Mark Stoops at SEC Media Days. (Todd Van Emst, SEC)
HOOVER, Ala. -- Back in January, when UK received approval to build a $45 million practice facility, Mitch Barnhart asked the question for the first time.
"We'll have to make the decision: Do we go to turf in the stadium, in the game-day stadium, in Commonwealth or do we stay at grass?" Barnhart said.
In search of every possible means to best prepare their team, Mark Stoops and his staff were considering moving away from the bermuda grass surface at Commonwealth Stadium in favor of synthetic turf.
At Southeastern Conference Media Days on Thursday, Stoops answered the question.
"It looks like we will go to turf after this season," Stoops said.
After the 2014 season, construction crews will tear up the field at UK's longtime home to finish a $120 million renovation. When that happens, Stoops confirmed a new synthetic surface will be installed.
By doing so, UK will maximize the time the team can spend practicing in Commonwealth. Kentucky's temperate climate makes keeping grass in good condition a challenge, particularly during colder months late in the season and during spring practice. That undercuts the Cats' ability to get in work on their home field as much as Stoops would like.
"Our grounds crew does a phenomenal job," Stoops said. "They work their tails off and do an incredible job, but the fact of the matter is, we can't get on that field much."
UK wouldn't be the first SEC school to make the move. Four teams already play their home games on synthetic field: Missouri and Ole Miss play on FieldTurf and Arkansas and Vanderbilt on Shaw Sports Turf. Ole Miss, Arkansas and Vandy have all switched to turf within the last five years.
For schools facing climates more comparable to Kentucky, it's an even more popular choice. Ten of the 14 schools in the Big 10 play on turf surfaces. Even Notre Dame, long famous for its grass field, opted to move to turf this offseason.
This decision, however, is all about Kentucky.
When the three fields in the new practice facility when it opens in 2016 and turf in Commonwealth, UK will be spoiled for choice.
"I think it might be in our best interest to be turf in the stadium, indoor turf and two grass practice fields," Barnhart said in January. "It gives us lots of options in terms of practice."
Bud Dupree speaks to reporters at SEC Media Days on Thursday. (Todd Van Emst, SEC)
HOOVER, Ala. -- Mark Stoops will admit it. He's not an easy coach to please.
"I don't just throw out a bunch of compliments all the time to our players," Stoops said. "They have to earn that."
Bud Dupree certainly has.
"He's a great player," Stoops said. "He's so versatile. He's improved in so many ways. But he's everything you want. He's a great young man, he's a great leader. He's really taken on that leadership role, to help elevate his teammates. And that's what true leaders do."
Dupree, representing Kentucky at Southeastern Conference Media Days on Thursday, has drawn plenty of attention of late for his eye-popping numbers in athletic testing drills. The 6-foot-4, 267 pounder has a 40.5-inch vertical jump and has been clocked running 21.6 miles per hour in full pads, Erik Korem told the Louisville Courier-Journal, which surely has something to do with the fact he was a preseason Second Team All-SEC choice.
Though he's improved in UK's High Performance program, Dupree has always been physically gifted. The real transformation has come in the senior's leadership. Learning from UK's Impact Leadership Program, headed by Jason Cummins, Dupree has established himself as a key vocal presence entering the 2014 season.
"(Cummins) gave me the key role to get outside of my shell and not only benefit myself but benefit the team," Dupree said. "Sometimes I may be a little too involved in my team than I should be because I will go out the way to do everything I need for my team to be successful."
With six weeks to go before the Wildcats' Aug. 30 season opener, Dupree can see his work paying off as he looks to help fill the void left by Avery Williamson.
"I used to tell all the younger guys, like (Ryan Timmons) and Jeff (Badet) and Blake McClain, I would walk up to them every day and tell them, 'You ain't trying to be great,' " Dupree said. "Now they look at me before I even say something to them, like, 'Are you working today? Are you doing extra? I'm finna do extra.' ... And they're bringing along people with them.
"It makes me feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to do and touching others."
For one of Dupree's companions on the trip through the media gauntlet in Hoover, Ala., leadership has come more naturally.
"Personally, I feel like I have the leadership role on the offense and I try and get the guys going on our side of the ball and try and get the young guys coming along. I try to do what I can do," junior offensive tackle Jordan Swindle said. "I feel like it's definitely an innate ability of mine because I've just grown up with a great father figure and family that's just instilled in me character values."
