Fans came from near (Lexington, Winchester, Georgetown) and far (Dallas, Sanibel Island) to hear new Kentucky Coach John Calipari speak to the Kiwanis Club of the Bluegrass on Thursday.
The attendance, which the club limited to 140 because of space limitations at a Lexington hotel, dwarfed the usual 30 to 35 that come to the meetings. It also reflected what Calipari said separated UK basketball from other programs.
"Everywhere I go, I'm asked what makes it different," he said of being UK coach. "It's the enthusiasm and passion of the people in the state. I've never been at a school where the people in the state are with you."
At Massachusetts, Calipari's efforts came in the shadow of the Big East Conference, Red Sox Nation and other Boston professional teams.
And Memphis? "We were in a state with (pause) what's the team?" he said, pretending not to remember the Tennessee Volunteers.
After visiting Kentuckians from Paducah to Pikeville and seeing fans flock to his electronic outposts (more than 800,000 Twitter followers, more than 67,000 on his Face-book page and 80 countries hitting CoachCal.com), Calipari knows he commands a grand stage.
He also noted the fans thirst for the good basketball news his arrival suggests.
"It's almost like you all have been sad for five years," he said. "Now, it's like I've been bombarded."
Austin King, 12, came from Dallas with his father to hear Calipari.
Of missing two days of school to hear the Kentucky coach, Austin said, "I'm happy about it. But making up the work will be hard."
Chris Bimschleger, the daughter of former club president Paul Bimschleger, had an idea for Austin. "He's hoping Coach Cal will write him an excuse," she said.
Dave Bimschleger, the former president's son, left a business meeting in Sanibel Island, Fla., early Wednesday morning to hear Calipari at the luncheon. He planned to fly to Brazil that evening to conduct further business.
Besides sensing a sadness among fans, Calipari suggested the players can need uplifting, too. He noted how players can be worn down and simply want the season to end.
"If a player is miserable and beaten down verbally, do you think he wants to extend the season?" the UK coach said. Calipari added that he intended to be demanding, but hoped to inspire the players by making them feel "part of something special."
The thrill of competition will spur the players to greater effort.
"You'll say, 'How did they win that game?'" the UK coach said. "Because they wanted to."
Highlights of Calipari's 45-minute talk and question-answer session included the coach saying:
■ The adaptation to a new system should temper runaway expectations.
"No more five passes (before shots)," he said. "We don't set screens."
Of the dribble-drive offense, Calipari said of the players, "They don't know it yet. You don't know it."
To which, a club member called out, "Do you know it?"
Calipari smiled and said, "I better know it."
■ Josh Harrellson and Darius Miller have impressed.
The dribble-drive's emphasis on reacting and thinking on the fly enhance Harrellson's worth, the coach said. "All five (players) are moving with the ball."
■ The campers ringing the Memorial Coliseum/Joe Craft Center complex waiting for Big Blue Madness tickets sent a message to the players.
"They realize this isn't for fun," he said. "This means a lot to people."
■ He will discipline players with the idea of rehabilitation rather than punishment.
"These kids do dumb things like your own children," he said. "Do you ever look at your kids and say, 'Where did you come from?'
"These kids will do dumb things. I won't throw them under the bus, and I'll get killed for it."
The idea is not leniency, he said.
"You want to get them to change," he said. "If they don't, you punish them again. But we always love them and (try to) get them to change."