UK Men's Basketball

Rupp Arena has solved its Wi-Fi problem. ‘People want to stay connected.’

Brad Calipari took a shot in the second half against Clarion in Rupp Arena in Lexington on Oct. 30, 2016. Kentucky won 108-51, a blowout that gave UK fans ample time to check their cellphones.
Brad Calipari took a shot in the second half against Clarion in Rupp Arena in Lexington on Oct. 30, 2016. Kentucky won 108-51, a blowout that gave UK fans ample time to check their cellphones. Staff file photo

As Kentucky played North Carolina in 2011, a camera mounted in the Rupp Arena ceiling rotated 360 degrees as it photographed the crowd. The idea behind the promotion was to invite UK fans to go online and identify themselves and their seat locations.

What the camera revealed stunned Bill Owen, the CEO and president of Lexington Center Corp.

“I was amazed by how many people in the first 10 rows were just like this,” Owen said as he brought his hands close to his face as if looking at a cellphone. “Wait! You’re in the eighth row of a University of Kentucky game at Rupp Arena. All you’re doing is looking at your 3-by-6-inch personal video screen?”

This made sense to Mike Fox, whose title at LCC is Information Technology Manager.

“People want to stay connected,” he said. “They still want to be able to talk to other people who are not there through their phone. They want to keep in touch while they’re at an event.”

Keeping in touch should be much easier for UK fans and other Rupp Arena patrons in the future. As part of a $15 million upgrade, LCC spent about $2 million to improve Wi-Fi in Rupp Arena, Heritage Hall and the Lexington Opera House. The $15 million upgrade also included the scoreboards/video boards over center court, the ribbon board advertising and a new sound system.

The new Wi-Fi, which had what Owen called a “soft opening” at UK’s Senior Night on Feb. 28, has 10 times the capacity of the old system. The response time will be noticeably faster. Maybe best of all, the Wi-Fi will work for non-Verizon customers. The previous system only accommodated devices that used Verizon.

LCC properties will have 470 “nodes” which help connect users to the network. Previously, there were 70.

The previous Wi-Fi setup in Rupp Arena generated “tons and tons of complaints,” Fox said. Access was limited to the media. The system became overloaded as fans learned the network and password used by media. The ability to make a cellphone call could be iffy.

“I’ve always believed a bad Wi-Fi is worse than no Wi-Fi,” Owen said. “It makes you more frustrated than if you had no Wi-Fi at all.”

If LCC officials needed more prodding to upgrade the Wi-Fi, it came from the NCAA. One of the new requirements to play host to NCAA Tournament games is reliable Wi-Fi availability for all fans. Rupp Arena is scheduled to hold first- and second-round games in 2021.

Owen, who now embraces “living our life looking at screens,” put the new, improved Wi-Fi system in the context of re-inventing Rupp Arena.

When asked about future Wi-Fi vistas Rupp Arena patrons can conquer, Owen spoke of fans watching one game on their phones while glancing at Kentucky’s game. Or vice versa. For instance, he said with a grin, New Year’s Eve could serve this purpose.

“Watch UK play in a bowl game on Dec. 31 while UK plays (against Georgia in basketball) at 6:30,” he said.

More seriously, Owen put the change in Wi-Fi in the broader context of a re-invented Rupp Arena.

The previous Wi-Fi system contributed “to the impression of Rupp Arena as antiquated, old-fashioned, archaic,” he said. “Not modern and contemporary. So with the center-hung (scoreboard), the Wi-Fi, these new elements, all of a sudden, at 41 years old, we’re relevant and contemporary.”

Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey’s impact extended to Texas A&M, which is about 90 miles northwest of Houston.

A&M canceled classes Monday and Tuesday, the scheduled first two days of the fall semester. Classes began Wednesday.

Coach Billy Kennedy said the family of one player, junior guard Chris Collins, lives in Friendswood, Texas, which is about 25 miles southeast of Houston. The first floor of the family home was flooded, causing the family to retreat to the second floor.

Another A&M player, Josh Nebo, was stranded alone in his Houston home. His mother could not get from her job at a hospital to the house, Kennedy said.

After staying in daily contact with calls and texts, Kennedy sent an assistant on Wednesday to bring Nebo to College Station. Flood water prevented the assistant from driving to the player’s house. So they met a few blocks away, Kennedy said.

A record rain fall in one day — “20-something inches,” Kennedy said — flooded some streets in College Station. But there was no serious damage.

Tcxas A&M converted its basketball practice facility into a center for donations of clothing, food and other supplies.

