Master repays UK for his college experience

Published 9:26 am Wednesday, January 31, 2024

By Larry Vaught

Contributing Columnist

Jim Master played basketball at Kentucky from 1980-84 for coach Joe Hall and finished his career with 1,283 points, 254 assists, 209 rebounds and 60 steals in 121 games. He was a 48.5 percent shooter from the field and 84.9 percent shooter at the foul line.

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He was Indiana Mr. Basketball in 1980 and a McDonald’s All-American. He was a two-time all-SEC pick.

Master, a business major at UK, fell in love with the Big Blue and stayed in Lexington where he works as a financial manager after the career path was suggested to him by his late teammate Bret Bearup. Master appreciated what Kentucky did for him athletically and academically and about 1 1/2 years ago met with UK athletics director to discuss making a donation to the university.

“I manage money and knew some day if I was in a fortunate position I wanted to give back to the university. Mitch is a Christian. I am a Christian. I respect Mitch Barnhart and if UK had another AD I would not have had that meeting,” Master said. “As I get older I am very proud to be a very small part of Kentucky basketball history.

“I also graduated from the University of Kentucky with a business degree. My brother got his MBA at Kentucky. I am all about helping kids and Mitch convinced me these athletes are kids. I am part of the UK tradition and a big fan of Mitch. My son, Leo, is 14 and he didn’t care anything about basketball but is now addicted to basketball because of this team.”

Master and his wife have donated $1 million to the university with half designated for the business school and half to athletics.

“I’ve had good fortune and this was the right time to do this,” Master, who played in the 1984 Final Four, said. “Mitch said a lot of good things when we first met and my wife and I thought about this for over a year and things got even better for us. We know there are other causes that could use the money but Mitch helped convince us this was also a good move to make.”

Master said he trusted Barnhart to use the donation for what he thinks is needed the most — “None of this is for NIL,” Master said — by the athletics department.

“I am a basketball player and that might be the thing I feel the most passionate about but if there is any connection to education that would be my wish (for the money). I trust Mitch, so I am okay with what he thinks is the best use for the money,” Master said.

One of Master’s former teammates, Kenny Walker, was overwhelmed when he heard the news about Master’s donation at the 1984 Final Four reunion.

“When a teammate does something like that, it lifts us all up and kind of carries Joe B. Hall’s message to always give back and never forget the people who made you who you are,” Walker said. “A lot of guys in my era did not go to the NBA but Kentucky fans still appreciated them and many doors were open for them to do what they wanted to do in life. UK provided a great platform to be on while we played and it is just great to see Jim give back because he felt blessed. That meant a lot to all of us.”

Master and his 1984 Final Four teammates were honored by UK at the Georgia game. Master called it a “first-class reunion” for a team that won three SEC championships, finished second in the SEC once, reached the Elite Eight twice and lost to Georgetown in the 1984 Final Four.

“You get fixated on what you do for a living as you get older and don’t watch as much basketball but my son knows all the current players,” Master said “I didn’t want to go to the reunion at first but it was fabulous. I enjoyed getting to see most of my ex-teammates. Some didn’t make it and some unfortunately are dead because we are all on this earth only for so long. But we all had a blast.

“My son ate it up. My wife is from Cincinnati and really had no idea what we had been through or done but she enjoyed it too. We all shared stories. We remembered the good and bad. Some people may not realize the sacrifice and unbelievable practice time and the stress of being at a big-time program. I would go to school and then guard Dirk (Minniefield) and Dicky (Beal) at practice. It’s way more stressful than people think.”

The most stress might have been in the 1984 Final Four in his last game when UK went 3-for-33 from the field to lose to Georgetown after building a 12-point first-half lead.

“I sat beside Dicky and he kept saying, and I try not to think about it, that we were the best team that year and just had an awful game. But it is what it is. I think it’s correct that we were the best and a lot of people think what a great team we had but we didn’t win,” Master said. “But I still had a great career.”