With 10:55 to go in Tuesday night's Kentucky-Alabama men's basketball game, the horn blows for a TV timeout.
Immediately, the women of the University of Kentucky Dance Team flow out onto the court. As that blur of blue sequins passes behind him, UK pep band director Carl Collins makes a motion to his musicians as if he is carrying an infant and, on cue, the band breaks into Hey Baby. Meanwhile, up on the video screens in the corners of Rupp Arena, grinning fans are getting their few seconds of fame with the "Delta Dental Smile Cam."
Everything is going according to script.
Yes, a UK basketball game is a live event, and the outcome isn't predetermined. But there is a carefully crafted plan for the events surrounding the game that makes seeing it live in Rupp a very different experience from watching it on TV.
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"It used to be we'd just come in, turn on the lights and set up a few microphones at the scorer's table and go up in the booth, and they'd play the game," says Rupp Arena's facilities director, Merrill Richardson, who has worked at the home of the Wildcats for 35 years — longer than it has been open.
There's more to it now.
Outside of the actual game are dozens of elements that make up the spectacle of the UK basketball experience — the blackout and fireworks during the player introductions, running the giant "K" flag around the floor, cheerleader and dance routines, the pep band, the constant video broadcasts going on around the arena, ushering the celebrity "Y" onto the floor for the K-E-N-T-U-C-K-Y cheer.
"With video boards and everything, the expectations for the show have changed," says Russ Pear, UK associate athletics director. "So we want to meet that but still keep a collegiate atmosphere, which is different from the pro atmosphere."
Collins, the pep band director, says, "They strive to make it a student-centered event, so the cheerleaders, the dance team, the eRUPPtion Zone and the band are all really involved."
And they all have to be coordinated.
Calling the shots
Lisa Pearson has the best seat in the arena for UK games: courtside in the center of the scorer's table. The tradeoff is, she can't leave.
In the theater of Kentucky basketball, Pearson is the stage manager, the person who directs people in and out of the program, and one of the leaders in a network of headsets worn by the two dozen or so people throughout Rupp who make game-day magic happen.
"Standby houselights, and intro video," she says into her headset microphone as the Alabama players are being introduced.
Once the Crimson Tide is out of the way, Pearson says, "Lights down." The arena goes dark.
Then she summons fire.
"Go pyro," she says as each Kentucky player is introduced, cuing the indoor fireworks that rain from Rupp's rafters. She commands this drama as casually as if she were ordering a pizza.
"I do get to watch the game," says Pearson, assistant director of marketing for UK Athletics, "but I am also always looking ahead to see what's coming at the next time out."
In front of her is a script with times for each scheduled timeout. There is a media time out set for the first dead ball after each four-minute mark — 16, 12, eight and four minutes — and each break has an assignment for what will happen.
At the 12-minute timeout Tuesday night, for instance, the script says the UK baseball team will be introduced on the court; the "Kentucky American Water CatFact," trivia about the team, will be shown; the winner of Appliance Distributors Inc.'s lucky seat contest will be called; and the "McDonald's Fan Cam" will highlight some of the Big Blue faithful.
The script can change.
Man in motion
A few minutes after Tuesday's tipoff, Pearson is telling the network of headsets that former UK football stars Keenan Burton and Wesley Woodyard are in the house. They will be introduced at the four-minute first-half timeout, bumping a planned promotion for that slot back to the eight-minute break.
When their names are called, Nathan Schwake is the man ushering Burton and Woodyard onto the court.
Dressed in a tan pinstripe suit, Schwake has a game experience that is opposite Pearson's. He is in constant motion, getting people ready for their moments in the spotlight. Schwake knows the script as well as anyone. He wrote it.
UK writes a basic script at the beginning of the season, and changeable elements, such as promotions and recognitions, are dropped in for each game. (Although UK writes the script, they hand it off to Rupp Arena, whose staff helps execute it.)
"It hasn't changed too much from last season," says Schwake, UK's athletic relations coordinator.
