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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 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."

As Bryant, Randle's idol, mentioned soon after the Lakers' selection on Twitter, Randle goes from the school with the most tradition in college basketball to a professional franchise with comparable tradition.

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.

Succeed and Proceed indeed.

k fund big blue initiative.jpg 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.




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) 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."

For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

For his final entry, Foster writes about his last hours in Ethiopia and reflects on a trip he'll never forget.


Today was a very calm day, as it was our final day. The only thing on the schedule was to get a little more shopping done and we were all able to find exactly what we were looking for to take back to the States as souvenirs and gifts for friends and family. It was very fun but a little annoying having to negotiate the prices on everything, even for something as small as a plastic bracelet.

After another good lunch, we headed back for the guest house to pack up for our flight. I had packed most of my stuff with the idea that I was going to give it away, so about half of my clothes and food and other usable items went into a bag that I would then give to Mark to donate to Dejene or any other place that he felt needed the help. We also had a team debrief with among all of us discussing what we learned and how the reality of situations differed from our expectations. Mark also handed out a packet of papers for us to look over including ways to sponsor a child, which I filled out to sponsor my man, Dejene. It was a very quick debrief, as we were all so tired and ready to get packed up to get to the airport.

We packed our luggage onto the bus and set out for the airport. Once we arrived, which was around 6:30 p.m. Ethiopian time, saying our goodbyes to our new friends thousands of miles away home was difficult, but it was reassuring knowing we could stay in contact through Facebook. After checking our luggage, heading up to our gate and going through security, it was time to board.

I am now writing this on the plane forcing myself to stay awake as it is around 10:45 p.m. We took off about 30 minutes ago, and I am hoping for a smooth trip to Rome, then D.C., and then to Cincinnati, which is where we will be picked up by a University of Kentucky van to bring us back to the football facility.

This was an unbelievable experience that I will never forget. Seeing the poverty and desperation firsthand is tough to take in, but that is the reality that the people we met live in each and every day. The toughest part about it is the fact that most of the poverty is due to the corruption of the government, and these people are unfortunately just born into this situation. I especially feel for the children, as they didn't have a choice as to where they would be born, and many of them become orphans by the time they are 12 or 13 and are forced to live on the streets. I've learned to appreciate absolutely everything I have been blessed with in my life, even the little things as little as running water and a toilet or even a mattress to sleep on, let alone a clean pair of sheets or clothes.


I am so thankful for the opportunity to see this country and meet the people I was able to meet, as it has forever changed my life and understanding the true difficulties life can bring -- not just a shanked punt or a B in the classroom. Ethiopians fight for survival, literally, as they spend a majority of their day searching for food to provide enough nourishment so they can survive. It's difficult to be able to just write or type my reflection of the trip as there was so much to take in, but the only way that truly describes it is this: Their situation shows true desperation, while we are the most blessed nation on this Earth.


For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

Today, Foster writes about a morning spent with a local youth soccer team on the Wildcats' last full day in Ethiopia.


Today was another very enjoyable day, as we were able to spend much more time with teenagers closer to our age. After breakfast, we traveled to a local private school. We were greeted by a teenage soccer team sporting blue Nike dri-fit tee shirts with white letters spelling out "Kentucky" on the front and their numbers on the back. The soccer team was there because Jason sponsors one of the players on the team, Natnael, and he invited his whole team to spend time with us.

The first part of the day was introducing ourselves to the soccer team and getting to know them. We ventured over to a shady area on school property where we could all sit down. After sitting down, the man in charge of the school talked to us and explained the whole mission of the school, as well as how many children are parts of the institution and how many are sponsored vs. those who are still looking for a sponsor.

While sitting down with the kids, they brought out the three most recent trophies the team has won, all won within the past year or so. Also, several women came out and made coffee, which is a ritual in Ethiopia. The other women then followed suit and offered up popcorn and roasted grain, which are also both commonly served during the daily coffee-drinking ceremonies.

