me into her home. She said she has a heart problem and has to pay rent to someone that didn't actually own the land since it is owned by the government. This woman and her son could not understand anything I said but still seemed to know I was praying for them and that what I was saying was about them. It felt so good to be with them and I hope I was able to give them a little more hope than they had.

The children all around Korah were so happy all the time. They just followed us and would want to play and eat any candy we had. I probably threw about 50 kids in the air and lifted more onto my shoulders. These kids were so delighted to play and tried to come with us and I'm sure a few of us would have gladly done so. Even when our van pulled away and drove to a different area, the kids followed and would bring friends. I was encouraged by their attitude even though they had so little.

This week has been a truly eye-opening experience for me. Not only have I been tested physically with nearly two days of travel and working at high elevation, I have also been tested mentally and emotionally. I have had to take a step back and reevaluate a lot about myself. I hope to return home and bring my experiences with me. I need to allow these memories to help me change areas in my life. I'm sure this week is going to help me grow in new ways in the classroom, pool and life as a whole.

Ale Walker (middle) helps distribute supplies on UK Athletics' July trip to Ethiopia. (Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics) Ale Walker (middle) helps distribute supplies on UK Athletics' July trip to Ethiopia. (Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics)
This week, Wildcat student-athletes are one the second of two UK Athletics service trips to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics. Today, Ale Walker writes about the group's visit to a boys' home.

Ale Walker (women's golf)

What a week it has already been! As we near the last few days of our journey here in Ethiopia, I can say my heart has never been so full with love and joy. Coming into this trip, I was preparing myself mentally and emotionally for the things I may see or experience after hearing from others about their trips and what they have taken away. It is to no surprise that what they attested to is true, but it is something you have to experience yourself to really understand the impact it will have on your life.

Today, we went to visit a boys' home here in Addis called the Hope House. These boys were victims of living off the streets either due to the stress put on their household for supporting another child, which their parents could not afford, abandonment, or their search for a better life.

They are led by a man named Ermais. He is the one who took these boys off the street and enrolled them in his program at the home. We got the opportunity to share a meal with the young men and hear their stories on how they got to the home and how the program has changed their lives. We had pizza, which they all loved on this special occasion!  

It was such a wonderful experience to hear their testimonies firsthand. One boy told us of how he was living on the streets for 10 years before he was found by Ermais. He told us of how he had become hopeless and never thought he had a purpose in this life. He was abandoned by his parents at a very young age due to their inability to take care of him. He was living day to day in search for food, just trying survive on what little food or water he could find.

Once he was taken into the home, he said, Ermais showed him love and what it was like to have someone care for him for the first time in his life. He said that on the streets, people could give him money, anyone could, but no one could give him love. It takes a great person to give someone love, but a special person to give love to a stranger, someone who has no relation to him or her.

It would affect Ermais none if he chose not to take this boy in, but he did. Why? Because as children of God, that is what we are called to do. We are called to love others and care for others just as Jesus would, regardless of their race or whether they are rich or poor, healthy or sick. These children are starving on the streets and all they long for is someone to love and care for them.

Ermais is a man of God who gives not only love, but also his time and his grace. He had every opportunity to be a successful man in Addis, yet he chose to give his life to these boys, to better them and give them hope in a world so broken.  It was so moving to hear this from the boy and listen to how sincere and grateful he was for the opportunity to have a future and to have dreams because of the Hope House. All of the boys, having gone through the program, have jobs and are supporting themselves. After they answered our questions, they asked us a couple, "How will you take what you have experienced here and use it back home and in your lives?" And, "What did you take away from your experience here?"

First hearing this, I thought, "Wow, what amazing questions." Though this is one of the main purposes of this trip, doing something about what you have learned to better yourself and hopefully others, when hearing these questions asked out loud, it really hits home. What are YOU going to do in your lives, what are you going to change, how are you going to change?

What I will take away most from this experience is the gratefulness they have for what they are given, even under such harsh circumstances. I will remember how beautiful and contagious their smiles are when a simple wave is given and how joy overcomes them in that very moment. I will take away how everyone is more concerned with how YOU are doing than themselves and how it is more important to give to your brother than to receive.

