Big Blue Madness was the second thrill of the day for Kentucky basketball icon Kyle Macy. Earlier Friday, he became a first-time grandfather when daughter Mallory gave birth to a son, Jackson.
Jared Prickett came with his son, Ryder, 10. Jeff Sheppard with daughter Madison, 16.
It was couples night: Henry and Missy Thomas. Newlyweds Jarrod and Arial Polson (Polson gave a thumbs up on married life: “Two weeks in, good so far,” he said).
Perry Stevenson arrived with a very pregnant Molly. “Due any day,” she said. “Doctor said it could be in an hour or three weeks. I’m hoping it doesn’t happen here.”
Giving birth would have been fitting at this year’s Big Blue Madness. The UK program not only celebrated the return of basketball, it also bathed in an appeal that stretches across many generations past, present and future.
Winston Bennett, the on-court strongman and enforcer for UK teams in the mid-1980s, got sentimental as he tried to describe this reunion of basketball family.
“This is a little bit of heaven on earth,” he said. “It really is.”
Bennett suggested it was damning with faint praise to call this year’s Big Blue Madness a mere reunion.
“Oh man,” he said. “It’s so much more. It’s almost like the heavenly hosts. You’ve died and gone to heaven. You’re with a bunch of angels.”
All were welcomed at Kentucky basketball’s table. Cory Sears, an end-of-the-bench reserve in 2000-01 and 2001-02, had not been in Rupp Arena since transferring away. He came and felt welcomed.
Work and family obligations kept him away, said Sears, who runs a car dealership and dabbles in real estate in his hometown of Corbin.
“Coach Cal (John Calipari) reaching out to everybody, that’s excellent,” Sears said. “That’s what it’s all about. I really appreciate that.”
Perhaps the most decorated ex-Cat who made a blue carpet entrance was Jack Givens, the hero in Kentucky’s first post-Adolph Rupp national championship.
When asked if 1978 seemed a long time ago, Givens gave a qualified answer.
“It depends on the time of the year,” he said. “NCAA (tournament) time, it seems like just yesterday. At this time of year going through the grind of the preseason, it couldn’t be along enough away from here. Man, I hate thinking of those days.”
Of course, the players on the 2016-17 team have been training for months. Madness gave UK fans a preview of what may come. Isaiah Briscoe, whose 5-for-37 three-point shooting has been the subject of much conversation, made a shot from beyond the arc.
If Madness is about recruiting, which former UK Coach Joe B. Hall suggested earlier this month, the event made that cup overflow.
Mohamed Bama, the highest-ranked uncommitted prospect in the class of 2017 at No. 2 nationally by Scout.com, was a surprise late addition to the Big Blue Madness recruiting guest list. He joined fellow five-star high school seniors Quade Green, Kevin Knox, Nick Richards, PJ Washington and Trae Young in Rupp Arena.
With several five-star high school junior sophomores also in attendance, it was believed to be the most talented group of prospects to be at UK’s Madness.
In case any prospect did not understand what Kentucky basketball can do, Willie Cauley-Stein delivered the message.
“You come here, you’re probably going to be a pro,” Cauley-Stein told the crowd. “It’s that simple.”
To usher in the men’s basketball portion of the program, a video played on the new video screens over center court.
The video proclaimed UK fans as “the best fans in the world. The loudest fans in the world,”
A series of messages on the overhead scoreboard drove home the idea that Kentucky basketball has an unshakable permanence.
“There is one constant: BBN.” “This is Rupp Arena.” “Center Stage.” “The Main Event.”
Arguably the most famous announcer/ringmaster, Michael Buffer, the man who made “Let’s get ready to rumble” his catchphrase, introduced each of the 14 UK players.
Former players in attendance were recognized. Kenny Walker got a big cheer. The crowd erupted in “Woooo” for Lukasz Obrzut and “Gooooose” for Givens.
As the players prepared to scrimmage, Buffer returned to center court and announced with his signature theatrical flair, “Let’s get ready for round-ball.”
When Calipari announced late arrivals DeMarcus Cousins and Cauley-Stein, the UK coach captured the essence of the evening.
“Our latest journey together begins tonight,” he said. “This season, our 114th season, marks the next step for these players, all striving for greatness as they chase their lifelong dreams.
“This, my friends, is what family is all about.”