But after that script is written, it does not vary much, even for big games such as Saturday night's nationally televised ESPN GameDay tilt with Tennessee or the Kentucky-Louisville game.
The video script is built in much the same way.
Behind a nondescript wooden door inside Rupp sits the nerve center of the video system: two rooms of screens and control boards that run everything from the menus on concession-stand video screens to programs on the arena's big screens, such as the montage of UK's basketball history set to the Verve's Bittersweet Symphony.
"Camera 1, dissolve camera 4. Camera 4, dissolve camera 1," Rupp Arena technical director Dave Stawicki says as the player introductions roll.
If Pearson leads the action on the floor, Stawicki is the point guard for Rupp's extensive video operation. In front of him are one big monitor and four smaller screens showing what each of Rupp's four cameras is showing. Stawicki is constantly making choices about what goes out on the arena's video monitors.
"There are two TV shows going on in every game," Rupp's director of arena management, Carl Hall says. There's the television broadcast by CBS, ESPN or other networks. Then there is "Rupp TV."
"We shoot everything really tight, while TV shoots a lot of things wide," says Richardson, the facilities director. "The difference is, at home, the TV is a few feet from you, and a wide shot tells the story. In the arena, it's a much larger screen, but it's all the way across the floor, so you need tight shots so they'll look like something."
At each game, Richardson presides over the $3 million video system he built, which supplies all the video in the arena.
Searching for standouts
That all has to run in concert with the action on and around the court — from UK President Lee Todd making academic presentations to the band playing Mony Mony at the second half's first media timeout.
At the 16-minute time out, which actually happens with 15:42 left on the clock, unofficial boogie man Darren Moscoe is dancing up a storm, sliding down the rails, all with a camera trained on him. But he is sharing screen time with an energetic gent in section 12 wearing a blue ball cap with a Wildcat on top.
One of the challenges for the cameramen is picking out individuals such as these in an arena filled with more than 23,000 people, even if the person is pretty big and famous.
"LeBron James is hard to miss when you're standing next to him," Hall says, referring to the famous guest at the Kentucky-Vanderbilt game Jan. 30. "But if you're on a camera at the top of the arena, you need a little help."
That's when Schwake or someone on his staff will get on the headset network to tell the cameraman what section a VIP is in and what they are wearing so they'll be on the big screen, particularly if they are going to be the "Y" in the traditional second-half cheer.
As much as everything is scripted, Schwake says, games often start without the staff knowing whether there will even be a celebrity "Y."
For a person to be the "Y," they "should be someone most of the crowd would recognize, even if the public address announcer didn't introduce them," Schwake says.
Even if that level of celeb is in the house — e.g. LeBron or Ashley Judd — it all depends on whether they want to participate in the cheer, led by the cheerleaders.
'Best in the country'
Before the game, the cheerleaders are under the stands getting banners and flags ready.
During the game, cheerleaders head coach Jomo Thompson is on the headset like pep band director Collins and everyone else.
"You have to be coordinated," cheerleaders adviser T. Lynn Williamson says, "because you don't want to be out there doing a cheer while they're running a promotion for a corporate sponsor or Dr. Todd is introducing his guests because people won't be very happy."
Despite all the planning, there are things that have to be played by ear, particularly timeouts called by coaches.
"You have to have a sense for the rhythm of the game," Collins says. "I'm usually watching the benches to see if Coach Calipari is getting ready to call a timeout or the other team is."
Collins says the band has almost a dozen tunes it can strike up on a second's notice for those unplanned breaks. For the band and the cheerleaders, it is important to have a sense of the situation to know what kind of song to play or cheer to call.
But no one hits the floor unless they're told to.
"You don't want it to look like nobody knows what's going on," Williamson says. "You see that at other places."
But not at Rupp.
Hall says the production of the games strives to be a reflection of the team itself.
"The basketball team always has a goal of being the best in the country," he says. "We want coming to a game at Rupp Arena to be the best experience of seeing a game in the country."