During that time, we also sat with the team and enjoyed each other's company. A conversation about soccer sprung up and of course I jumped right in asking each of their favorite teams and players. Most of the kids were wearing pants affiliating themselves with some European soccer club. There, I was told that I looked like both Gareth Bale and David Beckham. I wish people back in the States believed I looked like David Beckham, too. Other than those conversations, we joked around and got to know each other, but the center of the conversation was always soccer.
 
After introductions, we headed across the parking lot, grabbed a few soccer balls from our parked bus and continued down a hill past the school and to the soccer field. Again, this soccer field was all dirt and rocks with wooden posts outlining the goals, although this one was a bit bigger. We started by juggling, then moved on to a more organized set of drills, which brought very vivid memories of my travel soccer days to mind. After a few of the passing drills, we got our teams ready, and we added their team coach to our roster (very much needed).

This team was very good and very well organized. We went down 3-1 but came back and tied it 3-3 with only 2 minutes or so left in the game. We then played a golden-goal overtime session, and we scored a few minutes in and got the victory which brought our Ethiopian soccer tour record to 3-1 - not too shabby for some American football players...and three Ethiopian footballers. It really was an enjoyable and entertaining game and it created that much more respect between us all.

After the game, we were all very hungry. Conveniently, we had a pizza party planned for lunch. The pizza was the best pizza that we had in Ethiopia: a meat lover's pizza topped with pepperoni, sausage and chicken. After passing out pizza to the team and savoring some ourselves, we thanked the team for giving us their time and hoped and prayed for their well-being in the future. A surprise gift was in store for Jason, as the ultra-shy teenager that he sponsors spoke in front of the entire group on behalf of his team thanking us for everything. It truly was a special moment.

Once we finished lunch, we headed out to a small zoo to see some Ethiopian lions. I've been told that you ultimately have to face your fears to get over them, so this was the time to truly get over my lifelong fear of Scar from "The Lion King." Ethiopian Lions are the only type of lions that have the dark brownish/black manes, which is their main distinguishing characteristic. It was amazing getting to see those huge animals in person, as well some monkeys and very unique deer, including two small baby deer.

After the zoo, we headed out to do some shopping and concluded the day by eating dinner. We then were dropped off at a guest house where Brett Johnson is staying. We started off by playing Ping-Pong, but the burning desire for some Wi-Fi access left Bud, Braylon and myself stranded on the steps of the stairs, as it seemed to be the only definite hot spot. After spending a little over an hour at that house, we started walking back towards a main road, and along the way Braylon screamed like a little girl (typical SEC running back style) after seeing a two-inch wide frog leap across his feet on the group. Even after that terrifying moment, we eventually reached the main road and successfully caught a taxi back to our own guest house.
 
For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

Today, Foster writes about meeting a husband and wife who are changing lives.


Our day began with the arrival of our fellow UK athletes from the swimming and diving team, Maclin Simpson and Lindsay Hill. They got right into the action and hopped on the bus as we set off to visit Abraham and his wife, Salem. Abraham visits UK every January and is very close to Coach Rock Oliver, and his wife runs an organization that makes and sells handmade items such as hats, baskets, jewelry, scarves and tablecloths. They hire most of their employees from the poorest area in Ethiopia, the city that we visited on Friday.

Not only do these people have exceptional talents of making these items, but Abraham and Salem are also helping provide them with work and fair pay. They, being Abraham and Salem, are helping fight poverty and strengthen Ethiopia's economy by creating work for the people who live off of food from the trash dump. Abraham also explained to us that in Ethiopia, men do most of the fabric making.

The products that were made at Salem's business were beautiful enough to receive interest from major American companies. However, they couldn't fulfill the orders due to the substantial quantity ordered as each piece takes a significant amount of time to make. After coffee and tea with Abraham and his wife and a little bit of shopping, Abraham took us to learn firsthand about community initiatives that the business financially supports.