When I return I hope to always remember what this trip has taught me. I hope to remember that no matter how difficult my situation is or how low life may get, there is always room to smile, and there is always room to laugh and love. And to always, always follow our passions. God put them in our hearts for a reason and he wants to see us pursue them. I cannot wait to see what the next couple days have in store for us, and I can't wait to be back in the States to share more about our journey here!  

Morgan Bergren and two new Ethiopian friends. (Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics) Morgan Bergren and two new Ethiopian friends. (Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics)
This week, Wildcat student-athletes are one the second of two UK Athletics service trips to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics. Today, Morgan Bergren writes about a day in Debre Zeyit.

Morgan Bergren (volleyball)

This morning, breakfast was at 7:30. I didn't get a great night sleep, so it was hard to wake up. At around 9, we took the bus to Debre Zeyit, where we met up with Samy and his two daughters, Abby and Becky. We played with them for a little bit at their house, then loaded the bus to do some work.

When we got to the first house, we were asked to split into two groups. The group that stayed was going to be repairing/building a house and painting. The other group, the one I was in, was going to deliver food and supplies to widows. But first we made a quick stop to get some coffee. It was delicious, but so strong. It made me super jittery. The first two women we visited were amazing. Mark, one of our hosts, had leftover money from buying them food supplies, so there was enough money to pay two guys to repair the mud walls that had cracked and fallen off their home. Seeing that was unbelievable. One guy mixed the mud with straw, and stomped on it with his feet, then took handfuls to the guy on the ladder, and he patched it onto the house.

I really only saw and talked to one of the ladies who lived there. She was the sweetest woman. She was older, and her daughter had died, so she was taking care of her grandson. She was so grateful for us and for God, and cried and blessed us and invited us into her home. Mark had an amazing talk with her. When we got back on the bus, I had forgotten to leave shirts with her, so I had Ale (Walker) run them to her. She bowed at her feet and was so grateful. It was an amazing sight.

From there we went to a community center where we met at least 30 shoe-shining boys. Samy works very closely and has built a connection with these boys and men and we presented them with new shoe-shining supplies. But of course, before we could even present them with their gifts, we had to do introductions of everyone, have a prayer in both English and their Ethiopian language, and explain the importance of these relationships. Ethiopian people care more about relationships than they do time. If you are an hour late to something, it doesn't matter, because it meant you got to have a meaningful conversation with someone. So there is always a lot of talking before we get down to the meat of things.

After we gave them all their bag of goodies, we shared a typical Ethiopian meal with them, although our group did not eat it. When we were finished there, we made our way back to Samy's house and waited for pizza to arrive. While we waited we played soccer, volleyball, played with the girls, sat and talked, ate some fresh mango and banana, and had a great time. The pizza was enough to give us energy for our upcoming soccer game. We drove to the stadium, and played a friendly game of soccer with an actual Addis team. I was given the opportunity to be our team's goalie, since as a volleyball player I'm better with my hands than I am my feet. The last time I played soccer was when I was 5, and I never played goalie.

Needless to say I was a little lost at first, but eventually got the hang of it. Our team was a mix of us Americans and some of the Ethiopian people that were joining us on our trip. Sadly, we lost due to my lack of skill as a goalie. I had two pretty big saves in the beginning, and it was pretty much downhill from there. They scored three straight on me, and I subbed myself out.

After the game, however, I made my way into the volleyball match that was being played. I was able to play a game that I actually knew, but was still very foreign to me. They did not play positions, did not rotate and did not speak my language. I definitely did my best, but I'm sure they thought I was terrible. I still had a blast though.

At the very end of all of the sporting events, we went back out to the soccer field to present the other two teams with the soccer balls we brought and some t-shirts. Of course, however, it was not short and sweet. A lot of speaking from Samy, many more introductions of all of the American people and a few prayers. We finally got to present them with the gifts, and left the great city of Debre Zeyit.

We had made it most of the way back, when something a little unnerving happened... Thanks to President Obama visiting the country in just a few days, the security detail of Ethiopia is on high alert. All of the military personal line the streets and corners, and most are armed with AK-47s. So on our way back the entire street was backed up with traffic and we couldn't figure out what was going on. Finally the military approached our bus and asked us to get out so they could search us. They patted us down one by one as we came off of the bus. They were super nice and friendly, and we had nothing to be afraid of, but it still got my adrenaline going a little bit. We ended the night with a nice group meal after our showers. The end of day two!

