Master, a business major at UK, fell in love with the Big Blue and stayed in Lexington where he works as a financial manager after the career path was suggested to him by his late teammate Bret Bearup. Master appreciated what Kentucky did for him athletically and academically and about 1 1/2 years ago met with UK athletics director to discuss making a donation to the university.
“I manage money and knew some day if I was in a fortunate position I wanted to give back to the university. Mitch is a Christian. I am a Christian. I respect Mitch Barnhart and if UK had another AD I would not have had that meeting,” Master said. “As I get older I am very proud to be a very small part of Kentucky basketball history.
“I also graduated from the University of Kentucky with a business degree. My brother got his MBA at Kentucky. I am all about helping kids and Mitch convinced me these athletes are kids. I am part of the UK tradition and a big fan of Mitch. My son, Leo, is 14 and he didn’t care anything about basketball but is now addicted to basketball because of this team.”
Master and his wife have donated $1 million to the university with half designated for the business school and half to athletics.
“I’ve had good fortune and this was the right time to do this,” Master, who played in the 1984 Final Four, said. “Mitch said a lot of good things when we first met and my wife and I thought about this for over a year and things got even better for us. We know there are other causes that could use the money but Mitch helped convince us this was also a good move to make.”
Master said he trusted Barnhart to use the donation for what he thinks is needed the most — “None of this is for NIL,” Master said — by the athletics department.
“I am a basketball player and that might be the thing I feel the most passionate about but if there is any connection to education that would be my wish (for the money). I trust Mitch, so I am okay with what he thinks is the best use for the money,” Master said.
One of Master’s former teammates, Kenny Walker, was overwhelmed when he heard the news about Master’s donation at the 1984 Final Four reunion.
“When a teammate does something like that, it lifts us all up and kind of carries Joe B. Hall’s message to always give back and never forget the people who made you who you are,” Walker said. “A lot of guys in my era did not go to the NBA but Kentucky fans still appreciated them and many doors were open for them to do what they wanted to do in life. UK provided a great platform to be on while we played and it is just great to see Jim give back because he felt blessed. That meant a lot to all of us.”
Master and his 1984 Final Four teammates were honored by UK at the Georgia game. Master called it a “first-class reunion” for a team that won three SEC championships, finished second in the SEC once, reached the Elite Eight twice and lost to Georgetown in the 1984 Final Four.
“You get fixated on what you do for a living as you get older and don’t watch as much basketball but my son knows all the current players,” Master said “I didn’t want to go to the reunion at first but it was fabulous. I enjoyed getting to see most of my ex-teammates. Some didn’t make it and some unfortunately are dead because we are all on this earth only for so long. But we all had a blast.
“My son ate it up. My wife is from Cincinnati and really had no idea what we had been through or done but she enjoyed it too. We all shared stories. We remembered the good and bad. Some people may not realize the sacrifice and unbelievable practice time and the stress of being at a big-time program. I would go to school and then guard Dirk (Minniefield) and Dicky (Beal) at practice. It’s way more stressful than people think.”
The most stress might have been in the 1984 Final Four in his last game when UK went 3-for-33 from the field to lose to Georgetown after building a 12-point first-half lead.
“I sat beside Dicky and he kept saying, and I try not to think about it, that we were the best team that year and just had an awful game. But it is what it is. I think it’s correct that we were the best and a lot of people think what a great team we had but we didn’t win,” Master said. “But I still had a great career.”
Jon Sundvold, former University of Missouri All-American and nine-year NBA veteran, has been a men’s college basketball analyst since 1994 and he likes a lot he has seen from coach John Calipari’s team this season.
“Maybe rebounding at times is an issue because they do not have a lot of girth and they could have a hard time against veteran guards who can turn the corner,” Sundvold said. “But what’s great about this team is that it is so unselfish. The mixture of young and old players who are stable pieces is terrific.
“Night in, night out you cannot be sure what you might get from an 18 year old but players 22 and 23 (Tre Mitchell, Antonio Reeves) can carry you through the bumps.”
Sundvold correctly predicted the SEC would challenge Kentucky to get the Cats ready for the NCAA Tournament and that proved to be accurate when the Cats lost at South Carolina.
“They will be challenged to see if they can handle some things on the road like the game at South Carolina,” Sundvold said. “But they have got a team that is exciting. It is almost old-fashioned the way they pass the basketball. They are a difficult team to zone because of their movement and the number of guys that can rise up and shoot with great depth.”
Sundvold said it seems like every week Kentucky is getting better in a different way.
“The ball does not get stuck with them,” Sundvold said. “They are scary good offensively. They have some defensive lapses at times but they can make passes and make shots. They are unselfish and if they are in an up and down game they are deadly. They have guys who can handle it and are great foul shooters. A backcourt who can do that and not turn it over is going to seal games at the end in big games.”
