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John Calipari will lead UK in six exhibition games in the Bahamas next week. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari will lead UK in six exhibition games in the Bahamas next week. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
With school set to go back in session in a matter of weeks, students throughout the country are taking advantage of their final chances to get away for summer vacation.

It's no different for the Kentucky basketball team, as the Wildcats leave Saturday for a trip to the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas.

Needless to say, players are excited.
    
"I've never been out of the country before so it should be a different experience," junior Alex Poythress said.

As fun as the week and a half will be, the Cats have serious business to tend to while they're on their Big Blue Bahamas tour.

UK will play two games each against the Dominican Republic national team, the Puerto Rico national team reserves and French first-division club team Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket. The first three games on Aug. 10-12 will air at 1 p.m. ET on ESPNU and the second three on Aug. 15-17 at 1 p.m. on the new SEC Network.

Fans, undoubtedly, are excited to get an early glimpse of the most experienced John Calipari-coached UK team. Calipari, however, has a warning for them, and it has everything to do with the level of competition the Cats will be facing.

"We get down there, we're going six games in eight days against professional players, which means we probably shouldn't win any of the games," Calipari said.

Official rosters for UK's opponents have not yet been released, but the Cats figure to face the likes of Jack Michael Martinez and Francisco Garcia of the Orlando Antigua-led Dominican Republic and Da'Sean Butler and Tasmin Mitchell of Champagne Chalons-Reims Basket. Playing against talented veterans will pose a stiff challenge for a UK team that will be without big men Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles, both of whom will be held out of competition for precautionary reasons as they recover from injury.

As Calipari has mentioned in practice on a number of occasions this week, UK's competition consists of 30-year-olds who are going to play physical and won't care how talented the Cats are.

"It is going to be tough, but we have been preparing for them and practicing for a long time," Poythress said. "Just going to get there and take care of business, play the game right and try to do what we can down there."

Before the 2010-11 season, the Cats traveled to Canada and faced overmatched opponents. As when most college teams take these international trips, it was as much about the 10 practices allowed by the NCAA ahead of the trip as the trip itself.

Four years later, Calipari has adjusted his priorities to fit his personnel.

"I think this team needed something a little different, and that's why we're doing this," Calipari said. "Not sure anybody's done what we're doing before. ... I don't think anybody's done this where they're flying in a bunch of professional teams to play this and come after us."

That's why Coach Cal won't judge success in these games based on the final score.

"I don't want it to be about winning and losing right now," Calipari said. "I want it to be about development. Are we getting better? Are we learning how to play off of one another? When adversity hits, how do we deal with it? We're just trying to learn."

To that end, Calipari is considering allowing his assistants to coach in his place for "some of the games" in the Bahamas. Players, specifically UK's latest crop of highly touted freshmen, have been exposed to Coach Cal's trademark intensity enough in practices ahead of the trip that it makes sense for the head coach to let go of the reins a bit next week.

"Right now, I'm coaching through the whole practice," Calipari said. "I got 10 days with them and I'm trying to get them - I need the freshmen to know what I'm like to a degree. Like, I said, right now everybody's happy go lucky. Well, when we get ready to play some games it'll be a little different. But at least they get the idea of what they're going to be held accountable for."

The experimenting won't end there.

Even with Cauley-Stein and Lyles sidelined, UK can still go 11 deep. With all that talent and skillsets ranging from bruising center Dakari Johnson to high-flying forward Alex Poythress to water bug point guard Tyler Ulis, figuring out how all the pieces best fit together will take time.

The Bahamas could give Calipari a head start. New special assistant to the head coach Tony Barbee has been pitching a zone defense, while Coach Cal is always searching for ways to use more press. He could even turn to a "bomb squad" like Dean Smith used at North Carolina and play a seven-man rotation and another five-man group for occasional five-minute stretches.

In other words, Calipari is taking nothing off the table.

"At the end of the day you want to win, yet early on in the season it's more important that you learn," Calipari said. "What exactly are these guys? This isn't normal, and I come back to, 'This isn't Cal ball. This is how we're going to play every year.' We don't know how we're going to play every year. Why is that? I got different players every year, and different strengths and different weaknesses. If I try to play a certain way and it's detrimental to the players, but it's for me, my way? I mean, we don't know.

Given the circumstances - minimal practice time, high-level opponents, experimental styles of play - short-term failure is inevitable. That's fine with Coach Cal, though, because long-term success is the goal.

"What happens to these guys, whether we win or lose they're hungry after the game," Calipari said. "Let them take an L on national television and see how hungry they are then. I'm trying to teach them."

 
In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of 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, Katrina Keirns and Kirsten Lewis write about a day spent in Debre Zeyit.


Katrina Keirns

Today we took a trip outside of Addis Ababa to go visit Mark's dear friend Sammy, who strives to take care of those in prison, widows and the poor. We began our day by eating our favorite breakfast, French toast and eggs, and then began our hour and a half journey to the city of Debre Zeyit.

After arriving in Debre Zeyit, we immediately drove to pick up the supplies we needed for the day, and then immediately headed to Sammy's house. When we pulled up in his drive way, he came out to greet us and welcomed us into his beautiful home. He told us that our tasks for the day would require us to divide into two different groups. Half of our team would go to deliver food supplies to prisoners, while the other half would help to build houses in another part of town.  Before both groups parted our separate ways, we formed an assembly line to make multiple bags of food and laundry to give to the prisoners we would be visiting. These bags consisted of a loaf of French bread, a couple bananas, detergent and body soap. After packing up the bags, we each grabbed a handful of them and loaded up the bus.

The first two prisons we visited were only a few minutes from Sammy's house. When we parked outside of it, I was confused as to where we were because it's so different from the prisons we have in the U.S. The prison was mainly outdoors and only had a few cells that held people. We then were able to chat and deliver the food bags and other donations to the prisoners, which we were very happy to do. The prisoners were very happy and appreciative of the supplies because the only items they receive from the jail are a few pieces of bread and water daily.