Photo by Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics Photo by Jeffrey Burns, UK Athletics
This week, Wildcat student-athletes are one the second of two UK Athletics service trips to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics. Today,Kate Lanier and Kaelon Fox share their experiences from their first day in Ethiopia.

Kate Lanier (women's tennis)

Wow, what a first day in Ethiopia! My first thoughts are how different the country is compared to the US and how spoiled we are. As we drove around in our bus, you witness that the grounds are extremely muddy and the streets are crowded with cars speeding by and honking with not much organization. You see goats and stray dogs and tons of shops side by side.

Our main destination today was visiting the church and discreet houses in which mainly widows and single parents live with their kids. Mark, our host for the trip, explained how their goal consists of a three-year plan to help those who are struggling. They are given some essentials such as food and some other needs so that the mother and kids can focus on more than just survival. Some are granted $400-600 loans which include those who are the in the greatest need. They can then start a business such as bread-making and begin to support their families.  One woman bought a fridge and then her trade was to sell beverages and she is now paying back her loan.

Before learning the basics of the organization and their goals, we first introduced ourselves. Then the women of the group stood before us and introduced themselves, which was one of the most impressive and impactful things I thought we went through today. Each one had a different story, but for example one widow had seven kids to support but two of them had mental disabilities. Some of the mothers had disabilities themselves such as being paralyzed or dealing with a broken hand, but all of them had in common that survival was a struggle, especially with kids. What impressed me so much about these strong women was that after each introduction they always said how Christ made them stronger and how thankful they were for us to be there. They said that their only family was God and us, which honestly had me on the verge of tears every time. To see these people have barely anything but still be so thankful was so impactful.  We were told that Ethiopians cherish relationships more than structure, and it was clear after hearing them speak and seeing them pray and sing. I feel Americans cherish the opposite, which is sad considering all the opportunities and essentials plus so much more we are blessed with.

We then proceeded to separate out a type of flour they use along with spices, oil, bedding and mattresses for three different families. I helped carry some of the supplies to two of the women's houses down a couple streets.  We had to be careful whom we helped though, because we learned that if a landlord sees tourists helping then they will raise the rent of the living space. Walking alongside the roads was very eye opening, because it is so different than the states. People are sleeping and often barefoot. Most are trying to sell some type of item such as gum or vegetables or doing a trade such as fixing or cleaning shoes. The women's houses we went to were small and muddy and laundry hung on lines, but it was so rewarding seeing their faces glow once we delivered the goods to their houses.

While we were at the church we also handed out bracelets that Sam's pastor from home had made which say NIKAO on them, meaning in short terms, to conquer through faith. The mothers and all the children loved the small gift and put them on immediately. We then took many pictures and the kids loved being in the camera. As one of us was about to take a picture with one kid, seven more rushed over to be in the picture so I had to take the picture just to fit them all in the shot. You could just tell how happy they were for us to be there which is an amazing feeling.

Later in the day after lunch, we went to an even poorer area in which the housing is built overnight, because it is technically illegal. The mission was to deliver one of the mattresses and pillows to a mother who we met at the church. I helped carry in the mattress and my first thought was how muddy and what close quarters the housing was. All of the housing here was connected to one another and very, very small.  The walls were mostly made out of mud and scrap metal. It was crazy to me how they survive there. We learned that the government plans to destroy the homes in this area since it is illegal, so I can't imagine the stress of the parents who reside there and who will not have anywhere to go if their homes are destroyed.

As a whole, today was already was such a great experience, and I could not be happier to be on this trip with these amazing people. Wario and Girma, two of our leaders who are from here, were so informative and friendly. Seeing the kids in the streets wave to us constantly and the women at the church giving us such thanks and welcoming us was rewarding to say at the very least. I can't wait to see what the rest of the trip has in store for us.

