As one of the primary charms of Big Blue Madness, Kentucky introduces its freshman players to fans. But the August trip to the Bahamas served as an extended how-do-you-do this year.
So is the 2014 Madness diminished?
Some fans who camped out for tickets last week acknowledged that the love-at-first-sight element might be missing at Big Blue Madness on Oct. 17. But the infatuation hasn't cooled.
"It's kind of better," Louisville native Kim Bauder said. "We've already been introduced."
The first date is out of the way. Now, the partners in an annual marriage made in Big Blue Heaven can get to better know each other.
"We've seen them," fan Jason Stanifer of Berea said. "We want to see more. If there's any year where we have the chance to take off and play well (at the start of a season), it's this year."
Fans cited the anticipation of a dominating season more than made up for the missing thrill of a first-night premier. The customary collection of tents circling Memorial Coliseum (a record number, UK claimed) bolstered that argument.
"Normally, I'd agree," fan John Riley said of the suggestion of Madness diminished, if only slightly. "But this is such a special team."
Tommy Mullins, who works at a sporting goods store in Winchester, concurred. Madness is much bigger than an unveiling. He spoke while waiting in a line that began forming an hour before distribution of free T-shirts commemorating this year's campout.
The games in the Bahamas "doesn't diminish it for me," he said. "I came for the experience and to see the players (at the campout) and interact with them. This is more entertaining than people think."
Why the fuss?
When he spoke to syracuse.com last week, Jim Boeheim intended to defend Mike Krzyzewski against the charge of leveraging the position of Team USA coach to benefit Duke's recruiting. Nothing else.
But when Boeheim mentioned that John Calipari had complained more than once this summer about Krzyzewski getting a recruiting edge, what the Syracuse coach considered a "random interview" became a classic Kentucky kerfuffle.
"I didn't think it was that big a deal," Boeheim said in a telephone conversation. "I guess everything with Kentucky is a big deal."
Boeheim thought sportswriter Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports had inaccurately protrayed Krzyzewski's recent visit to Paul George's hospital bed and a talk to the under-19 USA Basketball national team last year as attempts to promote the Duke program.
"I was more concerned about the writer (writing) so many things not true," Boeheim said.
Near the end of Chris Carlson's story for syracuse.com, Boeheim noted that Calipari had coached the Dominican Republic National Team long enough to, coincidentally or not, get a commitment from one of its up-and-coming players, Karl-Anthony Towns.
The reference to Calipari overwhelmed Boeheim's defense of Krzyzewski, at least in Kentucky.
When asked if he'd gotten any feedback from Kentucky fans, Boeheim laughed and said, "I don't want to say, no. Then they'll start calling."
UK No. 1
In its 2014-15 college basketball preview magazine, Athlon Sports picked Kentucky as the No. 1 team in the nation and the SEC champion.
"Kentucky was the easy pick for No. 1 in the pre-season," managing editor Mitchell Light wrote in an email. "We have picked UK No. 1 in previous seasons based on pure talent alone — and we've been wrong (like others). This team, however, has talent and experience and depth. ... No team is perfect, but Kentucky doesn't appear to have many weaknesses."
Athlon also picked five UK players to its pre-season All-SEC teams: Andrew Harrison on the first team, Aaron Harrison, Alex Poythress and Karl-Anthony Towns to the second team and Willie Cauley-Stein to the third team.
Andrew Harrison is also a second-team preseason All-America pick.
Light, a Vanderbilt graduate, noted the difficulty in assessing UK's many freshmen in recent pre-seasons.
"Basically, we have to go by what we've learned from the recruiting analysts and from some of the reports from summer workouts. ... ," he wrote. "The summer tour in the Bahamas did factor in to a degree. It looks as though Alex Poythress is poised for a big junior season. He went, in our opinion, from a fringe all-conference guy to a guy we had to have on one of the teams. He looked very good."
'I just love it'
At 75, Bettie Adams seemed old enough to know better. Old enough not to be sitting in a lawn chair across The Avenue of Champions from Memorial Coliseum all night Monday and all day Tuesday.
She and about 100 other hearty Kentucky fans were in place Tuesday and ready to stay there overnight in order to get into position to charge across the street at about 5 a.m. Wednesday.
Didn't that put the madness in Big Blue Madness?
One question: Why?
"Basketball," Adams said. "I just love it."
