Diehard UK basketball fans show up in Rupp for ESPN's 'GameDay'

jbrammer@herald-leader.comFebruary 23, 2013 

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

Jeff Powell of Winchester rolled out of bed at 6 Saturday morning to join more than 15,000 other raucous University of Kentucky basketball fans in the hoopla known as ESPN's GameDay show at Rupp Arena.

"True blue UK fans never miss a Big Blue Nation event, especially when it's free like this," said Powell. He and his wife, Bethany, and their friends Aaron and Tiffany Haggard arrived before the doors opened at 8 a.m.

"There are some things in life you just don't miss," he said. "Things like your dad's funeral. Things like UK basketball."

The washed-in-the-Blue-Blood faithful danced, gyrated, cheered, screamed and partied down to show the national TV audience their loyalty and love for the Cats in this difficult season after winning the national championship last year.

Game Day photo gallery | Fans at the UK-Missouri game | Game photos | Video of John Calpari's post-game remarks

Devin Lewis, 11, of Berea, proudly wore a skull cap that projected blue-and-white spiked artificial hair.

Professional balloon artist J. Alex Morgan, aka "Tiny Tallman," blew up more than 300 blue-and-white balloons with an air pump and handed them out for free to admiring fans.

"Been doing this for eight years, have had only one person to reject me," he said. "She had latex allergy."

Tim Hall made for him and his brother-in-law, Ken Piccirillo, both of Dayton, T-shirts emblazoned with the words, "Digger! You listen to us!"

That was a message to GameDay analyst Digger Phelps, a former Notre Dame basketball coach who irked some UK fans last year when he lectured them in February 2012 at a GameDay show at Vanderbilt.

"Listen to me. Listen to me. Now. Listen to me. This is important," he said in February 2012, before telling UK fans to show respect for Vandy on the Commodores' home court.

Phelps was the first GameDay regular to show up on the Rupp Arena floor Saturday morning. The other hosts were Jay Bilas, Jalen Rose and Rece Davis.

When Phelps arrived on the set at 8:42 a.m., he took a microphone and shouted, "Test, test, test."

He initially was greeted with loud boos from UK fans. But Phelps turned them into cheers when he loudly predicted, "Kentucky will take another step tonight for an NCAA bid." Tipoff for the UK-Missouri game was still about 12 hours away.

In 2010, when more than 21,000 showed up for GameDay at Rupp Arena, Phelps said it was the best crowd ever for the show, which travels to college campuses during basketball and football seasons.

Saturday's crowd was the show's largest for this season — about 5,000 turned out for North Carolina State's GameDay show.

The Lexington crowd grew more excited when the UK pep band enthusiastically played the school's fight song.

Phelps also primed the exuberant masses with his declaration that the popular dance craze, "Harlem Shake," which the self-purported inventor "Al B" of Harlem has described as "a drunken shake, an alcoholic shake, what the mummies used to do," would be known Saturday as the "Big Blue Shake."

Fans obliged, moving wildly to loud music like mummies who had way too much caffeine. Bilas good-naturedly joined them in the performance.

A few minutes before going live on ESPNU at 10, the crowd was pumped, the band was rocking and the cheerleaders were cheering.

Once again, the passion of UK basketball was on national stage.

Jack Brammer: (859) 231-1302. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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