Stoops called Swindle the "unquestioned" leader of the offense, but that didn't happen overnight. Swindle, now a junior, needed a time to establish himself as a player and figure out exactly what UK's coaching staff, now in its second season, was looking for.
"I'm just extremely impressed at the way he goes about his business," Stoops said. "He worked extremely hard in the offseason. And you know, that first year, a lot of it is setting the tone and putting the staples in your program in place, and your core values. Then seeing where you're at, then going into the off-season and improving on them. Jordan was the first one, when we put him in a leadership role and did that, to take charge and do an excellent job of developing team chemistry and leadership."
Jordan Swindle (Todd Van Emst, SEC)
Put in those terms, his task is a tall one. Swindle, however, sees his charge much more clearly.
"It's kind of my goal to make our team better every single day," Swindle said. "If I catch a guy that's not working as hard as he could be or he's not practicing as hard as he could be or he's slipping up in class, I need to go get that guy and confront and tell him he shouldn't be doing that, he needs to get back on track."
It's no coincidence that both Swindle and Dupree view leadership so simply. It all starts with their coach.
"I think he brought that mentality (of improving every day) with him," Swindle said. "It was there before, but it almost became something of a standard. Before, it was kind of like if you did that it was above and beyond. Now it's become something that is if it's not that, it's not right."
On the strength of that approach and the infusion of more incoming talent, Stoops believes he has a different team than a year ago, though the Wildcats were picked to finish last in the SEC East on Thursday by league media.
"We're not worried about that," Stoops said. "You know that. You've heard me say it over and over again: We're worried about getting better. We're worried about putting our head down and going to work. I'm excited. I'm excited about this team and the work they've put in. We're just ready to go to work and get better."
You needn't look any further than UK's Media Days representatives to tell that will start in the trenches.
Dupree and Za'Darius Smith are UK's bookends on the defensive line, poised to wreak even more havoc than a season ago when they combined for 13 sacks and 16 tackles for loss.
"I think that they're an awesome combination," said Swindle, who lines up opposite Dupree in practice. "I feel like Bud is a really, really good pass rusher. He's overall amazing and then Z is overall amazing as well. He's a better run stopper. So when you have those two to balance each other out, it's almost unstoppable."
Swindle, meanwhile, will look to anchor an offensive line that doesn't yet know which quarterback it will be blocking for. Stoops said the battle between Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips, Drew Barker and Maxwell Smith.
"You would love somebody just to take the job and run with it and play great," Stoops said. "But I've also told you that I'm not going to be forced into that decision. I don't want to be sitting here and saying, 'He can't make a decision.' I need somebody to take charge and win that job. We'll see. We feel good about the way spring wrapped up. There is some clarity there. But there's also a lot of competition to go."
When that competition resolves itself -- likely early in fall camp -- the Cats believe questions at other positions will be answered as well.
"The skill players will come," Dupree said. "Once the quarterback situation gets settled in, the skill players will come."
The feedback we have received through BBN First has ranged from big picture all the way to the minutest of details.
As Mitch Barnhart has written before, nearly all of those suggestions have been constructive. Already, you've helped us shape a new loyalty rewards program and establish priorities as we move forward with our Fan Experience Committee.
Among the topics we'll be addressing in the coming weeks are music selections and parking, but first we want to hear more from you about something that has come up frequently in your emails and comments.
You want game day at Commonwealth Stadium to be special. You want it to feel like Kentucky. You want traditions that reflect that.
One fan, Tom, said it best.
"You don't create a tradition... it is something that builds over time. That said, it wouldn't hurt for this group to identify a few of the traditions we do have and then experiment with things... those that catch on, keep 'em and those that don't, drop 'em."
With your help, we're going to start experimenting.
First off, we're going after the break before the fourth quarter. Recognizing how memorable this point in the game can be, we want to create a signature moment for it.
As we began to toy with ideas, another fan email caught our attention. This one came from Ross.
"I think we need something unburied from our past and make it relevant to students and the fan base as a whole. We need more things to make the game day experience uniquely Kentucky."
Inspired by this, we started thinking about "My Old Kentucky Home," the most uniquely Kentucky song there is.
The song has always been an important part of game day. It's been played by the band pregame in recent years, but we believe it could have an even bigger impact if everyone comes to their feet to sing "My Old Kentucky Home" right before the start of the fourth quarter.