Adams and her daughter, Debbie Florence, sat at a card table. Two fresh decks of cards set on the table waiting to be shuffled.
Florence, 51, rested a hand on a cane. She said a car wreck about seven years ago left her with a rebuilt hip, a stimulator implanted in her spine and a dead bone in her right ankle. Doctors also removed her spleen. Later in the week, she could be seen sitting outside a tent, looking glum and holding an ice pack against her forehead. "Migrane," she said,
Adams and Florence — who both live in Lexington — answered quickly when asked why they left the comforts of home.
"Oh, the atmosphere," Florence said.
"Excitement," Adams added.
The charge across The Avenue of Champions Wednesday morning seemed too big a task for Adams and Florence. Not to worry. Florence's youngest brother, Mark Wilson, did the charging. Once he pitched the tent, Adams and Florence walked across the street.
In a Blue fog
Tammi Roeder, who works for the catering service at UK's Student Center, didn't know what to make of the fans lined up at the Avenue of Champions across from Memorial Coliseum.
"What's this all for?" she asked as she walked up to the scene.
Tammi's new around here. She initially thought the people were lined up for a game or a concert or a free giveaway of some sort. Then she kind of remembered the occasion.
"I know this is the Big Blue whatever," she said, not sounding like she meant any slight.
Tammi said she moved to Lexington about a year ago for the job. She grew up in Bowling Green, Ohio.
"I do say, 'Go Blue!'" she said, "but for a different team."
That would be Michigan.
Her first impression of Big Blue Madness? "Kind of cool," Tammi said. "Great school spirit."
A brother and two sisters from southern Indiana were among the fans who waited across from Memorial Coliseum for the signal to pitch a tent for Big Blue Madness tickets.
John Riley said he regularly takes a week of vacation from his job in retail to camp out. One sister, Betty Wade, acknowledged apprehension about the upcoming stampede across the street.
"I'm a little scared," she said. "I'm a little nervous."
Conveniently, and ironically, the other sister, Julie Branaman, works as a safety and environment manager.
More than once last week someone suggested that a reporter pitch a tent and experience the camping phase of Big Blue Madness first hand.
Sorry. My idea of roughing it is basic cable and a pinot grigio from California.
On Wednesday, UK Coach John Calipari interrupted the camp-out for Big Blue Madness tickets for a commercial announcement.
In an appearance that lasted two minutes and 26 seconds, Calipari lauded Tempur-Pedic mattresses. The Lexington-based company provided mattresses for the Wildcat Coal Lodge.
"Tempur-Pedic has been good to us," Calipari said.
The coach's cameo appearance was part of a promotion that saw Tempur-Pedic officials give a mattress to campers Morgan Todd and Kaitlyn Tompkins. Tompkins, a sophomore from Richmond majoring in chemical engineering, had been sharing a tent outside Memorial Coliseum with Todd and their boyfriends.
"We're going to give the boyfriends the air mattresses," Tompkins said, "and we'll sleep on the bed."
Rick Maynard, a senior manager in Tempur-Pedic's public relations department, said he chose Todd and Tompkins to receive the mattress because he was looking for "the most destitute sleeping arrangements."
Todd and Tompkins had had poor success using a hand-cranked pump to inflate the air mattress.
In his talk at the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches Friday, Tennessee first-year coach Donnie Tyndall noted the many Kentuckians on his staff.
Assistant coaches Adam Howard and Chris Shumate are from Ashland and Louisville, respectively. Howard played at Western Kentucky, Shumate at Murray State.
J.T. Burton, the Director of Player Development, is from Springfield. Video coordinator Beau Braden is from Louisville and played for Centre College.
"We've got some Kentucky flavor on our staff," Tyndall told his audience. "I say that because if you have a Kentucky player you think can help us, we should get first dibs."
To Jack "Goose" Givens. He turns 58 on Sunday (today). ... To Dakari Johnson. He turns 19 on Monday. ... To Derrick Hord. He turned 54 on Friday. ... To Dicky Beal. He turned 52 on Thursday. ... To Rodrick Rhodes. He turns 41 on Wednesday. ... To Rick Pitino. He turned 62 on Thursday. (UK hired him as coach a quarter century ago.) ... To former Arkansas star Sidney Moncrief. He turns 57 on Sunday (today). ... To Matt Heissenbuttel. He turns 33 on Wednesday. ... To former Tennessee Coach Counzo Martin. He turns 43 on Tuesday.