After delivering food to the two different prisons, we then began to make our journey around to visit all of the widows in need of food supplies. If widows do not have sons, they unfortunately struggle with getting food and other supplies because they do not have anyone to care for them as they get older. We had the pleasure of delivering food to six different widows' homes, who were all more than appreciative. When we arrived at each individual home, they all welcomed us with open arms and tears in there eyes. They then would hug and kiss each of us three times and tell us how much of a blessing we were just for coming to visit them. These women are honestly the nicest women I have ever met and constantly amazed me with their grace and how the smallest things make them the happiest.

UK Athletics UK Athletics
Following the widow visits, we began our journey back to Sammy's house. Sammy and his family invited us to stay for lunch so that he could make us a traditional Indian meal. After he was done preparing the meal, we gathered around outside in a circle and prayed over the delicious meal we were about to eat. The lamb curry, rice and naan (bread) that Sammy prepared was one of the best meals I've ever had, and I'm so thankful that he took time out of his day to host us. After we finished eating, Sammy told us that we would be visiting a few other families that were trying to start their own businesses in order to have a steady income.

The first family we visited consisted of a beautiful family of five (mother, father and three sons), that wanted to begin somewhat of a baking business so that they could sell their goods at the market. When we delivered the supplies to this family, the father told us how grateful he was that we were supporting him in his new business and was so thankful that we made the trip to see him and his wonderful family. The second family we visited needed a generator to power the arc welder. When we delivered the generator to the father, he was so grateful and happy that we brought the supplies he needed to help him begin the process of making the arc welder possible. The genuine smile and joy that portrayed made me so happy that our group could help him start something great.

Overall, this day was very impactful. All of these people have such big hearts and are thankful for every little bit that comes their way. Although they were the ones thanking us, I wanted to thank them in return for giving us the opportunity to visit them and hear their amazing stories. I will never forget their genuine, kind hearts and love that they showed us when they welcomed us into their homes.

Kirsten Lewis

We started off the day with a breakfast at 7:30 consisting of French toast and eggs! After our stomachs were full for the day ahead, we were ready to leave our guesthouse to go visit the city of Debre Zeyit, which was about an hour and a half drive out to the countryside. Only a few people in the bus got some shut-eye and the majority of us were either engaged in conversation or had our heads glued to the windows taking in all of the beautiful sights. The trip seemed to fly by so fast, and we were in Debre Zeyit in no time!

We immediately met up with Sammy, the man we were going to be assisting the whole day with his job and ministry in Debre Zeyit. After meeting up with him, his crew and his two adorable little girls, we sorted the supplies that he had already provided into several plastic bags that we would be distributing to the widows and the prisoners for the rest of the day. They guys opted to help out with a local building project, while the girls opted to go visit the two prisons and deliver some food to couples and widows in the area.

At the first prison that we visited, we were only able to drop off the food and supplies and nothing else. Mark said that it usually depends on who is in charge of working the prison that day as to how much interaction we could have with the inmates when different groups come in to visit them. Originally, we had expected to have the opportunity to talk to some of the prisoners, hear their stories and offer encouragement to them. A minor deviation from our previous plan, but we were happy that we were at least allowed to give them the food and items that we brought to make their stay at the prison a bit more comfortable. At the second prison, there were not as many prisoners being held so we distributed the food quickly and gave what we had left over to the guards and staff.

The next task on the agenda was delivering food to the families and widows in the area! We spent the rest of the time until lunch stopping at each house that needed food. We got to ride around most of the city of Debre Zeyit while we were making these deliveries, and I was at awe at the difference from the cities here in America! In the streets in Debre Zeyit, there are cars, mingled with people riding in carts hooked up to horses and dogs freely roaming the streets.


This city was a bit more rural than Addis Ababa and you could see valleys, mountain tops, trees, cattle roaming and gardens full of flowers as we drove around. It was absolutely beautiful and a nice change of pace from the street and in Addis Ababa. After we finished delivering all of the bags, we headed back to Sammy's house, where we met up with the boys and ate a delicious lunch that Sammy had prepared consisting of lamb curry, rice and naan. We sat around in a big circle as we ate and shared so many laughs with one another. It was a great physical and mental break from a very work-heavy morning!

The next order of business was delivering some heavy-duty machinery to a man who is in the process of starting his own business. We delivered to his home a generator and an arc welder which will help his new business out tremendously.

While we were there, we met a group of about 10 little boys who all were learning how to practice taekwondo. They were demonstrating to us their moves by having play fights with one another. At one point, Jared jumped in and started making up his own moves while the little boys began to watch him closely and begin to imitate the different poses that Jared was making. These little guys soaked up all of the attention that they were getting from us as we watched them go through all of their moves that they were currently learning. Their smiles and attitudes were infectious! They did not speak very much English, so at first it was difficult to learn very much about these boys besides their names and age. After one of our translators came over and joined us, we were able to learn about where each of the boys were from, how they had gotten into practicing taekwondo, what year they were in school and their favorite subjects.

After saying our goodbyes and taking a few pictures with these little guys, we all piled back into the bus and delivered some food to two more houses. John and I went together to deliver food to a young woman who had a little baby. We were able to take some pictures with her and her sweet little baby, who we found out was just two months old.

As we left the village, we stopped at the community center that the boys had started to build earlier. At this point, a bunch of little kids had begun to follow our bus around, and once we got out at the church, we were swarmed by kids of all ages and sizes. Some were shy and kept their distance while others came right up for high fives and were just speaking their language to us as if we could all understand them. The thing that struck me the most about these little kids were their willingness to accept us into their village as we were and just laugh and play and exist as if we were all the exact same for a day. This experience was humbling because how often do we accept and meet others right exactly where they are and come together for the sake of building relationships with another.

As we drove away from the village, one of the neatest moments was turning around and looking out of the back window of the bus and watching all of the little kids run after the bus for as long as they could. I do not think that I will ever be able to erase that amazing moment out of my mind. We left that day with our hearts overflowing with the love that everyone had showed us and every possible emotion running through our heads. Now, time to fill our empty stomachs with some food and get some sleep and do it all over again tomorrow!