Moving "My Old Kentucky Home," however, is just one option. We're not taking anything off the table, whether we're talking about the third quarter/fourth quarter break or any other point in the game.
Before we talk about some of the other ideas you've given us, let's take a look at the traditions we already have:
Air Raid siren
"It's football time in the Bluegrass!" pregame
Call to the Post pregame
"First Down Kentucky!"
Wildcat mascot pushups after UK scores
Here are some ideas we're considering based on feedback you have already sent:
Slowing down the "C-A-T-S" cheer with the band's involvement
Roving pep band pregame to different tailgating lots and in game to different sections
Using "Go Big Blue!" cheer after kickoff instead of "C-A-T-S"
As you can see, we've had a lot to talk about. That's why we need your feedback.
What do you think about moving "My Old Kentucky Home?" Do you have any other ideas for a pre-fourth quarter tradition? Do you have input on how to improve the traditions we already have or the ones we are talking about creating? What are we missing?
We want to hear from you. Like you, we want Commonwealth Stadium to be a special place on fall Saturdays. Submit a comment using the form on UKathletics.com/BBNfirst or by emailing BBNfirst@uky.edu to help us make that happen.
With the announcement of several games over the last few months, everyone has known for some time now that Kentucky's 2014-15 nonconference schedule was going to be special.
Just how special became clear on Wednesday with the release of UK's full nonconference slate.
Kentucky will play 10 opponents who made the postseason in 2014, seven NCAA Tournament teams and a handful of programs who have legitimate hopes of making a run at the Final Four during this upcoming season.
UK will play bluebloods like Kansas and North Carolina, continue arguably the greatest rivalry in college basketball with Louisville, and make neutral-site trips to the United Center in Chicago and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, home to two of the Cats' exhilarating games during their magical 2014 NCAA Tournament run and the site of the 2015 Final Four.
Like last year, Kentucky will kick off the season with back-to-back home games at Rupp Arena, this time against Grand Canyon University (Nov. 14) and Buffalo (Nov. 16).
John Calipari is hoping the home games will prepare his team for an early-season showdown with Kansas on Nov. 18 in Indianapolis. The matchup with the Jayhawks, who trail only UK for the NCAA's most all-time wins, is a part of the State Farm Champions Classic. It's the fourth straight year Kentucky has participated in the event.
The Cats' stay on the road will be brief as they will return for an extended home stand. Over the course of nearly a month, UK will play eight games within the friendly confines of Rupp Arena. First up will be Boston (Nov. 21), followed by Montana State (Nov. 23), UT Arlington (Nov. 25) and Providence (Nov. 30). Kentucky played and beat the latter two last season.
The schedule then heats up at the start of December.
The Cats, who return eight scholarship players from last season's national runner-up team, will face off with an equally experienced Texas team on Dec. 3 before taking on Eastern Kentucky (Dec. 7), an NCAA Tournament team a year ago, and Columbia (Dec. 10).
The final three games of the nonconference schedule are as good as it gets. North Carolina concludes UK's mega home stand on Dec. 13 before the Cats head to Chicago to face UCLA for the inaugural CBS Sports Classic on Dec. 20.
Finally, Kentucky will close out the nonconference schedule with its annual rivalry game with Louisville on Dec. 27 at the KFC Yum! Center. This year's game is being dubbed as the Basketball Hall of Fame Shootout. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the nonprofit Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
UK's 2014 Southeastern Conference schedule will feature nine home games and nine away games, which will be announced at a later date. It's the second third straight year the SEC will feature an 18-game schedule.
Prior to the regular season, the Cats will host a pair of exhibition games at Rupp Arena. The first will be Nov. 2 against Pikeville followed by Georgetown College on Nov. 7. Both are in-state schools. Big Blue Madness is set for Oct. 17 and the annual Blue-White Scrimmage will be on Oct. 27.
Complete games times and TV information will be released at a later date.
A by-the-numbers breakdown of the schedule is available below, but first a look at the full nonconference schedule.
By the numbers
The schedule this season, as we mentioned above, is grueling.
Filled with some of the bluebloods of college basketball, opponents that made the NCAA Tournament last season and are only supposed to get better this year, and mid-majors who are expected to finish at or near the top of their league, it's hard to find a more challenging nonconference schedule than the one the Wildcats appear to have this year.
And that's not by coincidence.
