Championship floor arrives at UK for use in basketball locker room

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By Les Johns

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Only two programs have claimed back-to-back NCAA national championships since the end of the UCLA dynasty in the early ’70s: the Duke Blue Devils (1991-92) and the Florida Gators (2006-07).

And 347 Division I teams compete all season to secure bids to a wild and wooly, anything-can-happen March Madness field of 68.

Many coaches would worry that a team defending a national title could bask in the championship glory too long and underperform the following season.

Not UK head coach John Calipari.

Calipari is installing a constant reminder of last year’s success in UK’s locker room, as the national championship floor from the New Orleans Superdome was delivered to Rupp Arena on Wednesday morning.

“Last year is done. This is about each team being their best, and that is all we worry about — how do we make this team be the best they can be?” Calipari said. “We don’t talk much about last year to this team. We only have one player back, and he didn’t play a lot in that game.” Calipari was referring to sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer.

The center circle of the championship floor will be the centerpiece of the locker room, with other pieces — more than 3,000 square feet — used in an interactive design throughout.

“It will be neat,” Calipari said. “I am not sure I have heard of any other locker room like this, but here at Kentucky we do a lot of things that have never been done.”

Calipari believes the locker room will impress potential recruits.

“It does motivate when we bring families and recruits in there,” Calipari said. “It will be a motivating factor in us getting the best and brightest players in here. It’s a players-first program and they drag us to where we want to go.”

The floor was purchased by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, a official corporate partner of the NCAA. It donated parts of the floor to UK and will use the remainder to raise funds for charity.

One thousand pieces of the floor will be signed by Calipari and auctioned, with the proceeds going to Kentucky-based charities and organizations fighting pediatric cancer. Details of the auctions will be released in the coming weeks, Northwestern Mutual’s Dan Rivers said.

“Northwestern Mutual is covering all the cost of cutting up the floor into pieces, so that we can say 100 percent of the proceeds will stay in Kentucky, and 100 percent of the dollars will go to fight pediatric cancer,” Rivers said.