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Since the Southeastern Conference and ESPN jointly announced the launch of the SEC Network 15 months ago, hundreds of people have been hard at work.

That year-plus of labor will come to a head in barely week when the SEC Network launches on Aug. 14.

The nerves, of course, are there. Given the pressure that comes with covering the nation's best conference and serving its insatiable fans 24/7, that's natural.

That feeling, however, is outweighed by excitement to finally go on the air.

"Hey, let's go," Dari Nowkhah said. "We keep rehearsing. When you guys are going around asking football players, 'What will it be like to go hit somebody else?' Well, that's exactly what this is."

Nowkhah's comments came at an open house hosted at the SEC Network's headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. Media members were invited to tour the facility, which has long been home to ESPNU. The tour included stops in the studios where cornerstone SEC Network shows will be filmed, as well as access to the personalities that will be the face of the network.

"Our on-camera talent, I think, rivals any network anywhere," said Stephanie Druley, ESPN's vice president of college networks.

That begins on the set of SEC Now, the SEC Network's SportsCenter equivalent hosted by Nowkhah, Peter Burns and Maria Taylor. It extends to the Paul Finebaum Show and SEC Nation.

Perhaps nothing better demonstrates what the SEC Network will be about than SEC Nation, which will make stops at all 14 conference campuses this season. Florida star Tim Tebow and LSU national champion Marcus Spears will serve as analysts alongside host Joe Tessitore and reporter Kaylee Hartung for the SEC Network's answer to College GameDay.


"For us, we want to be that same thing for the SEC, but more in a way of we want to give the viewer an opportunity to experience what's it like to be in a tailgate, what's it's like to be a fan, what it's like to be a player," Tebow said.

The show will have a distinctly SEC flavor, with all talent having deep ties to the conference they'll cover.

"When I think about the SEC Network and especially our show, the one thing that comes to mind is that we're of the people," Spears said. "That's the difference, more than anything, is that we're dedicated to one conference."

It's a conference that deserves that kind of dedication, as well as the unprecedented distribution it will receive at launch. With Wednesday's announcement that Charter Communications has signed on, the SEC Network will be in more than 90 million American households on Aug. 14.

Oh yeah, and the International Space Station.

"A lot of people asked, 'What do you do next?' " ESPN Senior Vice President of College Networks Justin Connolly said just after announcing the Charter deal. "And I thought the Tennessean beat us to the punch on that. We're going to outer space."

Rabid SEC fan Barry Wilmore, an astronaut set to depart for his next mission on Sept. 25, lobbied successfully for NASA to provide the SEC Network in the space station. He'll enjoy the more than 450 live games that will air on the network, not to mention the hundreds more that will be shown on the SEC Network's digital platform.

Wilmore won't be in space in time for the Kentucky basketball games in the Bahamas that will be shown on the SEC Network Aug. 15-17, but most of the Big Blue Nation will surely be watching.

Three years ago when UK played preseason exhibitions in Canada, games were shown only locally on the UK IMG Network. This international trip will be on national television.

"I actually think it crystallizes how this network can create opportunities that haven't existed in the past," Connolly said. "Ordinarily I don't think those games get televised. We made a decision: The ability to have Kentucky on and show players that fans haven't seen before, show the Harrisons back and be able to do that over the Bahamas tour, we just jumped at it."

Millions of fans throughout the country figure to jump at the chance to watch as well.


Aaron and Andrew Harrison. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Aaron and Andrew Harrison. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
What a difference a year can make.

This time last year, the Harrison twins were still in Texas finishing up some academic work. They arrived on campus just before the fall semester began, well after most of their teammates.

They missed out on the offseason strength and conditioning workouts. They didn't get the usual offseason crash course that freshmen need in a John Calipari offense. They were, as Coach Cal said, two and a half months behind because it took him half the season to figure out how they were going to play.

All because the Harrison twins weren't here in the summer.

"By not being here in the summer, they got behind the 8-ball conditioning wise," Calipari said Wednesday. "So it took us half a year to get them in condition so we could really see, 'Alright, what exactly can they do?' "

The twins have been in Lexington this summer for offseason workouts and the pre-Bahamas practices, as have the rest of the 2014-15 Wildcats. Coming from someone who's been around the program for more than two years now and knows what goes into the season, junior Alex Poythress said it's made a world of difference in team chemistry.

"It's real advanced," Poythress said. "People know the plays already. People know where to be at. Coming in as freshmen, a couple of us new, we didn't have too many veterans. Last year we had me and Willie (Cauley-Stein), but this year we have six or seven guys that know what to do that's been there and done that and know where to be at."

With more experience and fewer newcomers to break in, it's allowed Coach Cal to accelerate this team's growth.

"I've got guys that understand so I can do it the way I used to coach, which is, 'Get to the back and watch what they're doing,' " Calipari said. "I talk them through. 'You're not at the front. You're at the back and watch what they're doing.' And many of the things they're talking each other through. Dakari (Johnson) is talking, the twins are talking, Alex is talking, Marcus (Lee) is talking. They're able to talk to each other because they know what to say.

But perhaps no two have benefitted more from experience and a sense of understanding than the catalysts of the offense, the Harrison twins.

At this point now, compared to where they were a year ago, they're stronger, they're leaner, they're faster and they're more confident. Watching practice for the last couple of weeks as the Cats prepare for their exhibition tour in the Bahamas, it's obvious they look and feel more at ease running the offense, particularly Andrew Harrison.

"I'm a lot more comfortable," Andrew Harrison said. "I feel like I take on a leadership role and I'm having fun with a lot of guys asking me questions and stuff, and I try to help them as much as I can."

It was difficult for them to lead last year because they didn't know what they were doing. They didn't know what they were doing because Calipari didn't know how he wanted them to play. And Calipari didn't know how he wanted them to play because they arrived on campus late, a factor that Coach Cal downplayed as the Cats struggled in the regular season but fully admits now.