Kaelon Fox (men's soccer)

This morning was an early one. We woke up at 6:30 a.m. and I felt fully refreshed. I took a GoPro video of the city in daylight and from my hotel room. The city looks amazing and it is still hard to breathe because of the high altitude, but I am very excited for today and cannot wait to see what it is like in Ethiopia.
We just got back from a very eye-opening day. We traveled to Nifas Silk and went to a community center to distribute and meet people in dire need of help. We met our local translators Wario, Girma and Addis.

On the way to the village we went through the nearby towns and some of it was hard to look at. Adults and even children were on the streets asking for any type of money and food that we may have had. When we finally arrived at the church we introduced ourselves to the families that were there, and they did the same in return.

The stories and struggles they shared were incredible. Some had husbands that had left them with children to take care of, some were mentally handicapped and had children that were also, and others were born with illnesses that they had to treat while trying to feed their children with barely any income at all.

Following the introductions, we helped distribute pillows, bed coverings, mattresses, cooking oil, spices and teff (a flour-related substance used in Ethiopia). All of the familes expressed how thankful they were that we were helping them. They sang for us while we got the supplies ready for them. We helped a woman carry her mattress to her nearby village and when we all got there she let us look at her home. It was smaller than I anticipated, with dirt floors and barely any room to walk in at all. There was hardly any room for three of us to fit in to put the mattress on her bed. Just thinking about how someone would live in such a home like that is mind-blowing.

She was so happy that we were there and seeing the smile on her face knowing how hard her life is is remarkable to see. Walking back and seeing how everything worked was really cool. Lunch was next and most of us got pizza, but others got pasta and vegetables. We had some leftover food so we took it in a plastic bag to give to people who needed it. When we walked out we gave the food to some kids and they all fought over who was going to eat it all. I had never seen such a thing and it made we want to do more for those kids. They were grabbing and pushing to grab the Ziploc bag with food in it. It just makes you wonder and realize how good our lives are back in the US.

The last stop of the day was going to another woman's home in a van to help were with bedding. She led us into her house and this one was bigger than the first one. It had three beds, but the space was nowhere near big enough for those three living in that home. She was also every happy that we were there and prayed and hugged us multiple times. The people that the Ethiopian team has met have been extremely nice to us and been very happy and blessed that we are here for them.

We are back at the hotel now and will have dinner in about an hour. This day has exceeded my personal expectations and I cannot wait for what tomorrow holds for us. The team is getting a lot closer now. After dinner we all went to the rooftop and then played cards for an hour or so. Now it is time for bed. Early breakfast at 7:30!

It's that time of year, when Mark Stoops spends more time behind a microphone wearing a suit and tie than on the football field carrying a whistle.

In less than two weeks, that all changes.

Sharing the stage with D.J. Eliot, Shannon Dawson and Vince Marrow at Friday's Kentucky Football Kickoff Luncheon, Stoops didn't hide that he's eager to spend his time in more comfortable surroundings.

"We were joking before we got on camera here that after each one of these events it's kind of nice because it moves us one step closer to getting on the field," Stoops said. "I enjoy this, but there comes a point when the talking season's got to end and you've got to get on the field and get going."

That will happen on Aug. 6, when the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats report for fall camp. Stoops already knows what he'll be expecting of his team.

"I want to see us have some poise and execute, so the effort's going to be there," Stoops said. "I think the first practice, they're always geared up. We only have helmets on the first practice, so you can't get super physical or you're going to get guys injured. So, really, we've got to execute. We've got to be a better football team. The broad strokes are there. Now we've gotta refine our skills and get more detailed and make plays when games are on the line."

Games will be on the line starting Sept. 5 when UK opens the season and The New Commonwealth Stadium against UL Lafayette. Stoops will make no promises about bowls, wins or losses, but he can tell fans about the kind of team they'll watch.

"They've bought into everything we're selling," Stoops said. "They're working extremely hard. Everybody's all in and you're going to see a passionate, fun, exciting group come this fall, I promise you that."

Cats coming along in terms of accountability

Stoops and his staff hammer home the importance of good decision-making and responsibility with their team, but it never hurts to have a powerful outside voice reinforce it.

This week, the Wildcats got just that.

Maurice Clarett, who led 2002 national champion Ohio State in rushing as a freshman, spoke to the team on that exact subject on Thursday evening. Clarett's NFL career ended before it started and he was eventually imprisoned for three-and-a-half years, but has since turned his life around and now serves as a motivational speaker.

