Packed house watches Kentucky raise banner No. 8

mfields@herald-leader.comApril 3, 2012 

Kentucky basketball fans filled Rupp Arena for Big Blue Madness last October and heard John Calipari talk about the "Kentucky Effect," and how he hoped by the end of the season the Cats would contend for a national title.

UK fans jammed Rupp Arena again on Tuesday afternoon, this time to celebrate the Cats' eighth NCAA title.

Cause and effect? Or was it Kentucky Effect and championship cause?

All that mattered to some 20,000 Big Blue faithful in Rupp Arena was that for the first time in 14 years, UK was the undisputed king of college basketball again.

Less than 17 hours after defeating Kansas in the NCAA finals in New Orleans, the Cats were back in their hoops home. After the UK team bus pulled into the arena, the players and coaches were introduced one at a time as they disembarked.

Two of the loudest ovations were for Anthony Davis, the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player, and Darius Miller, the senior and home-grown favorite who was toting the championship trophy.

Calipari was the last one introduced, and the cheers were even louder.

Calipari said he didn't fully appreciate the scope of UK's title until he saw the thousands of fans who greeted the team at the airport, lined the route into town and filled Rupp Arena.

"You people never cease to amaze me," he said as he waved and gave a fist-pump to the crowd.

Calipari singled out most of the players for praise, including Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, who could have gone pro after their freshman year but decided to return for a shot at a national title.

"Aren't we happy they came back?" Calipari said.

He referred to Davis as "the long skinny one" who, after receiving the first of several player of the year awards, told his teammates "this does not happen if I'm not on this team playing with you guys."

Miller, who played in a record 152 games for UK, got special recognition from Calipari, who noted the former Mason County star was a clutch performer this season.

"When we needed a big basket, this kid got it," he said.

Miller, the championship net draped around his neck, was the only player to address the crowd. He thanked the fans on behalf of his teammates, "and personally, I want to thank you for all your support in my four years here."

Among those on hand for the celebration were Gov. Steve Beshear, Mayor Jim Gray and former coach Joe B. Hall.

Hall, who guided UK to its fifth national title in 1978, was in New Orleans for Monday night's victory.

"I was so elated I couldn't even express what I felt," Hall said. "I told somebody, all I could do was jump up and down and scream."

The fans in Rupp Arena got a chance to jump up and down and scream at the end of Tuesday's 30-minute celebration.

Calipari capped it off by recalling his speech at his first Big Blue Madness in October 2009, when he said he wanted UK to be the gold standard of college basketball, to be No. 1 in the country again, and to raise banners.

"Let's raise a banner," he shouted.

That cued video highlights from the Final Four, and the unfurling of the eighth NCAA title banner in the rafters of Rupp Arena.

The fans stood and cheered, one last, loud hurrah for their championship Cats.

Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com

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