Southern University Jaguars guard Brion Whitley (22) pushes past Tulane Green Wave forward Kevin Cross as he drives to the basket during the first half of a basketball game at the Avron B. Fogelman Arena in the Devlin Fieldhouse in New Orleans, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. (Photo by Sophia Germer,, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Thomas Wolfe never met Southern basketball coach Sean Woods.

The American novelist would find Woods to be the antithesis of his protagonist in "You Can’t Go Home Again" when he receives a warm reception Tuesday night in Lexington, Kentucky.

Not only will Southern’s visit to Rupp Arena be a homecoming for Woods, the occasion will mark the fifth time the former Wildcat has returned as an opposing coach. It also heralds the beginning of the Unity Series, the first of five annual matchups between Kentucky and members of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

Southern (3-5) and 10th-ranked Kentucky (6-1) will tip off at 7 p.m. on the SEC Network.

“We’re privileged to play in this game, the inaugural one for the series,” Woods said. “What a great way to take my guys to the place where I got started. It's a great way for Southern to be the flagship school of the SWAC.”

In addition to playing the game, the schools seek to raise awareness of the missions of historically black colleges and universities, to raise funds and to provide opportunities. Southern’s trip included a visit to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Museum in Cincinnati.

"I am really proud of our leadership for identifying an opportunity to take what we do on the basketball court and leverage it into an annual weeklong event that will have a major impact on HBCUs and their students," UK coach John Calipari said in a news release.

Woods earned a spot in Kentucky basketball lore as one of “The Unforgettables," a group of Wildcat seniors who shepherded the program out of probation and into the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight in 1992.

In the East Regional final, a game many people include on their short list of the greatest ever played, it was Woods’ overtime basket that gave Kentucky a 113-112 lead before Duke’s Christian Laettner’s hit the game-winning shot.

Woods, whose retired jersey hangs in the Rupp Arena rafters, is fifth among Kentucky’s career assist leaders and his career average of 5.3 per game is still the best.

This year’s Kentucky team has not played since Nov. 29, when it defeated Central Michigan 85-57. Kentucky’s only loss was 79-71 to Duke in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden.

Southern defeated Tennessee State 82-80 before taking most of last week off for finals. On Saturday, the Jaguars fell behind by 10 points at Akron, and were unable to get closer than seven points in the second half of a 79-62 loss.

Tyrone Lyons leads three Jaguars averaging double figure scoring with 14.3 points. Preseason second team all-SWAC pick Jayden Saddler scores and 10.0 per game, and sixth-man Brion Whitley is at 13.5. Saddler also has a team-high 32 assists while Damien Sears pulls down a team-high 6.5 rebounds.

“We finally got some guys in that can make some shots,” Woods said. “The name of the game is basketball, putting the ball in the hole, and my assistants and I did a good job bringing in the right personnel to add to what we had coming back.”

Woods’ family and friends will have the chance to see that personnel in person Tuesday night.

“Its an opportunity for them to see my teams, and it's always just great to come back home,” Woods said. “Its where I played college basketball, but it's also where my mom’s side of the family is from.”