The last time John Calipari was on a train with his Kentucky basketball team, they had just won a national title and took a tour of the state with the championship trophy.
UK’s next run at a national title begins in earnest this week, and Calipari and the Cats kicked it off by taking the Big Blue Caravan to Frankfort and Midway and back Sunday aboard another R.J. Corman train.
“I want these guys to know the impact they have on people in the state, so I think it ended up being a good trip,” Calipari said after more than 90 minutes of signing autographs and posing for photos with fans on a hot afternoon in Midway. “We had some team building on the way up, so we got done with what we needed to get done."
Sunday began with the Cats boarding the train to Frankfort to hold another one of Calipari’s basketball camps, and this was the first one of these sessions he had his full complement of players. Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis completed the 2018-19 roster by signing last week.
“It was pretty good the last time we did this,” Calipari said of the 2012 trip. “I’m getting a good vibe from this group. … I’m excited. Normally, in the summer I back up and I get away, but with this group I told them, I’m kind of excited to be around them.”
Calipari gets four hours a week with his team under new NCAA rules and practice begins Monday.
For fans who waited in line Sunday, the season can’t begin soon enough.
“Oh, my God, I’m ready for it start today or tomorrow,” said Robin Parker-Hackett of Georgetown, who had been in line since about 2 p.m. for the announced 5:30 p.m. arrival in front of Darlin Jeans’ Apple Cobbler Cafe. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world. I’ve brought my husband and my daughter with me and we’ve made a lot of new friends.”
Those friends numbered in the hundreds by the time UK arrived, with the line stretching from the edge of the café around the United Bank building and back.
UK had anticipated signing for about 30 to 40 minutes before traveling on to Lexington, but with so many gathered, Calipari and his players stayed until the last autograph was signed at 7:08 p.m., pushing back their Lexington signing by nearly an hour.
“It’s probably one of the coolest things, because I got a poster and I got a ball (signed),” said Reece Palmer, 11, of Cynthiana who got through the line about 6:30 p.m.
The players weren’t made available to the media for comment, but patiently signed each of the items fans brought, along with a poster UK has been handing out on its other Caravan trips around the state this month.
In a video posted on Twitter by UK, Travis summed up the experience.
"It was a great day meeting all the fans that came out today," Travis said. "For me, it was especially important to get to meet everybody for the first time. I really do see the power of Big Blue Nation now."
Calipari has perhaps his best combination of talent and experience since the run to the Final Four with Karl-Anthony Towns and the Harrison twins in 2015.
“I think they have a good balance with this team as far as returning players (including Quade Green, Nick Richards and P.J. Washington),” said Micah Riddle of Georgetown. “I think it’s awesome. Adding (freshman) Ashton Hagans and then adding on Reid Travis just tops where we were already at. We already had a potential (for a title) at that point, but I think it’s even more so now.”