"There's a guy that's showing great humility coming back," Stoops said. "He was on top, lost it all, and has come back and has been very successful in his life. And just the outside influences that were part of his demise, I think it's real important to hear that directly from individuals."

Stoops has a long-standing relationship with Clarett having recruited him while at Miami as an assistant and sharing his high school alma mater with Clarett's father. Marrow is even closer with Clarett, making the speaking engagement a natural fit.

Clarett's visit is the latest example of the coaching staff working to develop players as people, not just athletes. That's an unceasing endeavor, but Stoops ultimately has to rely on players to put the lessons into action.

"We work extremely hard to develop these players in every area of their life," Stoops said. "But that can all be ruined in five minutes when they're out, when they're downtown. There has to be that peer pressure within the team to keep these players accountable when they're off campus."

Dawson enjoying fruits of staff's labor

Shannon Dawson likes what he sees when he looks around Kentucky's offensive meeting room.

The faces might be young, but the offensive coordinator believes he has a roster he can do some damage with after he came to UK from West Virginia.

"It's the most depth that I've had as a coach, which is good," Dawson said. "We always struggled with that at the last place I was at. Coming in here, there's a bunch of young, talented kids."

That wasn't the case for most of his fellow UK coaches. Dawson is an exception on this coaching staff in that he hasn't been around since day one, a fact Stoops enjoyed giving Dawson a hard time about on stage at the Kickoff Luncheon.

"You've been blessed to not be here the first two years as we were building that depth," Stoops said, laughing.

Even so, Dawson's job won't be easy. The Cats might be talented and deep, but they're still young.

"The biggest deal with those guys is they haven't had a lot of experience," Dawson said. "And so when you gotta play with young kids...typically you're gonna have some bruises along the way."

Jordan Swindle addresses reporters at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. (Allen Sharpe, SEC) Jordan Swindle addresses reporters at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. (Allen Sharpe, SEC)
HOOVER, Ala. -- The talent infusion Kentucky football has gotten under Mark Stoops has been a constant theme throughout his three-year tenure.

UK's record-breaking success on the recruiting trail has been well documented. So too have the flood of freshmen making immediate splashes and the physical transformation of the players already on the roster through the High Performance program.

On Wednesday, Jordan Swindle put a number on the change.

This time two years ago, the senior offensive tackle revealed only five of his teammates topped 19 miles per hour at top speed according to UK's player tracking system. At last check, that total has grown exponentially.

"Just last week we had thirty-three people run nineteen miles per hour, so that's a huge improvement for our team," Swindle said at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. "There's guys running twenty-two miles per hour, just crazy speeds."

Stoops pays close attention to that kind of thing.

"That's the information that I got from our strength and conditioning people, and that's encouraging," Stoops said. "I know each year, as I look at the data, I see improvement; I see the strength and the speed improving."

And with that improvement in physical ability -- not to mention the $165 million in facility upgrades in progress -- come mounting expectations. Stoops won't hide from that either.

"We should be better moving into our third year," Stoops said. "Progress needs to be made. We said that from day one."

In the eyes of many, progress will be defined first and foremost by wins and losses. Considering UK went 5-7 a year ago, the six-win mark -- and the bowl eligibility that comes with it -- is a natural and oft-mentioned measuring stick.

"I don't if I see or feel the pressure, but I definitely know that's our goal and so we're striving for that every week," said Swindle, making his second appearance in as many years at the SEC's annual summer media circus. "We have meetings and every week we talk about going to bowl games."

"We're not making any predictions or anything, but it's a main topic around the team," senior safety A.J. Stamps said.

Consider the Cats fell a win shy of a bowl after starting the 2014 season 5-1, it makes sense getting that sixth win would come up often. They'll also be calling on the experience gained in coming up short as they look to get it done.

"We were young," Swindle said. "We had a lot of players last year that it was their first year playing and so they didn't know how to have success early and then once that grind comes in they kind of don't know how to handle themselves. They don't know how to take care of their bodies. They don't know to manage their time. That's why the decline at the end of the year I think happened. This year we're definitely more mature."

