Where does UK Athletics stand right now? What moves are coming? Where are we trying to be?
It would seem that recent events warrant a refresher on what is really going on at UK. Not just roundball, but athletics in general. Since everyone wants to see UK's continued success in all things Wildcat, I felt as though an update, a "State of The Blue" address might be in order. And away we go...
First and foremost, let us dispense with the rampant hyperbole surrounding our basketball program. UK Basketball is at it's strongest point in decades. Fresh off a National Championship, with a #1 recruiting class coming that may get even better, a top-flight head coach, and a staff that is second to none, we are not only stable, we are flush. Our current concerns not withstanding, this is only a bump in the road that many people knew could happen in the first place. Yes, the wolves are at the door, however, the door is made of titanium and reinforced with steel. Let them huff and puff.
UK Football is now moving in the right direction, thanks to some incredible recruiting moves by Coach Stoops and his staff. What it takes some people a year to do, they accomplished in 60 days. Along the way, they made a ton of people very happy. got the Kentucky Legislature so excited they decided to get in on the act, and have raised expectations higher than they have been in quite some time about the future of the program. We will have to be patient and wait for the team to actually take the field to see the results of this in the W-L record, however, that will come in time.
Kentucky Women's Basketball is in the best shape of it's entire existence. Coming off an Elite Eight appearance, an SEC Championship, an undefeated SEC regular season, the SEC Player Of The Year on it's roster who is also a Naismith finalist, 7 McDonalds All Americans and holders of a 23-3 record, UK Hoops is not just good, they are VERY good. They still have a #1 seed within their grasp, should they be able to win out the season, however that is still to come. Can a national championship be far behind?
Kentucky Baseball is ranked #8 in the country, and they have started the season 3-0. They boast the Preseason SEC Player of the year in outfielder Austin Cousino, have power like never before in their line-up and pitching for days. They have Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart working diligently to get the a new home as well, as they have started to outgrow Cliff Hagan Stadium, which was built only 11 years ago. It's seating capacity of only 3000 however, is no longer viable for the crowds that UK draws. Another program on the move.
UK Women's Softball is now also nationally ranked, as they start this week at #20/21. They are 8-3 and their schedule this season at this point includes the #1, 5, 7, 10, 14, and 18 ranked teams. The SEC is full of top quality softball teams. Kentucky will be playing the best of the best all season. Rachel Lawson is in her sixth season as the head coach of the Kentucky softball program after being tabbed to the post in July 2007. They are coming off of their fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 2012. Lawson has formulated a winning tradition in Lexington. She has directed the Wildcats to 27 or more victories in four straight seasons, which is also a program record. In her five years with Kentucky, Lawson has earned 58 Southeastern Conference wins, which is more than any other coach in program history and only six wins shy of UK's all-time SEC win total when she took over the position.
Care for more? Kentucky Rifle- #3 in the nation, Gymnastics ranked #17, Tennis #7. Are we starting to see a pattern here?
Since Mitch Barnhart took over as Athletic Director, the entire focus of Kentucky Athletics has changed. A balance has been struck across the board. Huge funding efforts are underway for facilities, the athletic department is increasing it's commitment to education with more funding, and the University of Kentucky itself is now more committed than ever to making all athletics programs successful, revenue-generating or not.
The facilities are being looked at from every angle. The Commonwealth renovation project is now in the process of being funded, while what updates can be done without using those funds are underway. The Downtown Renovation Committee is formulating the plans for Rupp Arena and it's overhaul as we speak, and it would not surprise me at all to learn that the UK women will be moving into Rupp for their games at some point in the near future. Since facilities became a focal point for Kentucky, the powers that be are making the right moves.
The personnel have never been better across the board than now. We have championship winning coaches in almost every sport. Kentucky Athletics has never been in a better place than it is right now. I cannot imagine things being much brighter, however, if some dominos fall in the right direction over the next couple of years, it may get much brighter indeed. Several of the UK sports are within sight of becoming NCAA Champions in their own right. If UK can start hanging NCAA Championship banners in multiple sports, it would be unprecedented for the school. The future looks quite bright indeed.