The first was a library. The library was more than just a library, though, as we arrived there right around lunchtime and saw many students filing in to be served lunch. Abraham said that they provide free lunch to any student who can't afford it, so they don't have to continue the rest of the school day being hungry and wondering where their next meal will come. He estimated that 70-80 kids use the library each day.

Not only does the program provide lunch, but it also provides books, computer use and standardized test prep and practice books. Abraham was ecstatic and pleasantly surprised to learn that both Kaleab and Girma, two of our translating friends, had used this program as recently as a few months ago. That just reiterated the importance of the program and how the children really do use and benefit from it.

After leaving the library, we headed to lunch at this pizza place where Bud continued his trend of getting his food last, this time because when he ordered a pizza he told the waitress everything he did NOT want on the pizza, but she thought he said that's what he wanted on the pizza, so they had to make him another one. Also, while at the restaurant we ran into a couple from Louisville, Ky. ... what a small world. After leaving the restaurant, we headed to the Hope Center.

This center was managed by a man by the name of Jeremiah, who is the house dad. He is in charge of "recruiting" kids off of the street by telling them his story and showing them they can change their lives. He then takes them off of the street and into this house, and all Jeremiah and Abraham ask of them is to be open-minded to the change in lifestyle.

Today, all 25-30 of us gathered to introduce ourselves. After each of the old and new teenage members of the house introduced themselves, there was one common denominator: Jeremiah was a wonderful house dad who truly had changed their lives for the better. Jeremiah finished the introductions by telling his touching and emotional story that has many similarities to stories of college and professional football players here in America. He abused alcohol and drugs trying to fulfill himself, but then was ultimately healed by family members and his faith. He provided such detail in the story that made it easy to picture yourself in his situation and completely understand the circumstances he went through.

It was very special to see someone do a 180-degree change in lifestyle and not just stop there, but wanting to provide other kids going through similar situations a way out if they allow him a way in to their lives. Once the seriousness of the life stories concluded, we all wanted to lighten the mood by going outside and kick and throw the Ethiopian and American footballs. As it has been this entire trip, it was so enjoyable trying to teach them how to throw this foreign oblong object.

After throwing the football for a while, I wanted to join them in what they are much more familiar with, as am I: kicking a soccer ball. We had a blast showing each other the moves we know and juggling in a circle, and I even ended the day being compared to Liverpool's Luis Suarez (I don't see it). It was such a wonderful day being able to see how Abraham and his wife's vision has had and continues to have such a powerful and positive effect on kids of all ages.

The lowlight and highlight of the night happened on the way to dinner to Bud and Braylon, respectively. The lowlight was when Bud, once again, was the victim of an attempted pick-pocketing crime. I don't know why in the world they would choose a 6-foot-4, 275-pound man who tackles guys for a living to steal from, but luckily Bud caught them in the act and pushed them away.

The highlight was when Braylon made eye contact with a local Ethiopian who ended up following us all of the way to cupcake and sat down by herself right next to our table and would not take her eyes off of Braylon. It was the topic of conversation at our end of the table for the first 15 minutes of dinner until we realized Braylon wouldn't go sit with her no matter how much we pestered him.

We ended the day having dinner at a restaurant called Cupcake, which to my surprise, had much more than just cupcakes. I had an awesome chicken pesto Panini, with Jason copying my order. And of course, Jason also stole the last piece of red velvet cake they had left, but it's OK...he was just looking after my body composition for Coach Korem.


Matthew Mitchell has pledged $1 million in donations over the next 10 years to UK Athletics. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Matthew Mitchell has pledged $1 million in donations over the next 10 years to UK Athletics. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
In the life of a head coach, 10 years is a long time. Given the competitiveness of college sports, moving is all but a guarantee over the course of a decade.

But on Friday, Matthew Mitchell made a long-term commitment to UK Athletics. Pledging $1 million in donations over the next 10 years to the athletics department with his wife Jenna, Mitchell is showing that UK is more than his place of work.

