True to the Big Blue Madness credo of being surprise party as well as basketball celebration, Kentucky introduced the players on the 2009-10 team by placing them on scaffolding high above the Rupp Arena floor. This led to a logical question during rehearsal: Is anybody afraid of heights?
"Man," DeMarcus Cousins replied with his signature bravado, "I am heights."
So no wonder that UK senior associate athletic director Jason Schlafer remembers so clearly what happened as Cousins was lifted into place.
"He was grabbing the cherry picker," Schlafer said as he clenched his hands into twitchy fists. "He was scared of heights."
No pun intended, but the possibility of similarly delicious surprise hangs in the air as UK begins the final countdown this coming week toward another Madness. Fans can begin camping out for tickets at 5 a.m. Wednesday. Tickets will be distributed at 7 a.m. Saturday. Show time is Oct. 18.
Like how hydrogen and oxygen combine to form water, basic elements make up Madness: Introduction of players and coaches with the UK men's and women's teams, pickup games, cheerleaders, dance team, the beginning of another season's worth of "On! On! U of K."
But it's how those elements are mixed and presented that make for what UK hopes will be a memorable evening in Rupp Arena.
Of the hoped-for fan reaction, Schlafer said, "We want them to expect the unexpected."
UK officials acknowledged the pressure to outdo previous UK hoopaloozas.
"After every year you immediately have the sense that it was the best ever," said Nathan Schwake, an assistant athletic director for marketing and licensing. "Then you remember you felt that the year before. ... We try to be creative. We're competitive people."
This year UK has a tough act to follow. Last year's Madness featured a sentimental nod to the program's tradition. Representatives of previous national championship teams helped re-raise banners recognizing those achievements. It also had a wow moment when the term "projection cloth" entered the UK basketball lexicon. After workers quietly laid out the cloth in a darkened Rupp Arena, the court suddenly was transformed into a pseudo video screen.
Credit goes to Bob Stoops, the technical services manager at Rupp Arena. Stoops, no relation to UK football coach Mark Stoops, takes Madness ideas from UK and works to bring them to life. He'd seen the projection cloth used at a Super Bowl halftime show.
Schwake noted the benefit of working with men's coach John Calipari and women's coach Matthew Mitchell. Each is light on his feet, Mitchell especially so in previous incarnations as a Michael Jackson moonwalker and MC Hammer wannabe.
"They give us extra tools to play with, extra toys in the bin," Schwake said of the coaches' showmanship ability. "It definitely makes it easier. If you hand them a microphone, they'll be able to speak."
Of course, it's possible to have too much of a good thing. When asked if a player might mimic Miley Cyrus and begin twerking, Schlafer said, "I can't punish them if they do, but I know who can."
Going down memory lane, Schwake recalled his first Madness job in 2004: Standing behind Ashley Judd and acting as a buffer between her and fans. It wasn't heavy lifting since fans and Judd were preoccupied with Madness activities.
That 2009 Madness is Schlafer's favorite. It included Calipari's state-of-the-program address. "As clear a message statement as I've ever heard a coach give," Schlafer said.
In typically out-size UK fashion, the address was translated into Chinese, Arabic, American sign language, Kazakh, Russian and Spanish.
Vamos gran azul!
Hurley offers advice
High school coaching luminary Bob Hurley has won 25 state championships in his 39 seasons at St. Anthony High in Jersey City, N.J. His players over the years included soon-to-be UK standout Rodrick Rhodes.
Hurley spoke to the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches Clinic last weekend. His how-to advice for coaches included a glimpse into how the St. Anthony program operates. He advised:
■ Letting outsiders attend practices. "I let the whole world watch practices," he said, "except parents."
■ Saying something positive about each player inside the first 15 minutes of practice. "If you can't come up with something, he probably shouldn't have a uniform."
■ Noting how a team's best player should be able to guard people and pass the ball.
■ Not following the example of Mike Rice, the coach fired by Rutgers after video surfaced of him throwing balls at and kicking players. "If it's gotten to the point in practice where it's gotten that bad, the best thing you can do for yourself and the team is to have (the player) exit. If it still goes on, (the problem) may be you."
■ Remembering that coaches and players might seek different benefits from AAU basketball. "Kids want to play on a good team versus I want players to play on a team that gives them an expanded role so they'll get better."
■ Making basketball a family affair. His wife, Christine, has been the St. Anthony scorekeeper since 1985.
■ Following his example in requiring players to sign a "contract" before pre-season practice begins each year. The players agree to such conditions as submission to drug tests, a curfew (10 p.m. each night during the season) that extends to social media activity, a dress code and restrictions on tattoos.