Coach Cal, with the recent help of UK Deputy Director of Athletics DeWayne Peevy, has always tried to form a slate that will prepare his players for the NCAA Tournament and put them in a position to compete for a national championship. The end goal is to bolster his team's RPI, give his players the best chance to succeed and help his program obtain a favorable NCAA Tournament seed, but he must do all that while making sure he doesn't break down his players before the SEC schedule rolls around.
Doing that isn't always easy.
How many big-time games against the likes of a team like Kansas is enough? How many is too many? How many neutral-site games do you play? When do you play marquee games with such a young team? What "mid-major" opponents are going to help your RPI and not hurt it? All those things go into consideration when Calipari and his staff build the schedule.
The 2014-15 schedule uses the same formula of the last couple of years in that it mixes neutral-site games that reflect an NCAA Tournament setting with marquee matchups at home and on the road.
But this one, on paper, looks to be the best of the Calipari era.
Taking the final rankings from last year, the average RPI of UK's nonconference opponent in 2014-15 is 97.4. Six opponents on the slate finished last season in the all-important RPI top 50, including five of the final seven nonconference opponents.
Furthermore, the Cats' 13 opponents in the upcoming year posted a winning percentage of .655 last season, considerably better than the .570 winning percentage UK's 13 opponents in 2012-13 ended with and still better than last year's admirable mark of .634. Remember, Kentucky's strength of schedule last season was No. 2 in the country and this one appears to be even tougher.
But perhaps the most telling proof of the difficulty of the schedule lies in the opponents' postseason play last year. Ten of the 13 nonconference opponents were in some sort of postseason tournament last season (that does not include conference tournaments) and seven of them were in the NCAA Tournament. Five of the teams made it to the third round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament or farther.
Obviously there is no way to predict how those opponents will do next season, but the majority of UK's opponents look primed to build on their 2013-14 success.
For one, Kentucky's most high-profile opponents next season -- Kansas, Louisville, North Carolina, Texas and UCLA -- return a bulk of their major producers from a year ago. All five are expected to be in the preseason top 25 and several could be in the top 10.
But the depth of the schedule comes with teams like Providence, Eastern Kentucky and Boston. The Friars play an exciting style of basketball that brought out the best in Willie Cauley-Stein last season, EKU nearly knocked Kansas out of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and Boston is expected to return four of its six leading scorers from its regular-season Patriot League championship squad.
It's impossible -- and unwise -- for Kentucky to avoid scheduling "mid-major" opponents, but UK can ill-afford to take those opponents lightly in 2014-15. Of UK's seven opponents from outside the so-called "major" conferences, five finished tied for third or better in 2013-14 regular-season play and one (Boston) finished atop the conference. That fits right in line with Calipari's philosophy to play teams that will content for their leagues' automatic bids.
Also of note, 13 of Kentucky's nonconference opponents will hail from 11 different conferences. UK will also play three opponents for the first time.
For those numbers and more, check out the breakdown chart below:
Coaches from throughout the league joined the Southeastern Conference coaches' teleconference this morning to talk about their teams as the offseason wears on. Perhaps realizing he hadn't spoken publicly in some time, John Calipari was in fine form addressing topics ranging from UK's upcoming Bahamas trip, the Rupp Arena renovation and the NBA's early-entry rules.
Here's everything he had to say, plus a bonus quote about the strength of the SEC from one of Coach Cal's peers.
On his team heading into next season ... "Well, for the first time I've had players return that had a chance to put their names in the draft, so we're in a unique situation where we have veterans. Now, granted those veterans are sophomores, two of them are juniors, but the other (six) are sophomores, it's kind of unusual for us. But I'm excited about it. The returning players and the freshmen are getting along so it's all good."
On how he hopes the trip to the Bahamas will contribute to the success he has next season ... "Well, we're doing it a little different than most teams. Most teams don't care about what the games are and, a matter of fact, will play teams that - and we did four years ago (when) I didn't care who we played in Canada - it's just practicing. But this is going to be different in that we will be traveling with 12. Ten will play. And we are having teams come with us: the Dominican Republic national team, the professional team from France, Division I, and then the older guys from Puerto Rico. They're not the national team -- they're playing in another event -- but it's that next wave of guys that almost made the team. They call it their second team. But I'm fine with that because those guys are older. It will be hard games for us to win. But we're doing it as much for the games, which is kind of unusual."
