LOUISVILLE — Hampton Coach Edward Joyner Jr.'s references to Jesus this week produced a great flood of responses.
"At the moment, I was having fun, not understanding it was going to play like that," he said of pretending to call Jesus for advice on playing No. 1 Kentucky on Thursday. "I think I had 297 texts when I got out of the gym and finally checked my phone."
After Hampton beat Manhattan in a First Four game Tuesday in Dayton, Joyner was asked about the challenge presented by Kentucky. He used his cellphone as a prop and pretended to call Jesus, whose miracles included walking on water and raising the dead.
"Hey, Jesus, ... they want to know how much of a mountain (UK represents) and what our odds are," Joyner said as reporters laughed.
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After a pause, he said, "Hello? Hello?"
Reporters laughed at the notion of Jesus hanging up on the Hampton coach. "I guess he'll get back to me," Joyner said. "I'll get back to you."
There was mixed reaction in 297 texts.
"Everybody had something to say about that comment," Joyner said. "Whether they liked it, didn't like it."
Joyner said he was simply trying to have fun.
"A lot of people don't understand I'm a loose guy and everybody in our program is loose," he said. "We think that we're more successful when we're loose and kind of playing off our instincts."
A reporter played along Wednesday by asking the Hampton coach if Jesus had ever called him back.
"Actually, he sent me an email, and said go ahead and prepare, we'll talk a little bit later on," Joyner said. "All jokes aside, though, I think the guys are ready. They're confident, and they're ready to compete."
'It's crazy here'
Several thousand UK fans attended the public shoot-around in the Yum Center. When Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson emerged from the locker room to go to the area set up for formal news conferences, squeals of delight could be heard.
"That's the way it'll be the whole ride," Ulis said. "It's like a home game."
Ulis' initial reaction to the fans was puzzlement. Why were the fans here to watch UK players shoot.
"It's crazy here," he said. "The fans, they love us."
Added Booker: "I can only imagine what it's like (for an opponent) to be at a neutral site and see all blue."
Hampton will probably play without Dwight Meikle, its leading scorer (13 ppg), rebounder (7.5 rpg) and shot-blocker (43). He hasn't played since sustaining a high ankle sprain on March 9.
"Still rehabbing," Joyner said of Meikle. "Right now, I don't think that he's going to play. We'll see. We'll try him out again tomorrow."
Hampton's Quinton Chievous, who began his college career at Tennessee, turned an ankle late in the victory over Manhattan on Tuesday.
"He participated a little bit in our walk-through today," Joyner said. "But he's a warrior. I think it will be short of death that he wouldn't play."
Kentucky plays in the last of four games here Thursday.
Iowa State Coach Fred Hoiberg, whose team plays in the first game, noted the difference.
"The last three years, we played the last game," he said. "If I'm not mistaken, almost approaching 10 at night. So this is different. Playing pretty much the first game (of the day at any site). So instead of watching and seeing what it's all about, you're the one showing everybody else what it's all about."
Playing late is better than early in dealing with first-game jitters, Hoiberg suggested.
"You can talk to your guys till you're blue in the face about what this thing is like," he said. "But until they actually get out there on that floor for the first time ... "
Practices before the NCAA Tournament give the coaches a sense of a team's readiness, he said.
"That's when it all starts. In the preparation leading up to this event," he said. "It's not, 'OK, we hit the floor. What's it like?' It's how you prepare and our guys have had really good preparation."
Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkle and Allie LaForce will call the game for CBS.