UK men’s basketball, Southern unite for inaugural Unity Series

Dec. 7 game will feature educational and networking opportunities around the game

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The inaugural Unity Series between the Kentucky men’s basketball team and members from the Southwestern Athletic Conference will tip off

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The University of Kentucky and Southern University men’s basketball teams toured the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati as a part of the Unity Series\Photos by Chet White | UK Athletics

Tuesday when the Wildcats host Southern in Rupp Arena.

The 7 p.m. game will be the first in five consecutive seasons of matchups vs. institutions from the SWAC – which is made up of historically black college and universities – but the game is just one piece of the annual meetings. 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.

This year’s programming features several events that will provide educational opportunities for the teams and students at the two institutions, networking opportunities and community engagement.

“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,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “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.”

The week will begin with a joint trip the National Underground Railroad Freedom Museum (click to watch) in Cincinnati. Players, coaches and staff from both UK and Southern will meet at the Freedom Museum and receive an educational orientation and guided tour. The museum was established in 2004 to reveal stories of freedom’s heroes – from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times – and to challenge and inspire people to take courageous steps for freedom.

On Monday, the UK Healthcare John Calipari Show will feature Southern head coach and UK Athletics Hall of Famer Sean Woods alongside Calipari. While the show is on the air, the Wildcats and Jaguars will have a joint team meal at Malone’s. The UK Healthcare John Calipari Show will air at 6 p.m. on UK Sports Network affiliates – including 630 WLAP in Lexington – online at UKathletics.com, on the Kentucky men’s basketball Facebook page, and through the UK Athletics app.

The Unity Series will bring together faculty from the University of Kentucky’s Sport Leadership Graduate Program and leaders from the Southern University and UK athletics departments for a virtual panel for all UK and SWAC undergraduate students interested in careers in college and professional athletics. The panel will discuss trends, hiring practices and cycles, internships, and any other topics and questions raised by students.

The University of Kentucky’s Stuckert Career Center, which provides comprehensive career development programming, resources and services to the UK student body, will partner with SWAC institutions to provide shared resources and support to students throughout the SWAC and at UK.

Also scheduled around the game, TJ Beisner, UK men’s basketball’s director of player development, will meet with the Southern men’s basketball players to outline trends regarding Name, Image and Likeness and provide coaching on personal branding and development.

In partnership with the John McLendon Leadership Initiative – a coach-driven initiative to provide minorities a jump-start to their careers through practical experiences, opportunities to build their network, and instilling the values of John McLendon: integrity, education, leadership and mentorship –  a position for a future leader will be created at the SWAC office in Birmingham, Alabama. Calipari spearheaded the MLI in conjunction with the Harvard men’s basketball head coach Tommy Amaker, South Carolina head coach Frank Martin and the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics in the summer of 2020.

At Tuesday’s game, 150 tickets will be provided to three Lexington elementary schools identified by UK’s Diversity Advisory Committee, who will distribute them to students who are excelling in their classroom and school community.

Prior to the game, minority students currently enrolled at UK will have the opportunity to meet with UK Athletics employees and gain foundational knowledge about the athletics department, the structure, its different units, and background information on the skill sets and personalities that might fit into those different areas. It will be an opportunity for students to network with athletics department staff and learn more about the internship opportunities they may be interested in applying for in the future.

The game between Kentucky and Southern will tip off at 7 p.m. in Rupp Arena on SEC Network. Tickets are available for purchase at Ticketmaster.com.

Kentucky is currently riding a six-game winning streak heading into the matchup vs. Southern, its best winning streak since February 2020. Southern is currently 3-4 with a matchup vs. Akron scheduled for Saturday prior to its game in Lexington.

Southern is led by Woods, Kentucky’s all-time leader in career assists per game (5.3). He was the program leader in career steals per game (1.582) at the conclusion of his career.

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