Posts from Monday, Feb. 2
Mondays with Mitch
Posted at 5:45 p.m. ET – Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
We’ve got a special treat for you this evening. Starting today, we’ll have an exclusive interview with UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart every other Monday for our “Mondays with Mitch.” Every other Monday we’ll sit down with Barnhart to discuss the state of the athletic program and discuss the latest news in UK Athletics from the man who knows it best.
To kick off our bi-weekly Mondays with Mitch, we talked about a host of things, including the recently announced “15 by 15 by 15 plan.” The plan, an initiative to win 15 conference or national championships and rank among the top 15 athletic departments by 2015, was announced in early December. Today, we had a chance to dive into the specifics of the plan:
The Southeastern Conference Fall Academic Honor Roll was just released last week and it seems like UK is always No. 1 or right there in the top two or three. What’s the secret behind the success of UK’s student-athletes in the classroom?
“I think there are several things. I think our coaches continue to recruit young people that have a chance to be successful on the field, but just as importantly, have an opportunity to succeed in the classroom at a very high level. The combination of those two things usually leads you to outstanding teams. I think if you look at the most successful teams that you can have, it is a combination of talent and intelligence, so if you can combine those two things, you’re going to be successful in a lot of ways.
“They’ve recruited very well. We’ve also got a tremendous asset in our Center for Academic and Tutorial Services learning center. Our staff works very closely with the coaches to make sure that our young people our kept on track toward academic success and they do a great job with that. And you have to give all the credit to the athletes and the people who are able to balance their schedules with their classes and with all the traveling, practice sessions and everything, find ways to make sure that the discipline of academics is first and foremost.”
You mentioned the CATS learning center. Talk a little bit more about how instrumental that has been in the academic success of the student-athletes.
“This was one of the first places to ever have an academic learning center. We’ve got a lot of folks down there in terms of counselors and mentors and tutors that are committed to giving our athletes the best chance to succeed. We spend a significant amount of money to ensure that you have the greatest opportunity. I think that they have an awful lot of people down there who have committed an awful lot of hours to their success, to the athletes’ success, so it’s been a huge piece of it for sure.”
You announced the 15 by 15 by 15 plan nearly two months ago. Why did you choose 15 championships and why by the year 2015?
“If you track back over the last seven years that we’ve been here, we’ve won give or take depending on how you count it, we’ve won seven or eight what I call conference championships or tournament championships, in one way shape or form, and we’ve won them in some sports that nobody really thought we would – baseball, women’s tennis, men’s golf. If you go to the seven years prior to that, there were 15 championships that we had won in the previous time to our administration coming, and it took about seven and a half, eight or nine years, somewhere in that range. What we wanted to do was win 15 championships over the next seven years, which would double the pace at which we’ve won our last seven. The goal by 2015 was to have our program in total be a top-15 program in the country in the Director’s Cup. We are currently residing in the that 30 to 38 range for the last few years running and we want to move that up to where we’re a top-15 program in the country. If we can win 15 championships out of that, which would double the pace of which we’ve currently set and equal the number we’ve had in the 10 years prior to us coming, we would have established a new threshold of success for our program.
“On top of that we have the academic component, which would be to have all of our student-athletes function at a 3.0 level in terms of team GPA, every team be at a 3.0 level. We have been in the 2.97, 2.94 range – we actually had one at 2.98 one semester. We’ve never been able to quite get over 3.0 as a department, all 500 student-athletes. That’s what we want to do is be able to average those 500 student-athletes and be able to be at a 3.0 or better.”
As an athletic director and an athletic department, how do you help ensure that you achieve those 15 championships and win on the field?
“I think we have to do a couple of things. We have to ensure that we have the resources in place that allow us to compete in the most difficult league in America. Our league day in and day out is brutal competitively. We have to ensure that our coaches have the best opportunity to win within the framework of our budgets, facilities, personnel, the way we travel, the places we stay, the food that we eat, the strength and conditioning that we put in place – all those things are pieces of the puzzle that give us a chance to win in this league.
“No one is waiting on Kentucky to see if we can catch up. They’re all doing the same thing. They’re all trying to get better. There are some programs in our league that have significantly more money in their budgets than we do and there are some that don’t have quite as much. We’re sort of in the middle in terms of resources; we’re way behind in terms of facilities so we’ve got ground to make up there. We’re working really hard at that which leads us the conversations about the IMG/ISG proposals that went public. We just announced a Request for Proposal on that, which will come to conclusion in about 60 days about whether we’re going to be able to put something in place that puts anywhere between $350 to $500 million worth of facility infrastructure into our program. That is a very, very important piece for us.”