On his thoughts of the Rupp Arena renovation being suspended ... "I haven't really--I wasn't in town with all the stuff and really haven't read anything. I kind of got a little overview from DeWayne (Peevy), but like I said (before), I just hope everybody gets together and does what's right for the city and the university."
On how it would impact his job if he had guys for another year ... "Let me first say this one to you: Just if you know how I am and what I'm about, if you've really followed, I would rather them say that, after my entire group gets drafted - 'Yeah, I'm not really sure he develops players and he can coach' and all that stuff; 'they were pros' - but they all get drafted. OK, I'm good with that. That doesn't bother me. Say it as long as they keep continuing to get drafted. And then when they go to the league, they're on the all-rookie teams, they're rookie of the year, they're on Olympic teams, one is the MVP of the NBA. They're prepared in that sense, and that's what we're trying to do.
"The two-year rule, the reason I say that, this cycle that we're on - and there were coaches last year that had freshmen and their primary guys were freshmen and they couldn't advance in the NCAA Tournament and said after it's so difficult. Yeah, it is. Well, let's start five freshmen and try to do it. So to do this every year is, in this environment at Kentucky, is, I don't want to say impossible because for five years we've done it, but we did have a year when Nerlens (Noel) got hurt. If he doesn't get hurt, we're probably a Sweet 16 team. But he does get hurt and now we're an NIT team. Not only are we an NIT team, we lose in the first round. It's just a dangerous thing for the coach. Now, for our players, I'm happy as heck. If it goes to two years, I think they'll be better prepared, but you cannot do that unless the NCAA is going to do things along with the NBA if kids are asked to stay another year. I mean, are you going to do the cost of living? Are you going to cover their insurance? What about loss-of-value insurance that's really expensive? What about flying them back and forth once or twice a year? Why would we not do that? What about their families being flown to the NCAA events, the championship events, with the team? Why would we not do all those things? So we finally, after five years of absolute arm-wrangling, got the food right so that we can feed these kids without feeling we're going to go to jail, that we're criminals for feeding them. So those are the kind of things that have to be done. It's not just, make this about kids. We need to do stuff with combines so kids get the right information. You don't want a kid to leave and not get drafted. And if a kid should leave, he should leave. If he's a first-round pick, if he's a lottery pick, he should leave. Don't have him stay so you win more games, then the next year he's in a worse position. But if he's a second-round pick and not getting drafted and he's in a combine where the NBA can tell him that, they come back to school now. So there's a lot of things that we need to do and we're moving in that direction. Now, it's taken 40 years but we're moving in that direction now."
On whether more kids would go to Europe if the age limit went to 20 ... "No. I don't, but here's the thing: You have to understand, that's between the NBA and the Players Association. We have to be on the side of the players, on the side of the students. We have to be on their side, which is, how do we get them the information so they make the right choices? How do we do things that we treat them with more dignity, that we treat them more fairly? OK, again, those are the things that we need to do. We have no control - none - on what the NBA and the Players Association agree to. I said to the NBA: Instead of a four-year contract, make it a three-year contract so by staying in school it doesn't hurt them. They still get to the money the same time, the big contracts the same time as they would have if they'd stayed in school two year. But, are we willing to do things? Are we willing to maybe have those parents request loans directly from the NBA that they have to pay back when they go to the NBA? What about that as a solution to some of the stuff? So there's all kind of things out there. And let me say this: It's not at the expense of academics. We're here, we've had four years. This past semester were a 3.11 (grade-point average). Our APR going into next year, which means every kid we've had has finished here in good academic standing. Obviously, we've had a 3.0 for the last four years. We've graduated 10 players. We've brought three players back. Our kids sign four-year deals if they leave after one or two years, the scholarship is still waiting on them. We're doing things outside of that to make sure we're taking care of what we can within the rules and going above and beyond to do that. But there's still other things that need to be done." On what he tells players about what will happen if they enter the NBA Draft early ... "Well, I don't do it that way. What I do is I give them the information. I have them get information directly from the NBA office. I give them information (from) GMs who are friends of mine in the NBA and say, 'This is where it appears. Check with the NBA and I'm with you with whatever you do. If you're a late first-rounder, can you deal with (it)?' I give them the downside. 'Are you going to be able to deal with being a second-round pick because that could happen. If you can't deal with that, then you come back.' If you say, 'I'm OK if that happens,' then you can think strongly about leaving. 'If you want to be a top-10 pick, you're not right now and you're going to have to come back to be a top-10 pick. But if that's OK to be the 18th or the 20th or 17th, I'm good with it.' I literally spend five minutes with them. There are no four-hour brainwashing, all the staff beating them down. Five minutes. And you can talk to all the kids. Matter of fact I thought Willie (Cauley-Stein) was leaving. The conversation we had the next morning after the national championship game was congratulating. I'm proud of you. You were a football player two years ago. No one knew who you were. You weren't a McDonald's All-American. You weren't, 'He was one-and-done before he got there.' That's not what he was and he was a top-15 pick. And he came in my office the following day and said, 'I want to come back.' I go, 'What?' He said, 'One, I'm having a ball. Two, I'm not ready for that league to do what I want to do. Three, I want to win a 'ship before I leave.' I said, 'That's good reasons to come back.' So the conversations I had with guys are kind of like that."