“It’s been a cool thing,” Kennedy said of the volunteerism inspired by Hurricane Harvey. “A lot of people stepping up.”

Telethon

On Sunday, UK Coach John Calipari will stage a “Teaming Up for Texas” telethon intended to raise money for hurricane relief. The telethon, which will be staged at Lexington television station WKYT, will air from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.

The telethon will also be televised by stations in Louisville (WBKI), Hazard (WYMT), Bowling Green (WBKO), Paducah (WPSD) and Ashland/Huntington/Charleston (WSAZ).

Pointed response

During the recent Alumni Charity event in Rupp Arena, UK Coach John Calipari and two guests shot a commercial plugging next season’s game against Monmouth scheduled for Dec. 9 at Madison Square Garden. Tickets went on sale earlier that day for what’s being called the Citi Hoops Classic game.

The guests were ex-Cat Karl-Anthony Towns and his father, Karl Towns. The elder Towns played for Monmouth in the mid-1980s. He averaged a double-double (10.9 points, 12.3 rebounds) in the 1984-85 season.

The game against Kentucky “gives us a chance to maybe make history,” he said before adding that he’s a fan of both UK and Monmouth. “I’m going to win no matter what,” he said.

Playful banter ensued.

“Karl was a terrific player,” Calipari said of the elder Towns. “But more importantly, a great guy. . . .

“What happened to his son?”

To clarify his whereabouts, the former UK player kept a deadpan expression on his face as he gave Calipari a pointed response, so to speak.

“25 and 12,” he said, a reference to his averages of 25.1 points and 12.3 rebounds for the Minnesota Timberwolves last season.

Congrats times two

Jack Givens and his wife, Linda, will travel to Greece as part of a double celebration later this year. The trip will help Givens mark turning 61 on Sept. 21. He and Linda will also celebrate their 32nd wedding anniversary on Oct. 5.

Givens tore his right Achilles tendon while playing in UK’s Alumni Charity Game last weekend. After surgery Tuesday, he was thinking about his athletic comeback.

“All I want to do is get back out and swing the golf club . . . ,” he said. “The basketball playing days are over, that’s for sure. Unless it’s a game of H-O-R-S-E.”

Father-son enshrinements

A Lexington family will see two of its members inducted into athletic halls of fame this fall.

Former baseball standout Collin Cowgill will be inducted into UK’s Athletics Hall of Fame on the weekend of Sept. 22-23.

His father, Bill Cowgill, will be inducted into the Birmingham-Southern Sports Hall of Fame on Oct. 13.

The elder Cowgill, who retired on Aug. 1 at age 66, played basketball at Birmingham-Southern. One of the assistant coaches was Jim Hatfield, who later was an assistant coach at UK.

“He was hard-nosed,” Hatfield said of Bill Cowgill. “He’d take a charge on a freight train.”

The elder Cowgill repeatedly relied on self-deprecation when discussing his upcoming enshrinement. The willingness to take a charge against a freight train inspired more of the same. “I don’t know if that’s a compliment of my ability to take punishment,” he said, “or my stupidity.”

As for his son entering UK’s Hall of Fame, Bill Cowgill said, “Collin was certainly deserving.”

For the 2008 season, Collin Cowgill was named a first-team All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. He was also a two-time academic All-American.

The elder Cowgill pointed out that his son is part of a starry induction class. Other former UK athletes being inducted this year include basketball point guard John Wall and football receiver Randall Cobb.

C.M. salute

ESPN is working on a documentary of former UK athletics director C.M. Newton.

The film is tentatively scheduled to air on the SEC Network on Sept. 26.

Fore!

Bobby Perry scored 665 points in a UK career he completed in the 2006-07 season. He was among the many ex-Cats who acknowledged at the Alumni Charity Game that his basketball skills had eroded.

Perry seemed to suggest that neglect was a factor. He devotes his sporting time to golf. He said he has a 1 handicap.

Happy birthday

To Lukasz Obrzut. He turned 35 on Thursday. … To Jim Andrews. He turned 66 on Friday. … To Steve Masiello. He turned 40 on Saturday. … To former Georgetown coach John Thompson. He turned 76 on Saturday. … To Julius Mays. He turns 28 on Monday. … To Bo Lanter. He turns 58 on Monday. … To Nazr Mohammed. He turns 40 on Tuesday. … To Dale Brown. The former UK guard turns 49 on Wednesday. … To Alex Poythress. He turns 24 on Wednesday. … To John Wall. He turns 27 on Wednesday.

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

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