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Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart basks in Wildcats' success in competition, academics

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LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Contending for two championships made Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart proud and gave him confidence that his programs will continue to have a presence on the national stage.

This year was enjoyable for Barnhart on many fronts.

Men's basketball began a school-best 38-0 before their quest to become the first unbeaten national champion since 1976 ended with a Final Four loss to Wisconsin. John Calipari was honored as national coach of the year by The Associated Press, and was also voted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.

Hurdler Kendra Harrison and sprinter Dezerea Bryant won 100- and 200-meter NCAA titles respectively as women's track earned a program-best runner-up finish last month. Barnhart also collected some hardware, being named one of four Athletics Director of the Year Award recipients by his peers.

"To watch what they did was amazing," Barnhart said of the track program in an interview with the AP.

Barnhart also collected some hardware, being named one of four Athletics Director of the Year Award recipients by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA).

Though Kentucky dropped 11 spots from last year's best-ever finish to 22nd in the Directors' Cup standings, it was the school's second-highest showing and third consecutive top-25. Fifteen sports earned points by qualifying for the NCAA postseason.

"We took steps forward in a lot of areas," Barnhart said. "The Directors' Cup finish was special, but we aspire to be better than that."

All 22 programs surpassed the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate cut score of 930. Eighteen teams exceeded the national average and men's and women's golf each achieved perfect 1,000 scores. Grade-point averages surpassed 3.0 for the sixth consecutive semester.

Barnhart is also heartened by many sports generated excitement this year, though nothing compared to what its marquee men's basketball program created during its pursuit of perfection. Like Calipari, Barnhart confessed to enduring a Final Four "hangover" following the Wildcats' 71-64 loss to the Badgers in Indianapolis that left them 38-1.

"Sure, everybody's disappointed (because) you get that close to something that special and you certainly want to finish it off," Barnhart said. "People say, 'would you rather have lost one somewhere along the way?' and my response is generally no.

"You can't chase history, you can't chase the impossible by giving it away before you get there. I don't regret that at all. That's what made the journey so special."

Though questions of NBA teams' interest in Calipari continues, he signed a seven-year, $54 million contract extension last month. His Hall of Fame induction is Sept. 12 in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Barnhart also extended football coach Mark Stoops' contract during a season of progress following consecutive 2-10 finishes. A 5-1 start highlighted by an upset of South Carolina sparked hope of a bowl bid before the Wildcats lost their final six games.

Barnhart remains hopeful.

"You can highlight three or four things that we could have and should have done," Barnhart said of the program, "but people ought to realize that our kids are well-coached and they've bought into the system. But we've got to finish the deal."

Barnhart believes football will benefit from the $120 million renovation of Commonwealth Stadium, which is scheduled to host the first of eight home games on Sept. 5. Construction continues on a $40 million football training facility adjacent to the stadium.

"I'm very anxious for it to open," Barnhart said of Commonwealth. "Obviously, we've got to play and playing generates excitement. The whole atmosphere that we'll be able to prepare for in recruiting will be very helpful. To be able to have that in our playbook will be really, really big."

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