South Carolina head coach Frank Martin
On the strength of the SEC ... "I'm tired of this (fallacy) and myth that our league is no good. I'm tired of it. I think it's disrespectful to the coaches in this league. I think anytime you try to convince Billy (Donovan) or Cal or Mike Anderson, guys that have had tremendous success everywhere they've been, Bruce Pearl now that he's back in the league, Billy Kennedy, the successes he's had - just keep going on down the line - the successes that they've had in their careers and trying to say that their success right now is not very good because our league is not very good, I think that's a little disrespectful and untrue. Our league is extremely hard. I've said it for a couple years: We were in transition and I think our league is now starting to take shape. I think coaches are establishing their programs for those of us that, we weren't where it needed to be. Kevin Stallings, Billy, guys that have been in the league forever, they're always going to have programs that are going to line up and go. And I think you're going to start seeing our league move forward as we continue to stabilize programs such as ours."
Men's basketball's trip to the national championship game helped lead UK Athletics to a record Directors' Cup finish in 2013-14. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
We have been together on this journey for 12 years now, and what a ride it's been. We have won national championships together and celebrated All-American performances. We have played in some of the best games the University of Kentucky has ever seen and had some of the best players to wear the Blue and White.
Today, we close the book on one of the most extraordinary seasons in UK Athletics history.
We did it with remarkable efforts across the program. Eighteen of our 22 teams contributed to our final point total, with seven finishing in the top 10 in their respective sports and 15 in the top 20. All those moments we'll remember for so long - Aaron Harrison shooting men's basketball to the national championship game, Kelsey Nunley pitching softball to the Women's College World Series and A.J. Reed proving himself the best baseball player in the country - made this happen.
Every step of the way, the Big Blue Nation has been there. On game day, you create the best home-court and home-field advantage in college sports. Outside of competition, we rely on you just the same. You might not be there for practices or workouts, but we call on your passion constantly.
We've needed that inspiration, because it's taken an incredible amount of work to reach this point. Our student-athletes, coaches and staff have embraced an ambitious set of goals and attacked it. In doing so, they have shown yet again how much a great group of people working together can accomplish on the field, all while excelling in the classroom and the community. I want to thank and congratulate them for all they have done in turning what seemed like a far-off goal in November 2008 into a reality.
Finishing in the top 15, of course, is an accomplishment worth celebrating, but our journey is far from over. We have moved into the same neighborhood as the best schools in the country, but we aren't content with that.
We want UK to be the best athletics department in America. Just as I challenged our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans to pursue a goal many thought impossible six years ago, I call on everyone involved with UK Athletics to seize the momentum we built in one of the best years we've ever had and turn it into something even better.
Many of our student-athletes are already on campus for strength and conditioning. Our coaches -- the best group I have been around in my three decades in college athletics -- are recruiting and honing their strategies for next season. Our staff is working hard to make sure our teams have all they need to compete for championships.
Before long, we'll open the 2014-15 season. Let's make it one to remember.
Julius Randle and James Young were chosen with the No. 7 and 17 picks in the NBA Draft, respectively, on Thursday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Julius Randle smiled when he heard his name called.
He dished out hugs to his mother, his mentor and his head coach as he walked to the podium. He looked the part of a happy draftee when he shook hands with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
It wasn't until ESPN analyst Jay Williams asked Randle whether he thought he should have been selected earlier than No. 7 overall that he admitted to another emotion.
"I think I should have went higher for sure, but the teams that passed on me will regret it," Randle said.
It wasn't pride or false bravado that made Randle feel that way either. The newest Los Angeles Laker and UK's ninth lottery pick in the last five years simply believed he was the best player in the 2014 NBA Draft and plans to prove it.
