New Kentucky women’s basketball coach calls for NIL support from Big Blue Nation

Kenny Brooks is emphasizing the importance of NIL and asking Big Blue Nation to support Kentucky women’s basketball.

Brooks, who UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart announced as the ninth head coach of Kentucky women’s basketball on March 26, partnered with name, image and likeness collective Club Blue to ask fans to support the program.

The UK Athletics NIL and Commonwealth Causes partner posted a video of Brooks calling for fans’ support through Club Blue on Tuesday.

“I’m grateful to be a part of Big Blue Nation,” Brooks said in the video. “And I can’t wait to meet our amazing friends and supporters. Today I’m coming to you to ask for support of Club Blue Women’s Basketball. This is your opportunity to support our women’s basketball program and athletes from an NIL perspective.”

Club Blue allows fans to directly support UK Athletics through either a one-time donation or a tiered, monthly donation system. Fans choose which of UK’s NCAA-sponsored sports they’d like their donation to support. According to the site, “100% of your net contribution to Club Blue will pass through to support UK NIL efforts.”

Brooks goes on to list incentives granted in exchange for donations.

“Club Blue Women’s Basketball provides access to VIP experiences, monthly giveaways, exclusive merchandise and other perks throughout the year. We truly appreciate your support. Let’s get this party started.”

There are five separate monthly “contribution options” available to supporters — ranging from the “Pioneer” at $25 a month to the “GOAT” at $500 a month — each granting at least 100 entries to monthly giveaways, a “Club Blue Swag Bag,” access to the club’s exclusive store and store vouchers of varying worth.

This is the first time a Kentucky women’s basketball coach has publicly rallied for NIL support in this capacity, and this call to action arrives almost a month after John Calipari and the UK men’s basketball team announced “La Familia,” an NIL initiative with all proceeds going to UK basketball players.

Brooks arrived in Lexington after serving as the head coach at Virginia Tech since 2016, prompting a renewed excitement in UK women’s basketball after back-to-back seasons missing the NCAA Tournament. On March 28, following Brooks’ introductory press conference, Barnhart spoke to the NIL plans for the women’s basketball program.

New head coach Kenny Brooks, right, and athletic director Mitch Barnhart, left, explained how they picture NIL collectives working on behalf of the women’s basketball program.
New head coach Kenny Brooks, right, and athletic director Mitch Barnhart, left, explained how they picture NIL collectives working on behalf of the women’s basketball program.

“I think the thing that gets lost in the world of NIL — ‘There’s nothing going on in our program’ — is every program we’ve sort of done it a little differently and our coaches have been successful,” Barnhart said. “I would call it more of a pillared approach. We’re under an umbrella of what we’re doing and every sport is sort of unique to what we do. We’ve worked through our four or five collectives, and that’s been good and it’s been consistent. Rather than say, ‘Hey, we’re going to go out and do this,’ then try to figure out who gets what, everyone sort of said, ‘Here’s what I need and here’s how we’re going to develop our needs,’ and we work through it that way. I said the same thing to (Brooks). Let’s assess what we need and how we are going to do it and we’ll attack it appropriately under that umbrella.”

Barnhart went on to say that both the men’s and women’s basketball teams are unique in UK Athletics in that they’re the only programs on campus with a staff member whose sole focus is NIL. Former women’s basketball head coach Kyra Elzy announced the hiring of NIL director Liz Brown ahead of the 2023-24 season.

“We’ve only got two sports that have an individual NIL person in the office: men’s basketball and women’s basketball,” Barnhart said. “They’ve already got that in place, so how we use that asset will be really, really important. Each coach — across the landscape of college athletics people have looked at that differently. Every school has approached it differently. That’s why I hope this is going to be a short-term conversation because at some point in time in the next 18-24 months there’s going to be some direction for all of college athletics for how we get this thing in line. That may be forced upon us, it may be something we have to ask for. I don’t know how it’s going to end. I would hope in the next 18-24 months we get some help from someplace. I don’t know what that is, so don’t ask me to define it. I couldn’t tell you. I couldn’t tell you because right now we haven’t gotten a lot of help from many people.”

Following South Carolina’s women’s basketball national championship victory Sunday, the Southeastern Conference now boasts the last three NCAA Tournament winners. Though there’s been plenty of shakeup within the Power Five conferences — from the coaching carousel to conference realignment — Brooks’ attempt to build his first UK roster arrives at a time with tremendous talent up for grabs, whether that be through the transfer portal or out of the high school ranks.

Since Brooks’ hiring, the Wildcats have received commitments from 6-foot-2 guard Lexi Blue, the No. 38 nationally ranked recruit in the class of 2024, and Eastern Florida State College sophomore Amelia Hassett. Both Blue and Hassett were previously committed to Virginia Tech. Two former Hokies have also followed Brooks to Lexington via transfer portal — All-America point guard Georgia Amoore, a graduate transfer, officially signed with the Wildcats on Monday, and 6-foot-5 freshman center Clara Strack announced her commitment to UK on Thursday.

Former Clemson signee Imari Berry, the No. 13 recruit in the class of 2024 out of Clarksville, Tennessee, is also considering UK in a final three that also contains Louisville and North Carolina.

Former UK signee Ramiya White of Butler Traditional in Louisville announced Friday that she would be reopening her recruitment.

Leading scorer Ajae Petty, starting point guard Brooklynn Miles and freshmen Jordy Griggs and Janaé Walker have all announced their intentions to transfer. Seniors Petty, Nyah Leveretter, Eniya Russell and Maddie Scherr each retain their additional year of eligibility granted by the NCAA following the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the latter three have not issued any public statement regarding their intentions, they are not listed on UK’s online roster for the 2024-25 season.

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