Maturity, however, means the Cats must not let visions of a 13th game in December or January consume them.

"We talked about a day-to-day approach and we still stay with that," Stoops said. "So we're never going to get ahead of ourselves. We have a long way to go to build the program to where we want to be."

"We talk about (reaching a bowl), but we just have to focus on getting better every day," senior defensive tackle Melvin Lewis said. "We have to start off with the small things and not think ahead and stuff like that. We just have to worry about working hard right now and playing Louisiana-Lafayette Sept. 5."

Lewis and his teammates have given Stoops reason to be feel good on that front.

"Year three, we should be better," Stoops said. "We are better. I think one of the big things that stands out to me is just the unity of our football team. They're all in together. They've worked hard throughout winter conditioning. They've worked hard this summer. They're anxious and more confident. The more work you put in, the more talent you have, the more confident you can be."

That speed doesn't hurt either.

UK takes over draft night, again

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Karl-Anthony Towns poses with fellow draft picks before going No. 1 in Thursday's NBA Draft. (Barry Williams, UK Athletics) Karl-Anthony Towns poses with fellow draft picks before going No. 1 in Thursday's NBA Draft. (Barry Williams, UK Athletics)
The NBA Draft is known for its twists and turns.

There are more mock drafts than can be counted beforehand, mock drafts that are immediately busted by surprise picks and trades.

Really, there's only one given on draft night these days, other than unpredictability.


At Thursday night's NBA Draft, UK once again took center stage. Six Wildcats heard their names called, tying a common draft-era record most recently achieved by Kentucky in 2012. UK has now had 25 draft picks in the last six years.

"Six guys get drafted and tie a record, four lottery picks and another No. 1 pick -- it's been another unbelievable night," Calipari said. "I'm proud of the guys. Our job as coaches is to help these kids realize their dreams. I'm so happy that a lot of lives were changed tonight."

As expected, Karl-Anthony Towns was taken by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the No. 1 overall pick. Towns is the third UK player taken with the top pick in John Calipari's six seasons and Coach Cal's fourth top pick overall, joining Anthony Davis (2012), John Wall (2010) and Derrick Rose (2008). Both are also common draft-era records.

"This is awesome, to have this moment be cherished where I'm from," said Towns, who took the stage not far from his home in Piscataway, N.J. "It's been a long road to get to this spot today, but with a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication, a lot of hours in the gym, a great support system that I've been fortunate and blessed to have, this moment has finally arrived."

Many experts forecasted Towns' teammate, Willie Cauley-Stein, would have to wait a while longer for his own moment. Mock drafts pegged the 7-footer's stock as slipping entering draft night, but Cauley-Stein paid the talk little mind.

"I wasn't nervous at all," Cauley-Stein said. "I'm a strong believer in whatever happens, happens. I was just riding the wave. Wherever I got picked up, that's the place I was supposed to be at."

He was rewarded for his approach.

Cauley-Stein was the second Wildcat off the board, heading to Sacramento to join fellow former UK big man DeMarcus Cousins as the No. 6 pick.

"To learn under Boogie and being in an organization that's up and coming, a lot of young guys, it's just cool," Cauley-Stein said.

Trey Lyles will join Cauley-Stein in heading west, becoming the No. 12 overall pick when he was chosen by the Utah Jazz. The 6-foot-10 forward, termed by Coach Cal as UK's "X-factor" throughout a 38-1 season, believes he will surprise his new fans with a diverse game of which he only showed glimpses in a single season at Kentucky when he reaches the next level.

"My playmaking ability offensively," Lyles said. "I didn't need to do a lot of it at (Kentucky) because we had it at other positions, but now I'm on another level and I'll be able to do more."

Devin Booker, on other hand, won't sneak up on anyone with his offensive ability. The shooting guard was taken just a pick after his UK classmate by the Phoenix Suns on the strength of his pure shooting stroke, but he looks forward to showing off a multi-faceted game.

"At Kentucky, we had a really talented team," Booker said. "I fit in really well with the team and found my niche. I'll have to create more for myself. I think I'm surprising people with my athleticism. Just stay tuned."

Though he's leaving his 2014-15 teammates, his new running mates have a distinct Kentucky feel of their own. The Suns' backcourt features former Wildcats Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe and Archie Goodwin.