You mentioned the Request for Proposal regarding the feasibility study. Exactly where does UK stand in regards to the status of the study?
“It just went out last Friday so the respondents will have roughly two months to respond. At the end of March, early April will be the time we’ll pull that back and look at that and be able to come to some conclusion as to whether this project has a chance to move forward or not and has far-reaching implications for our program. It has pieces in there that have an opportunity to impact our basketball program from an arena perspective, it has an opportunity to impact our football program for a renovation of Commonwealth Stadium, to a new baseball stadium, which completely impacts three additional sports programs for us in a very large way. Those are all important pieces to us. It allows us to go from being very non-competitive in terms of facilities to very competitive very quickly.”
Let’s say you get the feasibility study back and there isn’t enough money to fund the building and renovation of all three facilities – is there a certain project that would get priority if you could only do one or two?
“That’ll be the question the study will answer – is it in total or is it in partial? We’ll have to look at that and see what that looks like. It is certainly important for us to look at each project individually if it can’t come back in total. The move of our baseball program impacts five total teams for us, so that is something that we would try to find some way to go ahead and move as quickly as we possibly could. We clearly want to do something to upgrade our track situation, to get our track updated – it is not where we want it to be right now – and we’ve got some more work we want to do on our indoor tennis facility. But the other two projects, when it comes to Commonwealth Stadium and the conversation about an arena, are both projects of very large stature and nature. That will take some refiguring and some rethinking before we would move ahead with either one of those projects without this being successful. We are hopeful. We are encouraged by the process about the way we think this is being handled and the opportunity for its success, but don’t have any idea at this juncture whether the numbers will work or not.”
Going back to just the sheer numbers of the plan, it seems like when you announced the plan, that it was targeted more at the entire athletic program and not just football or men’s basketball.
“I think that’s important. If you look at the number of championships our men’s basketball program has won over the years – we have 43 regular-season SEC titles. Clearly we’ve had a lot of success in basketball. We want to continue to get to that level of success and get back to Final Fours and win national championships. That’s important and we know that. We also want to make sure that we’re stressing that we want all of our sports to be competitive for championship efforts in a championship chase.
“Harry Mullins from our rifle team just won their championship on Saturday for the regular season title. Clearly he wants to go and win the tournament championship and go on to win an NCAA championship this year, so Harry, congratulations, you just won our first one of 15. It’s important because it matters to the athletes and the coaches that compete, and it matters to us. We’re going to build on that. Every sport is competitive. Everybody has got teams across the country working really hard at it. They just beat an incredibly talented West Virginia team for the championship. They will have to fight very hard to beat Alaska-Anchorage, who has won multiple national championships in rifle to do that. We congratulate Harry and his kids on the championship they won and we want them to continue to keep it up, but it’s important for all of our programs to have success.
“We line up 22 sports strong with over 500 student-athletes and there is not one young person that doesn’t dream of winning a championship, and we want to give each one of them a chance to do that. We know that football and basketball pay the bills for everybody else to go to school here and for us to be able to compete here – we know that part. But what is greatly important is that we honor their efforts with the best that we can do away from the game to give them a chance to enjoy their experience athletically and academically.”
The other part of the plan is to become a top-15 program. Talk about those rankings and what goes into becoming a top-15 program.
“It’s all based on national finishes. They look at the number of teams that are competing nationally in those sports. They assign a value to whether it’s tournament play or whether it’s an individually scored event – for instance track and field, swimming and diving, some of those – whether you go to a bowl game and win it or lose it is a factor, how far you progress in a tournament, whether it’s basketball or baseball or women’s basketball. And then out of that national finish, only NCAA national finishes, you’re assigned a point total from one to 100 and that’s where your points are accumulated.
“You can only compete in NCAA championship certified sports. There are certain sports they would call emerging sports that don’t necessarily have a national championship yet and those are not allowed to count. Then they total those points at the end of the year and everybody is ranked. Our league generally has 10 teams in top 40 to 45 in the country – that’s pretty much where our league lives. Our goal is to obviously be great in our league and if we can be great in our league, we have an opportunity to be great nationally too.”
Switching gears for the final question, I’m sure you’ve gotten a chance to speak with Jodie Meeks since his record-setting performance – what did you think of the historic night and what did you say to him?
