LEXINGTON (KT) — Kentucky basketball is going global.
The eighth-ranked Wildcats (6-1) will take on Michigan next year in London, England, the first of a three-game series between the teams. Kentucky will play the Wolverines in Ann Arbor on Dec. 4, 2021 and will play host to Michigan on Dec. 3, 2022.
The series opener next year will be hosted by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a fund-raiser for the organization and will mark the first game between two Division I college basketball teams at the 02 Arena in London.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said his relationship with first-year Wolverines coach Juwan Howard played a role in getting the series — known as the “Battle of the Blue” - jumpstarted.
“I called him (and said) if there is any way I can help you and your program, we can talk scheduling and that’s something that I don’t do lightly, but with you, I will,” he said. “The reason is (because) he took Bam (Adebayo) under his wing (at Miami).
“He went right to that culture and had Juwan Howard take him under his wing and look at what he’s doing now. He had a chance (to be) defensive player of the year and chance (to be) an All-Star. I mean, it’s crazy. (He) took care of one of mine and I said If I can help you in this — and I didn’t know they would be this good — that’s where it started.”
In addition to his relationship with Howard, Calipari said Michigan “checks off a lot of boxes when we’re looking at teams to schedule.” He added Michigan will serve as a beneficial opponent to gauge his team’s progress and “will be important in our player development.”
He also said it will give the fan base a chance to “do something different.”
“(To) play this first game in London will be an unforgettable experience for our players and our fans,” he said. “I imagine the home-and-home games the following seasons will be as good as any non-conference games in the country.”
Kentucky leads the series between the two foes 5-2, including a 75-72 win over the Wolverines in the NCAA Tournament in 2014. Howard and the Wolverines defeated Kentucky 81-78 in overtime in the Final Four in 1993.
London played host to the 1948 U.S. Olympic team that featured a roster mostly comprised of Kentucky players, who helped lead the Wildcats to their first national title in 1948. The U.S. Olympic team won all eight games in London that summer to win the gold medal.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.