Don't think mistake Randle's drive for bitterness though. He's happy to become a Laker.
"I was offered some great advice before this: It's not where you start; it's where you finish," Randle said. "And L.A.' s a perfect spot for me. I'm really happy to be going there."
When Randle's name was called, John Calipari was heard on the ESPN broadcast telling Randle Los Angeles is exactly where he hoped the bruising forward who led UK to the national championship game as a freshman would go.
"I get to go play in a great city, a great franchise that expects nothing but championships, great market, great organization," Randle said. "And Kobe Bryant, my idol growing up. So I couldn't be more ecstatic about where I'm going."
Similarly, the Lakers were elated when the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Randle -- who averaged 15 points and 10.4 rebounds in his lone UK season -- was still available.
"We had him on our board much better than a No. 7 selection, so we were surprised when he was there," Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said. "When we do the draft, we rank according to what we think is going to be the best player going forward. So he was the best player on the board. We didn't think he'd be there. He's a player that will bode well in Los Angeles. He competes hard. He plays hard. He loves contact. Great kid. Those are attributes that anybody would love to have on an NBA team."
James Young, Randle's teammate, will make a similar transition. Ten picks after Randle went off the board, the athletic swingman was tabbed by the Boston Celtics with the No. 17 overall pick, where he will join fellow former Wildcats Rajon Rondo and Keith Bogans.
"The Lakers (and) Celtics are the (two) most storied programs in the NBA (and) our guys are headed to both," Coach Cal tweeted. "What could be better?"
In the Green Room with Randle and Calipari, Young was excited when he learned he was Boston-bound.
"I'm very excited to be drafted by this organization and I can't wait to get started," Young said according to the Louisville Courier-Journal's Kyle Tucker. "It's been a long time coming."
With Randle and Young's selection, UK has now had multiple first-round selections in all five years of the Calipari era. Since the draft went to two rounds in 1989, UK is the only program to accomplish the feat. All told, UK has had two No. 1 picks, 15 first-round picks and 19 total players selected in the NBA Draft during Coach Cal's time in Lexington and 110 in the history of the program.
In a matter of months, the time will come for you to choose your seats in The New Commonwealth Stadium.
Before the reseating process begins in the fall, an important date is approaching quickly: the June 30 K Fund priority point deadline.
The order in which fans will select their 2015 seats will be based on K Fund priority ranking as of June 30, 2014. The more priority points you have, the sooner you will be able to select the seats that best fit your needs. Visit this page to see a snapshot of current priority rankings.
With the deadline now less than a week away, fans can boost their priority rankings and participate in a philanthropic effort to address rising scholarship costs through the Big Blue Initiative. All K Fund donors should have received a form in the mail in May. To participate, fill out that form and increase your annual giving by 15 percent by June 30.
By joining the Big Blue Initiative, you will receive the normal three K Fund points per $100 donation, plus an additional five bonus points. It's a great way to impact the lives of UK student-athletes and improve your position for 2015 seat selections.
If you have any questions or are unable to locate your form, contact the K Fund at (859) 257-6300.
UK announced on Tuesday that freshman Trey Lyles is recovering from a medical procedure on his left leg. The recovery process will force him to miss UK's games as part of a trip to the Bahamas in August, but Lyles is expected to return in time for practice in October.
Lyles will join junior Willie Cauley-Stein on the sideline. Cauley-Stein underwent surgery after the season to repair a stress fracture in his left foot.
Soon after the news came out, John Calipari took to Twitter to talk about it.
Like Willie, we're going to hold Trey out for the games in the Bahamas while he recovers from a medical procedure.
Lyles, a 6-foot-10 forward from Indianapolis, Ind., is a member of UK's highly touted incoming freshman class. He and his three classmates -- Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis and Karl-Anthony Towns -- are on campus along with a deep and talented crop of returnees from last year's national runner-up team.
UK signed a 15-year, $210 million multimedia rights agreement with JMI Sports on Monday. (Jake Most, UK Athletics)
As he cast a vision for the future when he set foot on campus, Mitch Barnhart had more questions than answers for himself and his staff.
Those questions, though, were posed more as challenges than anything else.
"If we had proper resources, what were the expectations for our programs?" Barnhart said. "Could we be better than who we were? Would we be able to grow our programs and give opportunities for our student-athletes to be competitive in the most difficult league in America and nationally? Could we do that?"
The answer, 12 years later, is a resounding yes.
Poised to finish in the top 15 of the national all-sports standings for the first time in department history, UK is competitive across all sports unlike ever before, but Barnhart isn't content. He's intent on taking UK Athletics to the next level.
That, however, can't happen without help.
"As we do that, you've got to have partners, and you have to have people that you want to work with," Barnhart said.
On Monday, Barnhart identified a new partner.
UK awarded its athletics and campus multimedia rights to JMI Sports, signing a 15-year, $210 million agreement -- one of the most valuable of its kind in college sports history -- that will begin in April 2015. The deal, according to Barnhart, represents an important step toward guaranteeing the financial strength that have allowed UK to give its student-athletes and coaches the resources necessary to go to that next level.
"We're excited about what this means for the University of Kentucky and the stability it provides for our program going forward and just the unbelievable opportunities we think it creates for us as an institution, not just an athletic department," Barnhart said.
The agreement represents a change for UK. The school's current deal -- 10 years, $80.5 million -- with IMG Sports expires next April, so a Request for Proposals was issued this winter to prepare in case a transition would be necessary.
UK's priorities were threefold.
"First and foremost, we want to have a network that our fans can absolutely stay in contact with University of Kentucky athletic teams, the successes that we have, the things that we're doing," Barnhart said.
That will be achieved by continuing to provide a best-in-class radio network. JMI Sports, as part of its proposal, committed to maintaining and developing UK's affiliate lineup, retaining current announcers like Tom Leach, Mike Pratt and Neil Price and even potentially leasing and operating a station of its own in Lexington and/or Louisville.
"We have the opportunity now to reach places through the radio stations that we have in our footprint or in our inventory, whatever you want to call it," Barnhart said. "We have incredible opportunities, I think, to give our fans what they want, and that's to listen to the great talent that we have on the radio, the opportunity to see our teams play when they're not at home."
Next, UK set out to address its facilities, at least in part, through the RFP.
The department has made tremendous strides in recent years -- from the ongoing renovation of Commonwealth Stadium to John Cropp Stadium to the soon-to-be-completed soccer complex -- but Barnhart's facilities checklist remains incomplete, with the baseball stadium, indoor tennis facility and Memorial Coliseum upgrades at the top.
Helping on that front will a $29.4 million signing bonus UK will receive from JMI Sports over the first two years of the media rights agreement.
Finally, UK Athletics sought to strengthen its relationship with the university it represents with its new multimedia rights deal, both in securing its self-sustaining financial status and in adding on-campus multimedia rights to the RFP.
"When you talk about campus rights, we're looking at the non-athletic side, and so looking at opportunities to expand on relationships with existing partners that we may have in the athletic enterprise but new partners," Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Eric Monday said. "It could be everything from digital signage opportunities on the campus and way-finding like another institution is doing. It could be access to students. It could be internships. It could be employment opportunities, guest speakers that we bring to the campus."
Combining those three priorities and an unmatched $210 million offer, JMI Sports was the obvious choice when the RFP process reached its conclusion this spring.
Founded in 2006, the company is a relative newcomer to the industry and UK is its first multimedia rights client. JMI Sports, however, is hardly entering uncharted waters given its experience.
Developer, philanthropist and former San Diego Padres owner John Moores founded the company with Chief Executive Officer Erik Judson. Judson is experienced in athletics himself, having managed major development projects like the Padres' Petco Park and the University of Oregon's Matthew Knight Arena. If that wasn't enough, JMI Sports hired former Greenup, Ky., native Tom Stultz as president, who worked closely with UK during his time as IMG College vice president.
"I think our experience is more than enough of a foundation, but I think actually our perspective is what is going to grow the business, and the approach we are going to take is going to have a flagship in Kentucky that we're going to give a tremendous amount of focus to," Judson said. "Our organization takes this very seriously, and I think the financial contribution certainly speaks to that, but Tom and I personally are going to be involved in this property every day."
The agreement with UK represents JMI Sports' first foray into multimedia rights and some may see that as a risk for a brand as well-established as UK. Barnhart, on the other hand, sees it as an opportunity to take another step toward his vision of building the best athletics department in the nation.
"I don't think that we miss a beat," Barnhart said. "As a matter of fact, I think we get better, and I love the focus that they say we're their flagship and we're their folks, and I like that a lot."