"I just think that they needed me to give them better direction," Calipari said. "They needed me to basically better define their roles. But why do you think I had to wait so long? Why did it take me so long? Why didn't I walk in the first day and say, 'This is how you're going to play'? ... I wasn't sure. Now, I could make it about me and say, 'You're going to play this way,' or I could watch them play and say, 'The best thing now that I've been with you for two months, the best way for you to play and us to play is this.' And it took me two and a half months."

As everyone saw in March, when they got some experience underneath their belts, they took off.

If preseason practices are any indication, they've done nothing but take last year's postseason momentum and run with it.

"They already know what we're trying to do," Calipari said. "There's no anxiety. They're comfortable out on the court where last year they were trying to figure themselves out, and that's why you had that body language stuff. You don't see any of that this year, and the only time they do anything like that is toward each other, like where they're saying something to each other. Short of that it's been pretty good."

Their late-season success last year made them think long and hard about returning for their sophomore seasons, but both decided to come back to try to capture that national championship they came so close to winning in April.

When the Harrisons contemplated coming back, Calipari told them they would have to answer questions in their sophomore year that NBA scouts and general managers had of their game. He gave them those questions and they answered them on the spot, "one, two, three."

"(The questions were), were we athletic enough or were we quick enough to guard our positions, and I think we worked hard this summer to prove that," Aaron Harrison said.

For one, both lost weight this season to get quicker, to jump higher and to guard better. Officially, Aaron Harrison is down to 212 pounds from 218 a season ago, and Andrew Harrison is down to 210 from 215, though Andrew said it was more like 222 last year.

A change in their diets was the biggest factor in their change.

"I feel a lot faster, a lot quicker, jump a little higher now," Andrew Harrison said. "I feel like I'm the best player I can be right now."

Their commitment this offseason has helped them gain more trust from Calipari. Where last year's practices reflected more of a teacher-student relationship - Coach Cal was doing a lot of instructing while the twins were doing a lot of listening - this year's early-season practices feature more of a partnership. There is a little more constructive back and forth between Calipari and the Harrisons, there is less bad body language, and there is a lot more leading from what look like the two team captains.

"He saw how hard I worked over the summer and how committed I am to this," Andrew Harrison said. "I know how committed he is and we just have an understanding."

Said Calipari: "They had habits they had to understand weren't going to work. Let me tell you something: If you're doing something your whole career and it gets you a scholarship to Kentucky, the most coveted scholarship in the country ... and you did certain things to get you that offer ... your first thought is, 'This got me here, I'm going to go with it.' But what got you here, a lot of times, isn't going to get you there, to that next level."

It took the Harrisons nearly a full season to grasp that. And as crazy as it seems to comparatively call a pair of 19-year-olds wiser and more mature, they are.

"You just got to mentally be ready for practice when you go in every day and go in to get better," Aaron Harrison said. "That comes with getting older and being mature and just taking it more serious."

An extra summer - one they didn't have a season ago - has just been icing on the cake for their ongoing development.

"I think it was just us realizing how much work it actually takes to be great," Andrew Harrison said. "Just realizing or just getting that confidence you had back in high school, just feeling like you're the best player. That's what it really was."

In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of 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, Montana Whittle, Danielle Fitzgerald and Charlie Reymann each write about an unforgettable day spent in the poorest area of Addis Ababa.


Montana Whittle

Where to start?

I find myself at a loss of words, because this experience cannot be described. There are no words or pictures that do this place justice. I wish I could let you see my memories and feel what I have felt. I will do my best to help you understand this place and its people, but I would highly encourage you to explore this world yourself and challenge you to keep an open mind.  

Today started with an amazing plate of French toast and a cup of coffee, and finished with me questioning my entire existence.  After breakfast we were given a brief explanation of what the day would bring. At this time I thought I was going to change lives, but the truth is that my life would be changed, forever. We were told that we were going to visit the poorest part of Addis Ababa. It is about one square mile, maybe a little bigger, and is home to over 100,000 people. These people are the poorest of the poor, most of them have been shunned due to disabilities and illnesses, such as leprosy or HIV/AIDS.  

We pull up in our van to Mark's office and children swarm us. From the minute we walked outside to the time we left, those children held our hands. They were so excited to meet us and tell us about themselves. All they wanted was for us to remember them, pray for them, love them. These children had such a huge impact on me. They were the happiest kids I had ever met, and yet they had nothing. Most of them had shoes that were falling apart and clothes that were worn thin. The two boys who held my hand had asked me for things, such as clothes, shoes or food. It broke my heart that we were not allowed to give them anything, because it would be unfair to those who did not get something. All I wanted to do was give these kids everything they needed; I wanted to tell them that everything was going be OK. But, the truth is, I had no idea. The memory of these children chasing after our van when we left will stay with me forever.

Our mission today was to deliver food and supplies (coffee beans, macaroni, salt, matches and soap) to widows and families in need. At the office we met the women and children who were going to be receiving these supplies. These women were inspirational. Faithful. They were so grateful, even though some of them could not even walk. Two women in particular really impacted me because one was in a wheelchair and the other had a daughter who could not walk, so she carried her on her back. When we delivered their food to their homes, the walk was not short. These mothers did not complain. In fact they were overjoyed just to meet us and have us see their homes.

I have never seen such poor living conditions, where their walls were sod, their roofs were tin and their floors were mud. A large house would be the size of our bathrooms in America. Yet, we were invited in without a moment's hesitation. They were so proud and had no shame; they wanted us to see everything in their homes and even offered us coffee. The first thing they did was thank us and tell us that they would be praying for us every day. I could not help but get emotional; I was not the one who needed prayers. I have never seen God work through people so much. They had so much going against them -- missing limbs, leprosy, unable to walk, crooked feet -- and yet they still were so patient with us, still so loving, still so faithful, still so happy.  


My experience today and every day this week was unreal and unforgettable. Now that I am home, all I can think about are those beautiful people that I met and my plan to return in the future. This experience has caused me to question everything that I know and everything that I want. Everything that was so important to me in the past is not important anymore. I know this experience has changed me for the better and I hope I never forget the faces and hearts of the people of Ethiopia.

