As part of an annual rite for many Kentucky fans, Marsha Poe camps out for tickets to Big Blue Madness. Having gotten four tickets last year, she packed up and headed for home in Louisville.
Then her 2013 campout experience rocked wildly off course.
As she neared Jefferson County, Poe sensed something was wrong.
"I'm losing power here," she recalled thinking as she drove west.
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Other cars along I-64 had beeped their horns, as if alerting her to ... what?
Poe quickly understood when she pulled onto the shoulder. "As soon as I stopped, smoke came out," she said.
Her 2001 Chrysler Town & Country van was on fire. Poe and her daughter, Kendall, scrambled out of the van.
"I did have sense enough to grab my purse and my keys," Poe said.
But, she lost her tents — tents, plural — because for the annual campout for UK Madness tickets it's wise to quickly pitch one makeshift tent to simply mark your spot. Then, later, you carefully set up the tent you'll call home for the next few days.
When the fire fighters arrived and extinguished the flames, Poe asked if someone could retrieve the Madness tickets she'd put near the dash. The tickets were charred, but Poe could still make out the numbers.
"So I called UK," Poe said. "And they told me to just bring them down there and they'd replace them. And they did. So that was good."
Poe saw the happy ending as a reminder of what's important and what's not. Typically, the campout for the free Madness tickets outside Memorial Coliseum blurs that line. It can be chaotic, surreal and borderline unnerving. When fans stampede across the Avenue of Champions in an almost desperate need to be at the front of the lines snaking around the building, enthusiasm can be dangerous.
Poe remembered a conversation she had last year with a mother and daughter as they waited for UK to tell fans it was time to cross the street and set up tents. The mother and daughter were at their first Madness campout.
"She (the mother) says, 'Let's all just look out for one another,'" Poe said. "I said, 'Honey, that sounds real nice, but it doesn't happen like that.'"
As if on cue, the mother got knocked down in the scramble to set up tents.
This year's campout for Madness tickets begins at 5 a.m. Wednesday. Tickets will be distributed at 7 a.m. on Saturday. That gives fans a few days to experience camping out and showcasing their rabid interest in UK basketball. And it gives UK enough time to promote that interest without anyone going to ridiculous lengths (one year a man, "Wildcat" Wally Clark, camped out for 39 days).
The athletics department will again provide portable restroom facilities. For safety reasons, UK does not allow permanent wooden-type structures, portable generators, propane tanks or other open flames used in cooking, alcoholic beverages and tobacco products.
In a news release, UK reminded that scalping is illegal in Kentucky. But Poe suggested that scalping is one reason why enthusiasm can run amok.
"That's money for them," she said of people who get in prime position in order to have better tickets to resell. "I've seen them in action."
If you don't camp, Madness tickets will also be available at UKathletics.com and Ticketmaster.com beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday.
UK will distribute a limited amount of control cards to campers at 2 p.m. Friday. The school asks fans to start lining up for Saturday's ticket distribution between 4 and 5 a.m. All fans must be present to get control cards and only one control card per person will be accepted when tickets are distributed.
Watching the mother get knocked down and the cutthroat effort to get in favorable positions made Poe question whether to camp out this year. "When I have to lie, cheat and steal to get that ticket, I better pick up another habit," she said. "If it's not fun, I'm not going to do it anymore."
But, as the lure of another Madness and another UK basketball season neared, Poe could not resist. She's arranged for older daughter Lindsay to watch her two dogs, a Rottweiler named Tia and a Jack Russell named C.J. She plans to drive to Lexington in her 2005 Chevy Impala, which has 189,000 miles on the odometer.
"My old blue faithful," she said Wednesday. "I've had that car half-packed for a week."
Kentucky's NBA combine set for Oct. 10-11 has a hello-goodbye quality. Perhaps UK Coach John Calipari's reason for the workouts, first reported by Yahoo Sports last week, is to get scouts out of the way early rather than have NBA types attending practices throughout the preseason and early season.
"He's got a lot of work to do," said Irving Thomas, once a UK player and now a longtime scout for the Los Angeles Lakers. "He has a lot to figure out. Rotations. Playing time. I think that he's just trying to prevent distractions, especially early in the season.