"The problem we have here at UK now is that even if they ask me to leave coaching, I've become such a big fan then I'll just be at all the games for everybody else," Mitchell said. "Then I'll start calling in on all the call-in shows and really get riled up. It'll probably be better for them that they keep me on for a while because we're not going anywhere."

Jokes about his future aside, it's highly unlikely UK will want Mitchell going anywhere. His seven-year tenure has brought with it unprecedented success for UK Hoops even though Mitchell says it started with Mitch Barnhart taking a chance.

"I wasn't the biggest name that Mr. Barnhart could have hired and so some people would call that good luck or good fortune," Mitchell said. "I call that a blessing. I call that a blessing from God. That's the only way I know how to make sense of it. God's really provided some unbelievable opportunities for me in my life. And for Jenna and me, we have found a home here in Lexington and so we would love to be a big part of this community and do our part in this community and try to help this community move forward."

Mitchell has already shown his commitment to the Lexington community on multiple occasions, but this donation -- the largest ever by a UK Athletics employee to the athletics department -- is the clearest proof yet.

"Matthew has said to me on multiple occasions how much UK and the city of Lexington mean to him and how it's the perfect spot for his wife, Jenna, and his children," Barnhart said in a release. "His ability to grow our women's basketball program into one of the top programs in the country has given him a platform to impact others in a variety of ways. One of those ways is with a philanthropic heart in many areas of our community. He and Jenna wanted to show their appreciation to other sports programs in our athletic department by supporting our capital growth. This gift will allow us to support and grow the things we are trying to do in our football program, which at the end of the day gives support to all of our student-athletes and teams at Kentucky."

Mitchell's gift, spread out in $100,000 over each of the next 10 years, will be used to help fund a variety of capital projects, including football facility upgrades. Mitchell knows those upgrades help not only Mark Stoops' program.

"People need to understand football really makes so many things happen for the rest of us in this department," Mitchell said. "We need football to be thriving and healthy at Kentucky and with Mark Stoops as our head coach I don't have any doubt that that is going to happen."

A $100-plus million renovation of Commonwealth Stadium is already in progress and another $45 million in funding for a new football practice facility was approved in January.

"The incredible renovation at Commonwealth is just really going to put our football program, I think, at the forefront of the country," Mitchell said. "It's going to be a great experience at Commonwealth Stadium in the years to come. We're excited to be a part of that and help that out if we can."

The donation will surely be helpful and appreciated, but it was solely borne out of the Mitchells wanting to make yet another positive impact on the place they've come to call home.

"It's an individual decision because of how good God has been to us," Mitchell said. "No one has pressured us to do this or asked us to do this. This is just what we want to do because of the blessings we've received and it's no more complicated than that. We just love this university. We love the people."

The feeling is mutual.

"I want people to know and understand what special, special people Matthew and Jenna are to this community," Barnhart said. "I'm very thankful for their generosity, team approach and long-term vision to this athletics department and this university."

For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

Next, Foster writes about a day spent relaxing and taking in a soccer game.


Today was scheduled as a much-needed relaxing day. After three consecutive long and tiring days, we finally had a chance to some rest to a second wind for the second half of the trip coming up.

We were able to sleep in a little bit, and then we met downstairs around 8:30 to head to a relatively nice gym named Bole Rock. As we walked to the gym, we were consistently pestered and followed by locals anywhere from the age of 3 to around 50 or 60 begging for money. Once we got to the gym, the begging ended but the attention didn't. We all are much, much bigger than the typical Ethiopian, so once we got upstairs to the gym area, which couldn't be more than 1,500 or 2,000 square feet, all eyes were on us - for Bud and Braylon being so built and me being an obvious foreigner. The workout went very well, but it was hard finding enough plates for Bud and Braylon. Once we did, every time one of us went to lift, all six local in the gym stopped to watch. After our workout, we started our 15-minute trek back to the guest house, and upon our arrival, we had our typical breakfast -- French toast and eggs -- with Bud getting a double order of course. We took a quick shower and we were ready for an optional 11:15 church service.