Danielle Fitzgerald

Today was spent in one of the world's poorest places, which is built around the city dump. We started the morning with our standard "UK breakfast special" consisting of French toast and eggs but nothing we saw after was familiar. We were aware of the immense state of poverty but familiarity stopped there.

As we rolled up to the office that works to provide sponsorships to the people of the area, we were instantly greeted by big grins and precious little hands that wanted to be held. The instant joy the kids felt from simply having somebody touch them was quite overwhelming.

Mark took us into the office where we formed an assembly line to package macaroni, salt, body soap and other items for people who had been put on the sponsorship wait list. The recipients were sitting outside of the office and even though most were suffering from starvation, HIV/AIDS or leprosy, the pure joy they expressed seemed to be most contagious. We each carried a bag full of necessities to different houses, kids still in tow throughout the day. Although their houses' sizes were more comparable to a standard American bathroom than an American house, everyone was so proud to show us their homes and invite us to stay.

Each member of our team had about three kids latched onto them throughout the day and close to 100 followed us both when we were walking from house to house and running closely behind when our van took us to other parts of the town. There are few words to describe the emotions felt when a swarm of kids chases your van for miles and the two or three kids you've grown very close to come find you again, happy as can be to have done so. The simplest things brought them the most joy: thumb wars, hand games and skipping through the streets. Not even a language barrier could hinder that. Many of the kids would push their way through the line of hands to get closer to us but they did not realize they were the real celebrities, their endless love and eagerness to get to know us more admirable than our presence.


One of the hardest parts of the day was leaving the kids we had established relationships with. Eyes teared up when our new friends asked for pens to write their names on our arms in hopes that we would remember them forever and keep them in our prayers. Nothing can prepare you for the moment that two little girls ask you to take them home with you because life would be better that way.

It is so easy for us to get caught up in how busy our own lives are and forget about what is really important. These people don't have money to spend, cars to drive or cell phones to obsess over. They do have each other. And without worldly relationships, they still have a strong faith in God. I have never been so overwhelmed by such a concentrated sentiment of love. Relationships were valued so much more when there was not an emphasis on material possessions. Every person we came in contact with was significantly happier with their lives than I have ever seen before and I believe there is something to be said for that. Material poverty and spiritual wealth may not look glamorous from the outside looking in, but a completely different story was told once we were able to see from these beautiful people's perspective, even if only for a small fraction of time.

Charlie Reymann


Today was our second day in Ethiopia and it was full of eye-opening experiences. We started off with breakfast and then traveled to an area considered one of the poorest places in Ethiopia. The city began when all the people with leprosy were sent away and as time went on more and more outcasts were sent here. It surrounds a trash dump, and sometimes the people will search in the dump for food or supplies for their houses. We knew going into this day that this will be something we will never forget.

It is such a blessing to be able to experience a place like this. As we arrived, the first observations we had were the amount of people on the streets and what they called their homes. In the U.S. a home like we saw would make people look the other way. The houses were made from mud, wood and tin roof. And they were just thankful to have a home, something I think we all take for granted.

Once we arrived, we teamed up with a community center to provide some of the people in the community with a month's worth of supplies. The community center we worked with sponsors women and men from the city. The people that we helped today were men and women in line for the next sponsor. Some of the supplies we gave to them were macaroni, coffee beans, sugar and soap. We split up into little teams to make the process go as smoothly as possible. Since we are all athletes we all know how to work in a team, so we got to work.

Once we were done we all got the privilege to hand these men and women their supplies, which was a wonderful sight. Seeing their faces as we gave them the supplies was remarkable. They all said "God bless you" in English when we gave them their bag. After we gave them their supplies, some of us followed them to their houses to help carry them. These women came a long way to get their supplies, if I had to guess the farthest was two miles. And the lady who traveled the two miles was in a wheel chair!

As we walked with these women, questions came into my head. How does a place get like this? How does any human live in this city? Is there any solution to this problem? We may never know the answers to those questions but seeing the children filled us all with joy. Children came from everywhere to walk with us like we were rock stars. Each of us had at least three children holding our hands. Their smiles and joy were contagious to all of us. A place where it is hard to find anything to be happy about, these children could not stop smiling.

As I walked with these kids, I realized they were just happy to be alive. Video games and computers did not matter to them unlike kids in America. Materialistic goods are what most Americans really care about: their phones, their cars and their jewelry. These people have nothing and they all act like they have everything they need and more. It made us realize that we do not need all the "things" we own to be happy. They just enjoyed being with their friends and walking around with Americans for the day. And making new friends! We were their idols. They were thankful for a new friend, and that someone will be thinking about them. We get so caught up in our little world that we are not thankful for small things in life because we take them for granted.

We all went back to the community center to regroup and get ready for lunch. We went to a restaurant and almost everybody ordered a pizza. My pizza was delicious! We travel with three Ethiopian kids our age to help us learn the culture, translate, and most of all become our friends. Their names are Wario, Girma, and Khalib. They all made us try this green hot sauce that was like fire in your mouth. According to them everyone is used to hot spices in Ethiopia so when Americans come, they are not used to how hot the food is. Besides the green sauce that we tried everything was great and we headed back to explore the city a little more.

After lunch, we walked right up to the dump. We went inside a small village that was right next to it and the craziest thing happened. The little kids who were with us all morning found us and walked with us again!

I could not understand how some of these families can live this close to the dump and be so happy with their lives. No one would ever live as close to a trash dump as these homes were in the United States. We all went into the village and Mark called us around this small boy. He then told us that the kid he was holding up had a tumor above his eye not too long ago. One of the families who sponsored his family paid for this child to have his tumor removed. The kid could not have been more than four years old. This story touched all of our hearts. God used the sponsor to save that little boy's life. A remarkable story that we will never forget.