However, South Carolina did show the blueprint to beat Kentucky. Another SEC analyst, Dane Bradshaw, believes UK has a “Final Four offense but round of 32 defense” currently.
“On offense if you take good shots that gives you the ability to get back against Kentucky and get your defense set even if you miss the shot,” SEC analyst Pat Bradley said. “Playing a slower half-court offense slowed Kentucky down and Kentucky has to learn how to handle that.”
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Sophomore All-American defensive lineman Deone Walker believes UK’s defensive front will be even better during the 2024 season.
“Our defensive line is the most experienced group on the UK team. We want to keep our wheels turning from last year,” Walker said. “We had a great season and got it going. We got the run stop defense but we really want to get after the quarterback more.
“It is not just me no more. There are a lot of guys we have who can make plays. I can’t get double teamed all the time or somebody else is going to hurt you. It’s pick your poison on how to block us.”
Walker still had 48 quarterback hurries in 2023, the most of any defensive tackle in the nation.
Walker credits defensive line coach Anwar Stewart not only for his play but also the entire unit’s play.
“He stays on you no matter what. He knows where I came from and doesn’t want me sliding back,” Walker said. “He has connections with every defensive lineman on our team and that is one reason I really like him.”
Walker also said there was never a chance he was going to transfer despite the likely huge NIL dollars he could have received from many other schools.
“I am good here. Coach Stew is the coach who knows what I need to do. I love coach (Brad) White. I trust them to play me in the best position to succeed.”
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Lyon County star Travis Perry reached the 5,000-point mark in his career last week at the Kentucky All “A” Classic but he has still found plenty of time to watch his future team at Kentucky.
“They are playing a fun brand of basketball,” Perry said. “They have guys to do it all and they have a good mindset on the court. You can’t worry about a miss or turnover and just have to know you will make the next one. That’s the way you have to think when you are playing a style like they are.
“It has really been neat watching them play. They are playing free and having a lot of fun. They are playing together. They kind of play the same way we do (at Lyon County). They don’t care who gets the recognition or scores. They just want to win and do what it takes to win. That’s a fun way to play.”
Like UK fans, Perry loved what Zvonimir Ivisic did in his first game after being declared eligible.
“I was definitely tuned in and was watching his first game. It was pretty incredible,” Perry said. “I was actually sitting in the car watching and it got really loud just when he went to check in. Then he went 4-for-4 in his first game in an atmosphere like there was at Rupp Arena.”
Perry has also enjoyed watching freshman Reed Sheppard, his friend who he competed against in high school. Sheppard had 14 points in the second half of UK's win at Arkansas.
“He has had a lot of success but he just does what it takes to win. He can go out and get 20 or 25 points or get nine on three shots and add seven or eight assists and three steals,” Perry said. “It’s really neat to watch him and how he picks his spots and chooses the best opportunities to attack.
“It is neat to watch him play and see how I could fit into that position next year and follow that mold.”
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Kentucky basketball likely will be represented at the Olympics in Paris this summer since five of the 41 players included by USA Basketball on its national team roster that eventually will be cut to 12 are from Kentucky.
Managing director and former Duke star Grant Hill picked the 41 players and his five players from UK are Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat) Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns) Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers) De'Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings) and Tyler Herro (Miami Heat).
Kentucky should have a player on Team Canada unless NBA superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander decides not to play and he likely will be joined by former UK player Jamal Murray if he opts to play.
And Kentucky also has more firepower on the way as guard Boogie Fland and center Jayden Quaintance, who both signed with UK in November, were named McDonald’s All-Americans. So was Overtime Elite forward Karter Knox who took an official visit to Kentucky in mid-January.
Kentucky freshmen Aaron Bradshaw, Justin Edwards, Reed Sheppard and DJ Wagner were all McDonald’s All-Americans last year and coach John Calipari now has signed 46 McDonald’s All-Americans since coming to UK in 2009.
Fland and Quaintance will also compete in the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland on April 13 for Team USA.
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Quote of the Week: "I can’t wait to get to work with him. He’s got a lot of really special physical talents that I’m excited to see if we can go make better. Everything about him so far has been fantastic,” new Tennessee Titans coach Brian Callahan on former UK quarterback Will Levis.
Quote of the Week 2: "He might be the greatest shooter I have ever seen and the smartest kid I have ever interviewed I think. He talks like a seasoned professional athlete,” PrepSpin's William Warfield on UK signee Travis Perry of Lyon County.
Quote of the Week 3: “You have to think Tennessee is the best team in the league. They are most balanced offensively and defensively. They also have a guy (Dalton Knecht) who can get you 40 points,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas on Tennessee, UK’s opponent this Saturday.