Maybe you didn't notice it, sandwiched between a disappointing men's basketball season and a summer of waiting for the next one to start, but there it was.
The men's golf team was ranked in the top 25.
Truth be told, I am confident you didn't see it, and that's OK. There's a lot of stuff going on with the UK athletic department you haven't noticed, and nearly all of it is top notch.
A few years ago, Kentucky brought in a young, aggressive AD from Oregon State named Mitch Barnhardt. He's known to most UK followers as the guy who hired Rich Brooks to coach the football team.
But he shouldn't be.
He should, instead, be known as the guy who has transformed the Kentucky athletic department into among the nation's best all-around success stories, and it's only just begun.
There are many Barnhardt moves that are paying dividends, and while only a few are high-profile enough to get noticed, all of them prove him to be the right choice. Forget Brooks for now, because he stepped into a pile of doo doo left for him by other coaches. He has done a mediocre job in a crummy position, and this season will most likely prove to be the beginning or end of the Brooks tenure, honestly.
Because the UK AD's focus has not been myopic on the big money sports, and that's where he's done the best job. These smaller payoff programs actually provide a better service to the University than the nearly detached men's hoops team, who reside in their own dorms and play to an audience as full of non-UK grads and boosters as they do to one of alumni and current students.
[At right, Taryn Ignacio, UK's first NCAA champ in diving]
The same cannot be said for the men's soccer team, who have grown from a club sport to ranking No. 21 this season in attendance in the entire NCAA. Ditto the women's swimming & diving teams, who placed 13th at the NCAAs this season.
But it's not just happening behind the scenes either. A few Barnhardt hires have made bigger splashes and show even brighter futures.
The baseball Cats are ranked in the top 5 in the country, and won the SEC East on the way to what will probably be the best regular season in school history. Credit coach John Cohen, hired away from Florida a few years ago by Mitch Barnhardt.
The women's basketball team, plagued by mediocrity under former coach Bernadette Mattox, reached the NCAA's second round and upset mighty Tennessee this season. More importantly, they had a second straight top 10 recruiting class, stocking the bench with the kind of top in-state talent that has helped turn neighbors Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Western Kentucky and Purdue into powerhouses in recent years. Credit coach Mickie Demoss, hired by Mitch Barnhardt from the UT staff a few years ago.
The list goes on and on. Kentucky ranked 41st this season in the Sears Director's Cup standings, but this was a down year for its two big programs (football, basketball). And it takes time for the results on the field to show true cumulative success.
While one could argue the merits of focusing on things other than the bread-and-butter money sports, it's hard to see why you can't focus on winning at both.
Kentucky has always been traditionally a "basketball" school, and while that hopefully will always be the case, it's nice to see that the Athletic Director isn't hung up on that fact. Recent years have seen the cheerleaders winning multiple national titles, and the baseball team is on the verge. With continued improvements by the Lady Cats on the hoops court and the individual sports (tennis, golf, rifle, etc.), one can only imagine that in a few years -- provided the football team makes some improvements and the men's cagers get their act together again -- Kentucky may indeed be able to point to the Director's Cup as a realistic goal.
But for now, let's just remember that there's more going on than Tubby Smith's contract situation or Rich Brooks' status as football head coach. There are all-americans in diving, tennis and soccer, and NCAA-ranked teams in swimming, golf and baseball. This is the part of the AD's job that gets overlooked at a basketball school, and it's time for UK fans to open their eyes to the job being done but that once young, brash, unknown Athletic Director they once knew.
He, and his department, are growing up before our very eyes.