In Ethiopia everything is about relationships, and I experienced that right when I got off the bus. A little kid named Honuk, 10 years old, ran right up to me and asked me my name. I was very impressed with his English, and for the rest of the day we were best friends. He asked me questions about everything that had to do with America and told me as much as he could about his life. Listening to him talk about his life just made me want to help him in every way I could. I gave him one of the soccer balls we brought and he was so excited to get a new ball. As he was carrying the ball around all his friends you could tell he felt really special that he had the new Nike soccer ball. Throughout the day I kept finding myself thinking how smart this kid is and if there was anything I could do to help his life. He was so joyful and happy to be where he was.

All the kids were so happy! They were happy because they know that they mean something to someone who lives outside their village. That means so much to them. Honuk and some of the other kids wanted us to remember their names so bad that they wrote them on our arms. He borrowed a pen from a street vendor and pressed as hard as he could to spell out his name. The moment that will never leave my mind is when we were all getting on the bus to leave my new friend Honuk ran up to the bus and waved for me to open the window. With a smiling face and love in his eyes he said, "Charlie, I will miss you. I will pray for you." Those were the types of moments we all experienced today and I think we all agreed that we will never forget this day.

Walking through the city we saw more little kids laughing, playing, and loving each other than anywhere in the U.S. We saw mothers more proud of their homes than most mothers in America. They might not have as much money or opportunity but they have more joy and spirit. This day was an incredible day that we will always cherish in our hearts.  


After UK's first practice of fall camp on Monday, Mark Stoops pointed out there were some areas to "clean up" on offense on an otherwise encouraging day.

In another early-morning practice on Tuesday, the Wildcats took a step in the right direction.

Settling in on the second day of fall camp, UK executed much more cleanly, particularly in the passing game, while sustaining the energy displayed the day before.

"I thought we were nervous day one, especially the new guys, the freshmen, and it showed," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "We dropped some passes. But we caught the ball really well today. I don't anticipate that being an issue at all, like it was at times last year. During team period, we may have had one drop. I don't anticipate that being a problem going forward."

Five members of UK's highly touted incoming class are wide receivers, giving UK much-needed depth at a position that severely lacked it a season ago. So far, Brown has been encouraged by the group.

"Really, really excited about some of the young freshmen wideouts," Brown said. "They're catching on quicker. The new rules in the summer obviously helped us."

Asked for detail on which of the five impressed him, Brown named Dorian Baker and Blake Bone, "the two big kids."

"We need those guys," Brown said. "We need length. I talked about it in detail last year: we need some guys with some size. I've been impressed with those guys. Dorian probably had a better day one than day two, but excited about both those."

Big receivers like Baker and Bone, 6-foot-3 and 6-5, respectively, can be safety blankets for a quarterback. Considering UK will play with a first-time full-time starter at quarterback whether Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips, Drew Barker or Maxwell Smith wins the job, that's a plus.

Speaking of those signal callers, there's still no word of any separation in the battle between them. Brown, however, did give some insight into how he's applying the added pressure on the quarterbacks he said he would.

"The defenses kind of installs how they're going to install, so we're seeing the pressure packages at kind of a normal rate, but really I'm keeping track of every throw they make," Brown said. "I'm talking about it, talking about situational football a lot, probably coaching them harder and being more intense with them early in camp than I normally am."

Those quarterbacks are working in a slightly simplified system this fall, with most calls featuring one word and one syllable. That, along with a full year of experience in Brown's offense and a summer of film study, is helping ramp up the pace in practice.

"When you're trying to play fast -- and we weren't capable of playing as fast as we would like last year, because guys were thinking," Brown said. "They'd have to think about alignments and assignments. Now it's more natural. They're used to getting signals. They're used to getting lined up fast, used to operating fast."

Even playing at that pace, Brown has liked what he's seen from the offensive linemen who redshirted a season ago as well as freshman running backs Mikel Horton and Stanley "Boom" Williams. But on Wednesday, they'll be subjected to another kind of test. That's when the pads go on.

"So overall, two productive days, but we are playing flag football," Brown said. "Tomorrow the truth will be shown."

In late July, nine student-athletes -- Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) -- participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of 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, Jared Philips writes about the group's arrival in Ethiopia.


By Jared Phillips

Today's the day. We are traveling to Ethiopia! Our team got up early and headed to the airport where waiting in lines, flight delays and confiscation of necessary items at security awaited us. However, we were all incredibly excited for this trip, so these events were merely slight bumps in the road.

We boarded our nearly 13-hour flight to Addis Ababa shortly after noon in Washington, D.C., and finally touched down on a cloudy, cool morning at Bole International Airport at roughly 9:30 a.m. local time.  Our team's exhaustion quickly turned into exhilaration after landing in what was a novel experience for all of us but Jason (Schlafer, the senior associate athletic director accompanying student-athletes): Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


Surprisingly quickly, we made it through customs, picked up our baggage, and walked out of the terminal. I got a taste of how kind the Ethiopian people are when a lady stopped me as our team was leaving the terminal and personally welcomed me to Addis Ababa; it was rather touching to see someone as welcoming as she was. As soon as we were outside, we were in awe what was before us: a mixture of nature and urban life stretching for miles and miles. The weather was nice and cool compared to Lexington, and the mass of cars in the airport parking lot awaited us. We met up with Mark, who would be leading us around to the various places on the trip, and Nikki, our photographer for the week and departed for our guesthouse.

Immediately, our group got to witness the poverty and crowdedness that characterize the cities of third-world countries. People were everywhere: walking in the streets, begging and trying to sell numerous goods, and crammed into blue and white vans that served as taxis for the city. Upscale buildings stood next to tiny tin shacks, and rudimentary slabs of concrete under construction littered the landscape before us. The traffic was organized chaos, as cars, trucks, and vans would come and go with not a stop sign or traffic light in sight. We arrived at the Addis Guesthouse, across from a field where tents of cloth, towels, and mud sprung up from the ground. We met two of the local guys that would be assisting us this week, Girma and Wario, who dropped our luggage off in our rooms, and we soon departed for our first visit.