We arrived a little early, around 11. The worship songs started around between 11:15 and 11:30 and lasted for at least an hour. It was as if it was a game to see who could stand up the entire first hour of the worship. Most people lasted for the first 30 minutes of the music, but after that people started dropping out like flies and sitting down. After the worship singing, a group of missionaries from a Chicago church performed an awesome five-minute dance on stage.

Then, the preaching finally started, after what was the typical length of an entire service here (90 minutes or so). The service was very entertaining, however. The preaching was led by an Amharic-speaking pastor of another church and translated by the English-speaking pastor of the Beza church. It was a wonderful service talking about knowing your true inner self and used the metaphor of our body and flesh being a clay pot. It was an atypical church service for most, if not all, of us, but the consensus was that it spoke a great message, with a fun, upbeat preaching style and translation with a bit long of a worship singing segment.

We then headed to lunch, where Bud and Braylon ordered an entire chicken. I stuck with just half of a chicken. After lunch, we stopped back by our guest house, changed and then we were ready for the soccer game in the afternoon afternoon between the women's national teams from Ghana and Ethiopia. We all went in going to cheer for Ethiopia, except for Gabe, since his parents are from Ghana. Gabe got lucky and felt even more at home after realizing we were sitting in the Ghana section, so he felt that much more comfortable cheering for Ghana after each of their two goals in the 2-0 victory. The most shocking thing to me was the fact that the ambassadors, the most respected and important people, sat literally one row in front of us. We all had plenty of fun during the game and took lots pictures after the game -- even one with the referee crew. After the game, we headed back to the guest house for dinner and put an end to this relaxing day.

In the two months since the launch of BBN First, we've been listening. Now it's time to begin turning all that feedback into action.

A few common themes have already emerged as we've sorted through your suggestions, but there's one that sticks out to me as something that we need to address immediately: rewarding loyalty.

There isn't a fan base in the world more loyal than the Big Blue Nation. Today, we begin an ongoing effort to recognize and reward that.

As a first step, we are announcing a K Fund priority point bonus for football season ticket holders who have been with us for three or more consecutive years, including 2014. The bonus will start at 15 points for those who have purchased season tickets since the 2012 season and go all the way up to 75 points for fans who have purchased season tickets since the 2000 season or earlier according to the following scale.

Last 15+ years - 75 points
Last 14 years - 70 points
Last 13 years - 65 points
Last 12 years - 60 points
Last 11 years - 55 points
Last 10 years - 50 points
Last 9 years - 45 points
Last 8 years - 40 points
Last 7 years - 35 points
Last 6 years - 30 points
Last 5 years - 25 points
Last 4 years - 20 points
Last 3 years - 15 points

As you know, K Fund priority points are very important right now because the order in which fans select their seats for 2015 in The New CWS will be based on K Fund priority ranking as of June 30, 2014. Our Fan Experience Committee designed this reward as a way to show fans who have stayed with us how much they matter. In total, more than 8,000 accounts will receive point bonuses in their K Fund accounts by the end of the month.

We believe this is a meaningful reward, but it's only a start in recognizing fan loyalty across all 22 of our sports. This summer we are going to work through the details of what a new loyalty rewards program will look like.

That's where you come in.

We have some exciting thoughts about what this program can become, but we need your help. What does loyalty mean to you? What kind of rewards would you like to see? What do you think the program should be called? Send in your suggestions using the contact form on UKathletics.com/BBNfirst or by emailing BBNfirst@uky.edu.

This season has been a fun ride. We're on pace for our best finish ever in the national all-sports standings and we know it would not have been possible without the Big Blue Nation. We want to make sure we show that in everything we do.

'Til the Battle Is Won,
Mitch Barnhart

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