■ Never cutting a player with size. He recalled how in 1993 a father he estimated standing about 5-foot-4 brought his 6-1 son to a tryout. Hurley asked how tall the son's mother was. She was about 6-foot and starred as a softball player in Jersey City. Hurley accepted the player on the chance he'd inherit his mother's height. The player turned out to be Roshown McLeod, who grew to 6-8 and later starred for Duke.
Red V. Blue
Director Rory Owen Delaney and producer Wade Smith continue to work on their documentary on the Kentucky-Louisville basketball series titled The Rivalry: Red V. Blue.
In the last week or so, they interviewed former Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown, whose gentle (?) persuasion in 1983 secured UK's grudging acceptance of a series with U of L. Others sharing their memories included Hall of Fame businessman Jim Host, longtime columnist Billy Reed, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, former U of L radio team Jock Sutherland and Van Vance, WKYT-TV sports anchor Rob Bromley, Paintsville Mayor Bob Porter and U of L stat crew chief Al Benninger.
Delaney and Smith plan for a theatrical release prior to this coming season's UK-U of L game on Dec. 28.
As with all things UK-U of L, plans must be made carefully. They hope for simultaneous premieres at Lexington's Kentucky Theatre and The Louisville Palace. Delaney and Smith smiled as they talked about giving patrons at each premiere the option of walking down red or blue carpets to their seats.
Tuesday marked a significant day for the stock market. For the first time, a sports company was included in the Dow Jones averages.
That company was — who else? — Nike, ubiquitous outfitter of sports teams, including those representing the University of Kentucky.
Nike thrives despite public relations missteps and/or alleged misbehavior by a number of its celebrity pitchmen: Lance Armstrong, Joe Paterno, Tiger Woods, Oscar Pistorius, Michael Vick.
Then there's simple excess. The much-discussed Football Performance Center that Nike built for the University of Oregon "is to college locker rooms what the Ritz Carlton is to Motel 6s," Frank Deford said in a recent commentary for National Public Radio.
Then there is the fad of black uniforms, which UK's football team wore against Louisville this month. Deford explained the trendy black uniforms as "a menacing color which is supposed to cow the wimpy opponent in its pretty old-fashioned school colors."
A vivid memory from last season came to mind: the black basketball uniforms Notre Dame wore against Kentucky featuring difficult-to-see black-on-black numbers. But as Coach Mike Brey noted, recruits love the jerseys, so Notre Dame would continue to wear them.
Optometrists everywhere cheered.
Party like it's 1997
Two Tucson-based charities used Arizona's victory over Kentucky in the 1997 national championship game in a fund-raising event Friday.
For donations ranging from $25 to $100 (the latter included admission to a reception and preferred seating), fans could watch a replay of Arizona beating UK in overtime. Such former Arizona players as Jason Terry, Miles Simon, A.J. Bramlett and Gene Edgerson were expected to attend the event at the Fox Tucson Theatre.
Proceeds went to the Primavera Foundation and the Blair Charity Group.
Longtime UK fan Elizabeth Roberts wrote a letter to Herald-Leader sports editor Gene Abell expressing her disapproval of Arizonans partying like it's 1997.
"Of course, it bothers me," she said in a follow-up phone conversation. "I'm a big UK fan."
Roberts voiced her support for charitable giving. "But I just think, couldn't they think of something a little more current to make money?" she said.
In ending her letter to Abell, Roberts wrote, "UK, in a backhanded way, is instrumental in raising funds for their foundation. I find this beyond stupid and ridiculous."
When the Sacramento Kings announced last week that Shaquille O'Neal was buying a share of the team, a local news announcer noted that perhaps he could help school "Demetrius Cousins."
Ailene Voisin, a columnist for the Sacramento Bee, hit on the same theme while correctly identifying the former UK star. Of course, it's DeMarcus Cousins.
"Who better to challenge, coax, teach and mentor DeMarcus Cousins than the biggest, baddest dude of his generation?" she wrote. "The fact he can rap, dance, rhyme and read — O'Neal has a doctoral degree — advances his cause and his case."
X doesn't mark spot
Xavier Coach Chris Mack "signed" 12-year-old Trey Couch to a national letter of intent, a goodwill gesture announced at a news conference last week. Couch has Cerebellar Degeneration, a neuro-degenerative disease that has no known cure.
In a statement, Mack said that Couch can help the players put in perspective the everyday challenges faced in basketball.
During the news conference, Xavier players posed as reporters. One player asked who his favorite team is. A smiling Couch answered, "Kentucky."
To former UK staffer Brandon Weems. Oakland (Mich.) named him an assistant coach. After three seasons at UK, he worked last season at Drexel.
Weems was a high school teammate of LeBron James.
To Jeff Sheppard. He turns 39 Sunday. ... To Dan Hall. He turned 59 on Thursday. ... To Ronnie Lyons. He turns 61 on Monday. ... To Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He turned 20 on Thursday. ... To Kevin Stallings. The Vandy coach turns 53 on Tuesday.