Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Kentucky Basketball Has Mandarin Touch; 19-Year-Old Served as Wildcat Team Manager

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Kentucky Basketball Has Mandarin Touch; 19-Year-Old Served as Wildcat Team Manager

Article excerpt

Byline: KATHRYN GUNTER, Times-Union correspondent

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Although the team's unexpected exit during the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament left many University of Kentucky fans looking forward to next year, it's this season's team that Mitch Nichols of Mandarin will never forget.

Nichols, a 2003 Episcopal High School graduate, spent his freshman year at UK as one of six student managers for the Wildcat basketball team.

Since August, he has not only lived in the Wildcat Lodge with the players, but Nichols, 19, has spent four hours a day, seven days a week in the gym with them. For a kid who "lived and breathed Kentucky basketball" growing up in Jacksonville, Nichols has found this position to be nothing short of a labor of love.

"I still can't believe I'm doing this," he said prior to the Wildcats' run in the tournament. "I grew up idolizing these coaches and players. Now every time I walk onto the court in Rupp Arena, well, it's just an incredible feeling."

Nichols beat out thousands of applicants to fill the open student manager spot with the team. He was hand-picked by UK's equipment manager, Bill Keightley, after a series of interviews and alumni recommendations. Winning the position, which is a volunteer post, is the accumulation of his determination to attend the school and find some way to be involved with its basketball program.

He credits his father, Frank, a 1969 UK graduate and "hard-core UK fan," with installing his Kentucky basketball fever.

"My dad took me to my first Kentucky game at Rupp Arena in 1995," Nichols remembered, "and I was just blown away. I've been hooked on UK basketball ever since."

In fact, since 1995, Nichols has not missed a single post-season appearance by the Wildcats, including their 1996 and 1998 NCAA title victories.

His devotion to UK basketball helped ease Nichols' adjustment to his demanding schedule on campus. In addition to the full class load he must carry, he worked every team practice and home game, with extra hours logged with coaches and managers most weekends and holidays. …

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