“It’s one of those things. It was an incredible effort. There are not many times that you see something like that in your life, let alone have a young person playing for you that performs like that. What was remarkable is that he took 22 shots during the game, which means he wasn’t just launching things right and left just to be doing it. He was totally within the framework of the offense for our program. It was a special night for he and his family – a lot SportsCenter highlights, a lot of television coverage, a lot of newspaper coverage. Those are things he’ll remember the rest of his life, and that’s what this thing is all about. People forget that they’re young people – they’re 18 to 22 years old. He’ll take that away from Kentucky and never ever forget the night he broke the individual scoring record at the University of Kentucky.
“I told him I was proud of him, I was very happy for him. He battled through an awful lot of injuries last year and to get healthy and to come out and perform like he has done this year has been enjoyable to watch. I know he’s got a lot left in his career at Kentucky and I’m anxious to see where it goes from here and all the things he’s going to do because I’m sure it’s not the last storyline we’ll see from Jodie Meeks.”
Wildcats prepare for Mississippi State, Varnado
Posted at 12:45 p.m. ET - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
I just got done listening to UK Coach Billy Gillispie on the Southeastern Conference Coaches Teleconference. As expected, a good portion of the questions surrounded around Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado, who leads the nation with 98 blocks.
Varnado, who swatted 10 shots in the Bulldogs' win over UK last year, is averaging nearly five blocks per game. After what happened last year, I'm interested to see what Gillispie draws up to combat the nation's shot-blocking presence. As Gillispie said in the teleconference, anytime you start focusing too much on whether or not your shot is going to get blocked, it starts to take away from your game.
Does Gillispie go right at Varnado at Tuesday night and feed sophomore Patrick Patterson in the post? Keep in mind he's yet to foul out this year. Or does Gillispie go with a more guard-oriented offense and try play around the heart of the MSU defense?
On the upcoming game against Mississippi State ...
"It should be an interesting matchup. They're a really good team. Coach (Rick Stansbury) has done a great job of basically reinventing their team even after the season started. They're a hard team to guard and they do a great job of spreading you out. (Jarvis) Varnado is one of the most improved players from one year to the next that I've seen in a long time. He just continues to get better and he's a force down low, offensively and defensively. The way they're shooting the basketball presents a major challenge for anyone."
On the Wildcats' recent turnover problem ...
"We're constantly trying to improve. Some of the things I think that are the most important things are just basic fundamentals like squaring up to the basket, squaring up strong, making hard passes instead of soft passes, understanding what's going on before you receive the ball so that you can move the ball a little bit more quickly. I think most of our turnovers or a lot of turnovers have been of the careless nature. We just need to do a much better job of understanding how important possession of the basketball is."
On what his biggest concern is - matching up with Varnado or Mississippi State's four-guard lineup ...
"Both present major challenges for us. We don't play four-guard lineups very often. The y have very, very good athleticism and quickness in the perimeter. They're extremely athletic inside and Coach does a great job of spreading people out. We better guard those 3-point shots because they can really make them. I think definitely both benefit from playing with the other. I think the guards benefit from having Varnado in there, and I think that he has a great deal of room to operate because they're able to shoot the three and people can't just wait in the paint for him all the time. It's a very well thought up plan by their coach and they've executed it very well.
On how going against a shot-blocking presence like Varnado alters the game plan ...
"I think you have to be aware. I think that he has a great defensive presence. We block a lot of shots as a team but we don't have a guy that blocks as many he does though. I think when you have a guy like him that's gotten so much publicity for blocking shots - I think he blocked 10 shots against us last year - you definitely know where he is at all times. When you start knowing where someone is at all times, that probably takes away (from your game). You may hold onto it a little bit longer, you may change a shot or some of those kinds of things. I really do enjoy it when we block a lot of shots and I know it has to be a big part of their defensive package.
On how his guys are going to responding to the adversity of a two-game slide ...
"Just because you lose doesn't mean that you're having adversity. You don't want to lose anytime, but I wouldn't say that we are having adversity. What we didn't do well enough was we didn't guard and we didn't rebound, but adversity - I don't believe there is any adversity on the team right now. We had a few distractions earlier in the year, and I don't mind those kind of things because I think you work your way through them, but losing games and adversity are two different things in my opinion."
On what he has to do to tighten his defense back to where it was a couple of weeks ago ...
"I give credit to Ole Miss and South Carolina. They made a lot of really nice one-one-one plays and made a lot of good shots. Our biggest problem is we haven't been rebounding the basketball like we need to defensively. When you do get defensive stops in the league, you better get a defensive rebound. We can't continue to give teams more than one shot per possession, and we've been doing that here the past couple of games."
Posted at 10:10 a.m. ET - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
Here's your quick dose of what transpired this weekend in UK Athletics. Enjoy.