As our driver navigated through the Addis traffic, Mark explained to us that the neighborhood we would visit is mainly occupied by widows and their children, and that we would be giving them bags of coffee and sugar and mattresses, complete with sheets and a blanket. We arrived outside a community center and made our way in through a metal gate with barbed wire, a common scene in Addis. What happened next absolutely floored me.  As soon as the widows and children saw us, they welcomed us with such warmth and love, peppering us with hugs and kisses. The joy evident on their faces was contagious. After a few hugs, I could not help but beam with joy simply being in their presence.

We hastily made our way into the community center where everyone sat in a circle and each member of our team was introduced to much applause. The women sang worship songs with clapping and rejoicing, and even though none of our group could understand what was being sung, it was a pretty neat experience. Several women then proceeded to share their testimony of how their sponsorship through the program that Mark is in charge of has completely changed their lives by giving them food to eat and providing for their children's healthcare and education. In everything these women thanked God for what they had, and it struck a chord with me: I complain about my phone being slow sometimes, yet these women are so thankful for the very little they have. Such incredible conviction.

Afterward, we handed out bags of coffee and sugar to these women, who thanked us profusely for them. We also managed to give out mattresses and sheets to the women who needed replacements.  We then got to spend time with one another, meeting each other and playing with the kids. One woman, Tonga, pulled me aside and continued to thank the group and me for coming to visit them and eagerly introduced me to her daughter. She kept telling me how we were such a blessing to them and how grateful she was for the things we handed out. Although it felt good to provide for these people's physical needs, I was humbled by her gratitude and thankful to her for how loving and gracious the hearts of the widows are. I got the joy of hanging out with some of these kids and seeing their faces light up when Montana handed out some chocolate.  

Two of these children I will remember forever: Biniyam, a 13-year-old boy, and Doriba, his 10-year-old sister. We bonded immediately and Haley and I got to carry their mattress back to their house. It was fantastic seeing these children who had nearly nothing, yet were so joyful and free of burdens. Walking through the neighborhood, we saw some houses that were pretty decent for their standards, but as we got closer we saw things for what they were. In the garages and backyards of these people, we saw widows and children in makeshift homes. Once we reached Biniyam's home, he invited us inside and showed us around. The house was no bigger than my bedroom at the guesthouse, yet they kept saying how big it was and were so proud of their belongings. These people are so thankful for the very little they have, and I was yet again floored at their attitude; we may have comfort in America, but the joy that these people have is a treasure very much worth looking for and guarding with your life.

We returned to the community center from Biniyam's house for a lunch of fried egg sandwiches and sodas, then left to go deliver laptops to some of Mark's friends and pick up supplies for his children. The area we were in, as Wario noted, is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Addis, yet it was not exactly middle-class America. Even something as subtle as being in a nice area of Addis rocked me. It was continued evidence that comfort and possessions do not equal joy, and possibly the absence of comfort and possessions (or the absence of finding your value in these things) contributes to the joy that people have.

Once we dropped off the laptops, we left to go exchange our American dollars for Ethiopian birr and we stopped by the "Starbucks of Ethiopia:" Kaldi's Coffee. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my coffee and I'm a big fan of the local coffee shops we have in Lexington, but nothing has come close to what I had today. The coffee is so rich that it doesn't need any creamer, sugar or anything fancy. These Ethiopians know their coffee! After the coffee shop, we returned to the guesthouse to eat dinner and retire for the night, exhausted after a long yet rewarding day in Addis Ababa.


New arrival Flannigan learning on the fly

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Ryan Flannigan. (Photo via Blinn College) Ryan Flannigan. (Photo via Blinn College)
Even compared to his fellow newcomers in UK's record-setting 2014 recruiting class, junior-college transfer Ryan Flannigan is facing lofty expectations.

Playing linebacker -- one of the thinnest positions on the roster -- Flannigan is projected by many as an immediate contributor.

Flannigan isn't shying away from his potential importance -- he came to Kentucky in part because of the prospect of early playing time -- but he also knows he has a long way to go.

"I figured I was pretty important," Flannigan said on the first day of fall camp, "but I'm not important if I don't know what I'm doing."

On that front, Flannigan is playing catchup.

Twenty-six of his 27 fellow newcomers were on campus over the summer, but Flannigan only arrived this past weekend. He missed out on the time his teammates spent in the film room and Mark Stoops confirmed Flannigan is behind.

"I'm just trying to learn each positon at the linebacker position, take it day by day," the former Blinn College standout said. "I felt like today I did pretty good learning the new stuff. So, first day, it was great, I'd say."

Had it not been for all the work Flannigan logged this summer, he might have been singing a different tune. Flannigan, aware of what he was missing in UK's High Performance strength and conditioning program, put himself through a rigorous running routine.

"I didn't want to be out of breath and not conditioned well and stuff like that," Flannigan said. "I just really wanted to stay in shape because I knew there's a lot of running in the SEC and I knew I had to get my running right. So I just ran a lot. A lot a lot. And I lifted weights too."

When he wasn't training at his high school in Missouri City, Texas, you likely would have found Flannigan either eating or studying film defensive coordinator and linebackers coach D.J. Eliot sent him. Based on that independent film study, Eliot would then ask Flannigan questions over the phone.

"He quizzed me," Flannigan said. "I passed a couple of tests. But yeah, he quizzed me. Coach Eliot's been great. I'm happy to have him as a coach. He stuck with me all through the summer. He didn't just leave me out to dry. He made sure I knew everything I needed to know and he just said I need to execute my job."

On day one, Flannigan lined up at weakside linebacker. Early returns were positive.

"Did a good job," Eliot said. "He's very athletic, caught on quick. It's what he needed to do, so I was impressed with him on the first day."

Still, Flannigan has lots of work ahead. To get it done, he plans to call on the help of anyone who will answer.

"I'm asking linebackers, defensive line," Flannigan said. "I mean, (anything) I'm confused with I'm asking everybody I can, everybody I can get my hands on I'm asking questions because I know that's the only way to get better. They know the defense and I don't and I have to stick with somebody that knows it."

