Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart will root for Kentucky to beat Ottawa University on Monday night. But he has a sentimental reason to do otherwise.
Barnhart speaks of Ottawa, which is in Kansas, as not only his alma mater but as a nurturing school that set him on a path to a successful life and career.
"It's a place that is special to me," he said, "and obviously, gave me a start in the enterprise of college athletics."
After arriving as a freshman in 1977, Barnhart led Ottawa's sports information department and was editor of the student newspaper. He also worked as a free-lancer for three other newspapers.
"Sort of how I got myself through school," he said.
In retrospect, Barnhart saw Ottawa's enrollment of 750 at the time as invaluable. It meant everyone on campus could have varied duties. Kentucky's future A.D. sold game programs, set news type and called statistical updates to the NAIA national office.
"Ottawa provided a path for me," Barnhart said. "I'm very appreciative. The experience you get from a small school is what I needed. I needed to get my hands dirty and do things that were day to day. I think it really prepared me for life in college athletics."
Likewise, Barnhart said Ottawa's first-year coach, Aaron Siebenthall, is the operations guy and the alumni relations guy. "He organizes everything," Barnhart said. "We call him and ask, who do we contact about hotels? (Siebenthall says) That would be me.
"You do everything."
Barnhart and his wife, Connie, who played basketball for Ottawa, planned to be hosts for a dinner with the Ottawa team Sunday night at Commonwealth Stadium.
The game against Ottawa continues a pre-season theme for Kentucky. In recent years, the Cats played exhibition games against the alma maters of coach John Calipari (Clarion University) and deputy director of athletics DeWayne Peevy (University of Montevallo).
In saying what Monday's game would mean to the Ottawa players, Barnhart sounded like the college student he once was. "That's part of what this thing is about," he said. "Create some memories for young people, and create opportunities."
In recalling his days as an Ottawa student, Barnhart then quoted something Daniel Webster said about his alma mater, Dartmouth. Said Webster: "It is, air, as I have said, a small college. And yet, there are those who love it!"