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The Kentucky Wildcats defeated the Missouri Tigers The Wildcats were coming off a national title game appearance, and there was urgency to get their NBA-ready roster prepared for a potentially historic season. The coaches and administrators knew this group needed to be tested.
But the trip—and the competition—came at a steep cost. Expense reports acquired through a Courier-Journal open-records request show that in addition to its own travel, UK paid for the flights, meals and lodging for all three teams it faced.
It is believed to be the first time a college basketball program has ever gone to such lengths for an exhibition series. I needed experienced, physical guys that knew how to play.
That's what this team needed, which is different. That's why most teams don't do what we've just done.
But UK was prepared to take on these expenses because it anticipated an important return. Sanders said he was contacted by two other universities seeking to face his team in exhibitions, but unlike UK, they did not offer incentives.
We can't afford that food for days at a time. So when Kentucky put together a package, it was a no-brainer for us.
Kentucky has set the bar very high.
Puerto Rico agreed, but ultimately sent its reserve team. Mexico declined. Sanders believes it was partly because of scheduling difficulties, and partly because UK's offer almost seemed too good to be true.
In addition to paying for its opponents, it was clear UK spared few expenses on its own end. Peevy said that if Calipari had a regular room, UK would have had to rent out an additional meeting space at added cost. The Wildcats all stayed two-to-a-room, aside from sophomore center Dakari Johnson, who had his own room.
But most importantly, Peevy said, UK knew that these Wildcats needed a challenge. They could have followed the other schools and gone to the Bahamas to face local—and mostly overmatched—all-star teams. But they determined there would be little value in that.
They wanted a test. Near the end of the lengthy stay, there seemed to be a sense that the trip was dragging a bit, even at such a luxurious locale.
Peevy said the team initially scheduled six games because coaches expected the Wildcats to struggle early, and that they would use the final days to find their way.
Instead, UK played well at the start.
The games were mostly competitive, and Kentucky actually lost its final game of the trip, , to the Dominican Republic.
Of course, it has not lost a game since. It is hard to quantify if the expensive and excessive trip was worth it.
But if this season ends with another national championship, the Wildcats might look back at the eight nights in the Bahamas as the root of their run. Himmelsbach writes for The Courier-Journal.