"I'm loving it," Booker said. "Big Blue Nation everywhere. I wouldn't want it any other way."

After Booker's selection -- which gave UK a record-tying four lottery picks -- there would be a bit of a wait. When it was over, it looked like another Kentucky guard was headed to the desert. The Suns took Andrew Harrison with the No. 44 pick, but news quickly leaked that he would head to Memphis in exchange for Jon Leuer.

Four picks later, UK tied that 2012 record when Dakari Johnson was taken by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

That left only Aaron Harrison as undrafted among the seven Wildcats eligible, but Coach Cal is confident the clutch shooting guard will get his chance and capitalize.

"I'm disappointed that Aaron didn't get drafted, but he will be fine," Calipari said. "I will tell you that he will be on a summer league team and fighting for a position on an NBA team. My guess is he will be on an opening-season roster even though he wasn't drafted."

Calipari, there in Brooklyn to support his former pupils, watched as Kentucky made history once again. Though the competitive portion of UK's 2014-15 season ended in a fourth Final Four trip in five years less than three months ago, Thursday marked its true conclusion.

"We want to win, but not at the expense of these kids," Calipari said. "I want them to benefit more than the program. That's what I want this to be. When the seasons over, you want to say, 'They got more out of this than we did, I did, or the program did.' If anyone wants to question me with results, please say it publicly. Final Fours, wins, and all of this stuff that we do, but it's not about that. It's about these kids."

The whole process begins again soon.

Draft night social media round-up

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It's NBA Draft night, which means it's one of the busiest days of the year for Kentucky basketball. Add in the fact that seven Wildcats could hear their names called and it's almost impossible to keep up. That's why we're compiling the best tweets and more from throughout the night right here.

Wrapping it up

Johnson picked by Thunder, UK ties record

Andrew Harrison selected in the second round

Booker makes it four lottery picks

Lyles picked by the Utah Jazz

Willie joins Boogie in Sacramento

Towns goes No. 1


@ukcoachcalipari and @karlito_towns Selfie game too strong!

A photo posted by Karl Towns (@karltowns) on

Kendra Harrison (Chet White, UK Athletics) Kendra Harrison (Chet White, UK Athletics)

Update - June 14, 2015: Harrison won the NCAA 100m hurdles and claimed Silver in the 400m hurdles on Saturday.

Kendra Harrison isn't just a world-class hurdler. She's a "hurdles nerd."

Those are the words of her coach, Edrick Floreal, who uses the term affectionately.

After all, he coached her to the NCAA 60-meter hurdles Championship indoors in March, the 100m hurdles title this weekend and the two now have their sights trained on historic goals in the coming weeks and months.

For his part, Floreal is a world-class hurdles coach. He guided Amaechi Morton to the 2012 NCAA 400m hurdles Title, he recruited and worked with Kori Carter --!the 2013 NCAA Champion and now one of the world's top 400m hurdlers -- and he once coached LaVonna Martin: the 1992 Olympic Silver Medalist. Now his wife.

Said accomplishments barely scratch the surface of Floreal's achievements. And while his credentials when it comes to coaching hurdles are tough to match, Harrison could become his greatest pupil yet.

She added some evidence to support the argument this past weekend as she led UK to a school-record NCAA Runner-up team finish on Saturday. Harrison won the short hurdles -- completing an undefeated NCAA season indoors and out in short hurdles race -- and claimed the Silver Medal in the 400m hurdles with a historically fast time.

Floreal describes her as a nerd for the hurdles because her hunger to better understand her craft is unmatched in his experience.

"Keni (Harrison's nickname) is sort of a 'nerd' in the hurdles," Floreal  said. "Most athletes just want to hurdle and get it over with, but she's interested in the science of it. Learning and asking a lot of questions.

"Sometimes as a coach you find athletes who are like-minded. Keni wants to get into the science of hurdling. She's constantly asking me to teach her not just how to hurdle, but how to maneuver the hurdles. How to deal with all the variables that come up in an already complicated endeavor.

"I get a lot of texts late at night from her asking about things like the position of her trail leg. That's not the typical behavior of a 18-to-22-year-old, even among athletes, but it speaks to Keni's commitment to her craft."

