UK Men's Basketball

Drake appears at Big Blue Madness, and it could help Cats with recruiting

Hip-hop star Drake — a noted University of Kentucky basketball fan — made an appearance at Big Blue Madness on Friday.

“Drake is on his way,” John Calipari said during his speech to the Rupp Arena crowd, which exploded with applause at that announcement.

Calipari called Drake a “friend of the program” and said that the musician would be an honorary coach for the Madness scrimmage. He also compelled his players to “emulate Drake” and the work ethic that has led to his international acclaim.

“If you want to emulate excellence and maintain humility (and) loyalty, emulate Drake,” Calipari said. “If you want to emulate strong drive, embracing the biggest stage and the goodness of the compassionate heart, you emulate Drake.”

UK’s special guest walked onto the Rupp court from one of the corner entrances and exchanged hugs with Calipari and former and current players before giving Ellen Calipari a big hug and posing for a photo with the team.

“I think it was 2009 when Coach first brought me out here, and it was one of the best experiences of my life,” Drake told the Rupp crowd. “This family right here — you’re a special, special group. Make some noise for your team this year.”

The crowd cheered, and Drake continued.

“The energy in Lexington really comes from each and every one of you that fill this building every night, so make some noise for yourself, because it’s truly incredible.”

The crowd cheered again, and Drake went on.

“I told Coach that I wanted to come back, and he made it possible for me to be here, so I appreciate you accepting me again, one more time,” he said. “You know, people ask me, ‘There are so many madnesses going on and so many different events, why don’t you go anywhere else?’ And I tell them, ‘I’m a Wildcat through and through. And there’s only one Big Blue.’”

The crowd roared.

Drake then told the fans that, before the school year is over, he intends to return to Lexington and do a free concert for the UK students.

“That’s all I ask,” Drake said, as the crowd continued cheering. “Big Blue Nation, I love you. Make some noise for your team and make some noise for Coach Cal!”

Drake, who wore a shirt that said “Kentucky Dad,” sat on the bench next to UK’s coach as the Wildcats warmed up, the two friends laughing as they talked.

It was the latest of many collaborations the Canadian star has had with UK.

Drake has attended UK basketball games, introduced Calipari to the Rupp Arena crowd at Big Blue Madness three years ago — when he famously shot an airball during warmups — attended the first Madness under Calipari and recorded a special video for another recent Madness event.

He even showed up at UCLA this summer to hit the basketball court in a full Kentucky uniform. (The Cats eliminated the Bruins from the NCAA Tournament last season, don’t forget).

Drake has credited Calipari with inspiring him to go back and finish his high school degree. He appeared on an episode of Calipari’s podcast earlier this year, and the UK coach asked him where he would go to play college basketball if he were a star high school recruit.

“I would just go straight to Kentucky,” Drake said after heaping praise on Calipari and his basketball program. “I’d have to play under you. That would be one of the greatest things that could ever happen in my life.”

Five-star basketball recruit Zion Williamson was one of 10 recruits visiting UK on Friday night, and Drake’s affiliation with UK certainly won’t hurt the Wildcats’ chances with Williamson, the No. 2 overall recruit in the country.

Drake was photographed wearing a Williamson’s high school jersey earlier this year.

“When your favorite rapper wears your jersey, the feeling is sensational” Williamson told USA Today in January. He sat directly behind Drake and Calipari during UK’s warmups Friday night.

Williamson’s friend and fellow five-star basketball recruit, Immanuel Quickley, announced his commitment to Kentucky last month. An hour later, Quickley posted an image of himself wearing a UK uniform with the message “And I rock Kentucky Blue,” a reference to a line in Drake’s song, “Scholarships.”

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader