Big Blue Madness: Plenty of cheers, but one big question mark

Uncertainty about Kanter tempers optimism at season-opening bash

jtipton@herald-leader.comOctober 16, 2010 

Something old: the five first-round picks in June's NBA Draft.

Something new: The promise of freshmen like Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones.

Something borrowed: The DJ of the Washington Wizards, who goes by the name Big Tigger.

Something potentially blue: Freshman Enes Kanter and Kentucky fans if the NCAA does not rule him eligible for the 2010-11 season.

Friday night's Big Blue Madness at Rupp Arena was a potpourri of sensory overload as UK staged its annual rite of passage into basketball season.

Kanter, the player seen as a key to Kentucky's season and the player who has yet to be cleared by the NCAA Eligibility Center, was introduced last, a spot usually reserved for the veteran superstar. He wore a black hat as he slowly walked down the runway in this first — and maybe last — appearance before fans as a would-be Kentucky player.

Then Kanter took a seat at courtside as the UK players warmed up for the scrimmage that always ends Madness. That meant the NCAA had not granted UK a waiver to allow Kanter to resume practicing.

The NCAA has well-chronicled questions about Kanter's amateur status since he played on a professional team in his native Turkey for three seasons.

UK's five first-round draft picks in the 2010 NBA Draft made a video appearance. John Wall, who went fifth, got the biggest cheer. He concluded his remarks by doing the John Wall dance.

The second-loudest cheers erupted when Patrick Patterson appeared. He saluted "the greatest fans in the world" and said he and a fellow Houston Rocket, ex-Cat Chuck Hayes, would give UK basketball a Texas outpost.

The video sight of Eric Bledsoe, the subject of NCAA questions about his recruitment and high school transcript, drew loud cheers.

After listing the thrills of last season, Kentucky Coach John Calipari asked fans to turn their attention to 2010-11.

"We must turn the page," he said, "and let's focus on this team."

Calipari listed questions that this new UK team must answer.

"Will they be brothers?" he said. "Will they sacrifice? Will they be the best defensive team in the country? Will they run the Dribble-Drive motion and attack, attack, attack?"

The first two baskets in the scrimmage suggested the Cats did not need to continually attack the basket. Knight and junior Darius Miller hit three-pointers.

Scrimmage highlights included sophomore Jon Hood flying for dunks and hitting three-pointers. Jones hit a couple of three-point set shots.

Three rows from the baseline, brothers Travis and Steven Scaggs from Maysville wore matching "Free Enes" T-shirts. Travis saw Kanter as a key player.

"If he's eligible, he'll be a big inside force," he said. "I think they'll struggle if he's not eligible."

Asked to define "struggle," Travis said, "I can see 20-10 if he's not eligible."

Steven said he'd be happy if the NCAA ordered Kanter to sit out only the fall semester. "It doesn't look good," he said.

UK fans Zack Mullins and Blayne Rutherford sported matching blue mohawk haircuts. To add to the effect, they each painted the sides of their heads white.

When asked why, Mullins said, "It's UK basketball."

Mullins and Rutherford spoke optimistically about Kanter playing for Kentucky this season.

"Oh, he's going to be eligible," Rutherford said interrupting the question.

"Just a matter of time," Mullins added.

A sense of optimism probably played into the mohawks. They got the haircuts after Thursday's classes in the basement of their Berea College dorm.

And who did the cutting?

"Tim," Rutherford said. "We don't know his last name."

Kanter eligible or ineligible, Mullins and Rutherford expected to have a good time at Big Blue Madness.

"Best free party you'll go to," Rutherford said.

As the scrimmage ended and UK players milled about the court, the fans chanted "Free Enes." The chant grew loud enough for Kanter to acknowledge the fans by raising his arms.

Big Tigger, the DJ for the Washington Wizards, gave the evening its punctuation. He told the crowd, "You all are going to be No. 1 this year! Make some noise!!"

Big Tigger shouted in exclamation points at an event designed for exclamation points ... with one prominent question mark reserved for Kanter.

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