The duo has been working together for two seasons, after Harrison spent the first two years of her college career at Clemson. There, she trained with reigning 100-meter hurdles World Champion and collegiate-record holder Brianna Rollins.

Harrison was plenty decorated as a Tiger, but she's reached stratospheric heights since becoming a Wildcat.

"Coach Flo and I just have a special connection," Harrison said. "We have a similar demeanor. He's a quiet man and I'm sort of the same. We view the sport through a similar lens.

"He knows what I'm thinking and we work well together. We spend a lot of time watching film and talking about hurdling as well as actual training on the track."

A multi-time All-American at Clemson, since arriving in Lexington before the 2013-14 season she's won an NCAA title, five Southeastern Conference Championships and become the third-fastest hurdler in NCAA history in both the 60-meter hurdles and 100-meter hurdles.

Floreal and Harrison worked on a change in attitude at the start of this season, which along with her unique family background was expertly chronicled by the Herald-Leader's Mark Story earlier this spring.

But a similarly important, albeit unexpected, milestone in Harrison's development was a preseason injury last winter. She did not compete in 2015 until the SEC Championships, where she opened with the collegiate-leading time en route to repeating as the Conference 60-meter hurdles champion.

"She couldn't train for almost two months while her hamstring healed and she improved her flexibility," Floreal said. "We decided 'if you can't run over hurdles, you're going to watch a ton of film so you can understand the event better.'

 "When she did come back it was like a light had gone off. She had to break down everything she knew to uncover a level she never thought she could reach."

The results indicate that the break from training was important. Her immersion in studying hurdling -- while not actually practicing -- allowed her to exploit what Floreal might lovingly call her "nerd tendencies."

But the way Harrison has hurdled in 2015, she might better be referred to as amazing or something similar.

Harrison is the world's second-fastest woman (the top-ranked amateur) in the 100-meter hurdles this season, ahead of decorated professionals like her former training partner Rollins. Those two will likely compete against one another -- and a loaded field of world-class American hurdlers -- for a place on the World Championships team later in June, but for now Harrison in focused on an attempt at NCAA history.

But off a second straight NCAA Silver in the 400m hurdles, Harrison isn't lacking for motivation as she now sets her sights on the United States Championships and World Championships Trials later this month.

With a new NCAA Championships schedule aimed at enhancing excitement for the television audience, Harrison proved she's a gamer. With just 35 minutes to rest between her win in the 100-meter hurdles and the start of the 400-meter hurdles, she ran a PR in the long hurdles -- considered by many to be track and field's most excruciating event.

Only Virginia Tech's Queen Harrison has won the 100m hurdles and 400m hurdles at the same NCAA Championships (2010).

"I don't think people realize how tough that is," Floreal said. "In the history of track one woman has one woman has won both and she had four days to do it. Kendra came within a couple tenths of a second of winning both with 35 minutes rest."

Harrison has indicated she will pick one event to run at the USA Championships, although she's open to running both in the future.

"When I'm fresh who knows what will happen?," she said. "Going into USAs I'm going to pick one event so my focus is going to be sharp."

Recent Comments

  • samy: Thank God for your work. read more
  • mimi: a very touchy story. in life, its so easy to get caught up with the glitz, look at people who read more
  • Berdj J. Rassam: Media days are mixed bags - sometimes good and interesting, and sometimes dull and boring. read more
  • BBN#1Fan: Was the first time I EVER watched the draft! It was great to see BBN doing great on this nite! read more
  • Berdj J. Rassam: Another great night for UK in the NBA draft. read more
  • Brooklin Lee: One loss does not mean you lose anything. Just try again in the next matches. I know the Wild Cats read more
  • Floyd Ballard: CONGRATULATIONS!! I watched the run Saturday on TV, and you looked fantastic. read more
  • Walter Leonard: President? Why would Cal want to take such a drastic pay cut? As long as he can still coach here, read more
  • BJ Rassam: Many of us are looking forward to the team Coach Cal will be putting out this upcoming season. read more
  • Tom Minney: Nice story about 3 outstanding young guys and the power of love. Debre Libanos is an outstanding place to visit, read more