AD Mitch Barnhart thinks Kentucky has ‘set the course for the future’
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart doesn't recall being this busy since his first year at the school in 2002.
Not to mention, so successful.
Kentucky sports programs achieved a school-best 11th-place in the Directors' Cup standings, a big step in the AD's goal of winning 15 championships by 2015. Helping reach that objective was the Wildcats' freshmen-led men's basketball team, which reached the NCAA tournament title game before losing 60-54 to Connecticut.
John Calipari will have something he has rarely had during his tenure as Kentucky coach. The Wildcats return six regulars from last year's NCAA runner-up squad.
"It's been pretty active," Barnhart said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Our staff has worked extremely hard and I'm appreciative of their efforts. ... The success of your sports teams are things that we've planned four, five, six years ago that we hoped would occur [and] have quickly occurred.
"Were we prepared for that? We'd like to think we had. The good news is I think we set the course for the future."
Kentucky's national standing was 14 spots higher than last year. The Wildcats also excelled in the classroom as every program surpassed the NCAA cut score in the Academic Progress Rate report and posted a record 3.218 grade-point average this spring, their fourth consecutive semester above 3.0 and best since 2002-03.
The department continued with facilities upgrades, as well. A $120 million renovation of Commonwealth Stadium is on schedule for completion by the 2015 season and plans are ongoing for a $40 million football training complex and new baseball stadium.
Barnhart hopes Kentucky programs build off the success.
Its highly touted men's basketball recruits nearly met the high expectations of winning a ninth NCAA title after stumbling into the tournament unranked. The young Wildcats (29-11) quickly matured and upset unbeaten Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin in order -- the latter two on clutch 3-pointers by Aaron Harrison in the final seconds.
"The month of March showed that if you have a group of young people that are talented like this group was, you can never count them out," Barnhart said of the men. "Clearly, they were a group that jelled at the right time and enjoyed playing with one another, especially at the end of the year, and had a real continuity about them. I think that bodes well -- just to not quit and to not give up, keep working."
Barnhart thinks that determination will eventually pay off in football as it tries to improve from a 2-10 finish in Mark Stoops' rookie year as coach. Stoops' staff has already established an impressive recruiting reputation by landing consecutive top-10 classes, and the AD expects progress even if the record doesn't show it.
"We want to win games and at the end of the day that's how people evaluate where we are," Barnhart said. "I want to be able to just maintain momentum and feel the progress. I feel like we're getting there."
Women's basketball reached the Sweet 16 in a season highlighted by a four-overtime victory against Baylor and a regular-season upset at rival Tennessee.
Spring sports provided more satisfaction as softball achieved a landmark finish, baseball reached the regional final and hurdler Kendra Harrison was an NCAA runner-up at 400 meters in leading 10 Wildcats All-Americans. In all sports, Barnhart credits coaches for a collective effort and support that has culminated in the top-15 performance he expected and believes will only improve.