The Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball team has announced it will begin the inaugural Unity Series with the Southwestern Athletic Conference this coming season. It starts with Southern University coming to Rupp Arena on Dec. 7th.
The five-year series will feature annual games against schools from the SWAC, which is made up of historically black colleges and universities.
Beginning in 2021 and concluding in 2025, the games will seek to raise awareness of the missions of the HBCUs and to raise funds to provide opportunities for students at their institutions.
“I am really proud of our leadership for identifying an opportunity to take what we do on the basketball court and leverage it into an annual weeklong event that will have a major impact on HBCUs and their students,” head coach John Calipari said in a press release. “My hope is this event not only opens the door for opportunities for students at HBCUs, but that others at our school and across the country will take advantage of the educational opportunities that we will put together to continue the meaningful conversations and changes that have taken place over the last year.”
In the week leading up to the game each year, the Unity Series will feature educational and networking opportunities at Kentucky and SWAC schools. Campus leaders from both sides will host virtual panels and leadership workshops available to students at all institutions that tackle current issues in multiple disciplines and highlight on-campus educational opportunities.
In addition to these panels and workshops, the schools will provide resources for students to learn more about internships, career planning and networking.
“Our philosophy in the diversity, equity and inclusion division of UK Athletics is opening up areas of opportunities, education, listening and learning,” said Rock Oliver, executive associate athletics director for diversity, equity and inclusion at Kentucky. “This series featuring HBCUs, starting with a great institution like Southern University, will provide those universities with a spotlight on the biggest stage in college basketball. This year’s matchup with Southern is even more special for me because I coached Southern head coach Sean Woods. We are honored to play a part in providing access to our powerful platform.
“We are committed to educational initiatives here at UK so the Unity Series’ educational and networking opportunities will play a part in one of our goals, which is adding to learning resources. We also believe in the power of community so we hope this series will increase awareness of the powerful history and ongoing missions of HBCUs as well as conferences like the SWAC. We look forward to strengthening bonds between our institutions.”
The Unity Series week will culminate with the annual game in Rupp Arena.
“The Southwestern Athletic Conference is extremely excited to partner with the University of Kentucky men’s basketball program on unifying initiatives that will significantly raise the overall awareness of the missions of our 12 member institutions and HBCUs as a whole,” said SWAC Commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland. “The educational and networking opportunities this partnership will provide our students and student-athletes undoubtedly goes well beyond the game of basketball. We’re looking forward to doing our part to make this innovative strategic plan a success. We would like to thank the University of Kentucky Athletics department’s leadership along with Coach Calipari and his staff for making this very worthy initiative a reality.”
The matchup with Southern will also be a reunion for former Kentucky great Sean Woods, now head coach of the Jaguars. A UK Athletics Hall of Famer, Woods is the program’s all-time leader in career assists per game (5.3) and was the program leader in career steals per game (1.582) at the conclusion of his career.
“It’s always nice to go back home and take your players to a place where you played at,” Woods said. “I’ve always wanted my guys to have the same kind of experience I had as a student-athlete and what better place to take them than to one of the most historic places in college basketball, Rupp Arena. Looking forward to being competitive and having a chance to win too, but not only that to have a chance to play in front of family and friends and take my guys to a place where it all started for me.”
Woods has coached against his alma mater before in previous head coaching stops at Mississippi Valley State and Morehead State.
Although the official series vs. Southern is 0-0, the two schools have met before. Kentucky defeated the Jaguars 99-84 in the 1988 NCAA Tournament, but the game was erased from the record books as a part of sanctions imposed upon the UK program in 1989.
Southern was 8-11 during the COVID-19 shortened 2020-21 season. The Jaguars are expected to return two of their three leading scorers from a season ago in guards Jayden Saddler and Ahsante Shivers.