Though he'll use every resource available to him, Flannigan knows Eliot is his best bet.

"It's not going to be easy, but we will get it done," Flannigan said. "I will stay in Coach's pocket, I'll stay in his hip and we're going to get it done."

In late July, nine student-athletes - Bria Goss (women's basketball), Jared Phillips (track/cross country), Charlie Reymann (men's soccer), Montana Whittle (gymnastics), Danielle Fitzgerald (women's soccer), Katrina Keirns (swimming and diving), John Sutton (rifle), Kirsten Lewis (women's tennis), Haley Mills (women's golf) - participated in the second of two annual service trips to Ethiopia sponsored by UK Athletics. Over the next week, they will take turns sharing their experiences through a series of 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.

To start off, Bria Goss writes about the group's first day of travel and time in Washington, D.C.


By Bria Goss

This is the day we have all been waiting for. As excitement rises, so does nervousness. There are so many questions running through my mind as I make my final preparations for the trip. I am unsure what to expect when I get to Ethiopia, even though I have a pretty clear image.

The plan was to meet in the K Fund office to get lots of snacks from Coach Rock (Oliver) and double-check our bags to make sure we had everything. Today is Haley Mills' birthday so Katrina very generously gave her homemade brownies. Katrina and Haley had only met once or twice before that and Katrina already showed an act of kindness by giving her brownies. From that point on, I knew I had to make friends with Katrina to get some sweets on my birthday!!!

As 10:30 a.m. rolled around, it was time to load the bus and head to Cincinnati where we will depart for Washington, D.C.  I slept the whole ride to catch up on some much-needed rest. We arrived at the airport and check our bags. Everyone was so nice helping us along and pointing us to our next destination. We had a wonderful lunch in the airport and continued on our way. As we boarded the plane was when I first realized I was traveling to Ethiopia.


The plane ride was smooth and I slept the whole hour and a half. When we got to the Washington, D.C. Airport, we quickly grabbed our bags and headed to the hotel. After we dropped everything off in the rooms, we met in the lobby for our tour. Our tour guide, Zuma, was awesome. Not only did he make the tour interesting, he taught me a lot about D.C. Zuma took us everywhere: the Pentagon, Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Capitol, the White House and much more. He made the tour special and enjoyable.

After the tour was done, we went to dinner. This is where I really got the chance to talk with the other student-athletes. As the day went on, we became closer. After a great meal, we surprised Haley by telling the waiter it was her birthday. The staff of the restaurant came out singing happy birthday with a lot of energy. Haley was shocked! The look on her face was priceless.

After a night of many laughs, we loaded back up in our bus and headed for the hotel. We had a long day the next day so we wanted to get some rest. I am so excited to see what this trip has to offer. I am still so thankful for this amazing opportunity.



UK gets head start on first day of fall camp

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Alarms sounded early for the Kentucky football team - 5 a.m. ET in Bud Dupree's case - as UK opened fall camp with a 6 a.m. practice

While most other teams were still sleeping, the Wildcats were working without pads on the fields at the Nutter Training Facility.

"It was good to get out here," Mark Stoop said. "Good first day. I really liked the energy for an early morning practice. I thought we did a good job defensively, great communication, good competitive plays. Need to continue to clean up offensively like you'd suspect, a little rusty, but overall good first day."

A later end to summer classes is the reason behind the morning practices Monday through Thursday, but the Cats didn't let the early wakeup call affect them. In fact, they hardly remembered practice started well before sunrise by the time it ended.

"We did pretty good for it being so early," Bud Dupree said. "The hardest part was waking up and once we got up it felt like a real day. It feels late right now to me. ... Every guy was excited to be here and that's always great."

Not only were they excited, they were also prepared. With more than a year and a half of instruction from Stoops and his staff under their belts, the Cats have come a long way since last fall in terms of knowing schemes and assignments.

"It's way easier," Dupree said. "I know what they expect. I know what to do. I know the playbook inside and out. So my biggest key is staying healthy on the field and just better at the small things each day. I'm just trying to progress each day and be great for my team."

Two springs and a full season of practices obviously make a difference, but Stoops says the work his team did this summer can't be forgotten either.

"I think obviously year two helps a great amount just because (players) are just familiar with how we practice, and then also the work that we did through the summer, that the players did, and the film study that we did with them," Stoops said. "You could tell that we're further along."

The same is true from a physical perspective. Add the highest-rated recruiting class in school history to a group that has transformed in UK's High Performance program and you have a team beginning to resemble what Stoops envisioned when he took over.

"You know with the addition of the freshmen even -- you know how it is in the spring, you're always a little bit thin in the spring -- so seeing the whole crew here and the depth that we have, we're getting there," Stoops said. "Obviously, it's tough as you know, to count on too many young guys, but definitely they'll be here to give us some depth and help out."

Stoops mentioned defensive tackle Matt Elam as a potential early contributor. Dupree can see why.

"Just by looking at him, he will be a great bulldozer," Dupree said. "Anytime he's in, I think people will have to account for him. He's just gotta keep progressing each day and he'll be pretty good."

Elam was one of 26 newcomers on campus over the summer, using the time to work his way into shape. Junior college linebacker Ryan Flannigan - who arrived over the weekend - didn't have that luxury, but he wasted no time jumping in with his new teammates.

"Fun," Flannigan said, describing his first practice at UK. "I was happy to be back playing football, honestly. It was a great day for me, great day for the team, great practice. We got better today. Even though it was my first day, I feel like we got better today because we ran fast, we went to the ball. Everybody was running. The sideline was hyped when the first(-team) defense was out there."

UK's linebacking corps is thin, meaning Flannigan will be a boost if he's ready to play immediately, but it's still too early for Stoops to say which newcomers will play.

"Certainly after day one it's too hard to make that decision," Stoops said. "They're a good-looking group. They are, for the most part, very mature and handled themselves the right way. They've been doing a good job this summer. We'll see where it goes. It's hard to tell. I think there's certain positions where we need to use them."

Stoops on quarterbacks


Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot



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