" ... He can get the NBA part out of the gym, and he can focus on the team."
Thomas, who learned of the combine from UK assistant Kenny Payne, said he plans to attend.
Initial reports suggested that Calipari would close UK practices to NBA personnel after the Oct. 10-11 combine. It seems likely that Calipari will reopen practices to scouts sometime later in the season, surely after UK settles on a team identity, players accept roles, the program moves into a winning groove and players are less susceptible to NBA thoughts crowding out team objectives.
"That's what it sounded like to me," Thomas said. "I don't think his plan is to do that (close practices) all season. Maybe the first month. I'd be surprised if that happened all season."
UK's NBA combine also has a turn-the-page quality. Calipari can tell players they had a chance to showcase individual skill. Then on Oct. 12, it will be time to move forward as a unified group.
'Not super significant'
As for the NBA point of view, Thomas said the UK combine will be part of a long process of evaluation. Impressions made in October will be subject to complete overhaul in March and April. After the college season, there are individual NBA team workouts, the NBA Combine, testing and interviewing prior to the NBA Draft.
So, Irving Thomas said, UK's NBA combine is "not super significant" in the evaluation process for the 2015 NBA Draft. Ryan Blake, the senior director of NBA scouting operations, said he does not plan to attend UK's combine.
Yahoo Sports noted how the UK combine represented a chance for UK Coach John Calipari "to impress a throng of top high school recruits on campus visits and once again frame his program as college basketball's best NBA feeder system."
Irving Thomas chuckled.
"He's done a great job recruiting without putting this on," the Lakers' scout said. " ... Is it going to help them? He's got the most talented team in the country, probably, on paper."
Bottom line: It can't hurt recruiting to remind prospects that Kentucky basketball has made many NBA dreams come true. But Kentucky has recruited well without staging a combine.
The idea of promoting UK as a staging area for NBA players causes the mind to drift to the ESPN All-Access shows of two years ago. At that time, Calipari fretted aloud that ESPN might put too much emphasis on the Kentucky-NBA connection.
Reports of UK's NBA combine suggested that so-called "NBA-style" drills will enable scouts to better judge Kentucky's many pro prospects. Question: Aren't basketball drills simply basketball drills? Do "NBA-style" drills really exist?
"Yeah, they do," Irving Thomas said.
The former UK player explained.
"Most college teams, they have systems they're running, and they want their kids to fit that system," he said. "So you may not be able to see a lot of the things he can do."
For instance, centers might be stationed almost exclusively in the low post during college practices.
"You really don't know: Can he handle the ball a little bit?" Thomas said. "Can he shoot it a little bit?"
Retirement is not agreeing with former UK standout Adrian "Odie" Smith. Although he turns 78 on Oct. 5, he's open to starting a new career.
He had been working as vice president at Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank until his job was eliminated as part of a reorganization on June 6.
Smith is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and, unfailingly, a nice guy.
Concerns about the use of the "N-word" led the NFL to consider a ban on its use. This led Norman Chad to devote last week's syndicated column to tongue-in-cheek suggestions of other words that should be banned. His rundown of the alphabet:
■ Another N-word. "'NCAA.' This organization is so vulgar and barbaric, al-Qaeda's got it on speed-dial."
■ The S-word. "'SportsCenter.' Yeah, I know, it's sacrilege to spit in the face of SportsCenter, but I've always preferred my sports highlights in five minutes or less."
■ The T-word. "'Twitter.' The death of us all. Speaking of which, I'm already crafting a 140-character obit of myself."
Belated happy birthday
To Claude Singleton. A Tates Creek High School product, he played one season for UK in the early 1970s. He turned 60 on Sept. 5.
"I remember my parents beaming as we sat right underneath the basket at Memorial Coliseum and seeing basketball up close," said Roger Singleton, the former UK player's brother. "Something that until then we only experienced from the radio."
To Marcus Lee. He turns 20 on Sunday. ... To Todd Svoboda. He turns 43 on Sunday. ... To Billy Evans. He turned 82 on Saturday. ... To Mark Pope. He turned 42 on Thursday. ... To Reggie Warford. He turns 60 on Monday. ... To Marquis Estill. He turns 33 on Monday. ... To John Brady. The former LSU coach turns 60 on Wednesday.