UK Men's Basketball

Calipari touts Kentucky’s ‘limitless’ basketball potential during Big Blue Madness

Sound and fury signifying . . . what?

As always, Kentucky liberally sprinkled the customary high-volume good cheer and conquer-the-world sentiments on its annual Big Blue Madness celebration Friday night.

How much basketball intelligence could be gleamed from the two-hour show?

“Zero,” former UK star Jeff Sheppard said. “But (the players) do get insight into what basketball means to this state, and the excitement of being part of this.”

This preview into a program where any dribble can be the stuff of Shakespearean drama can benefit the players this season, Sheppard said.

“They understand the significance of the jerseys they wear,” he said. “How important it is to the state and the university and the fans and all the people here in Kentucky. And it should motivate them to play and give their very best.”

John Calipari based his state-of-the-program address on the accomplishments of his first 10 years as UK coach and the “limitless” potential for more basketball glory in the future.

Recalling his first Madness in 2009, Calipari said that celebration was watched by thousands in Rupp Arena, plus millions “around the state, the country and the world.”

Calipari followed with a familiar review of his first 10 seasons that included on-court victories (2012 national championship, plus more appearances in the Final Four, Elite Eight and Sweet 16 than any other program), NBA Draft picks (29 of 38 picks in the first round), 20 players graduating and no NCAA trouble.

“We distinguished ourselves as we climbed to the top of college basketball . . . ,” Calipari told a crowd that came to Rupp Arena. “That level of success is only possible at a place like Kentucky (which has) the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball.”

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Other examples of the blue meat that Calipari served ever-hungry UK fans included calling Kentucky a “cathedral of college basketball” and “the Carnegie Hall of college athletics.”

Turning to the future, Calipari spoke of UK basketball seeking new challenges and even greater heights to summit.

This reach-for-the-stars ambition was “why Kentucky will forever be the greatest tradition in college basketball,” Calipari said before concluding his remarks with a declaration. “It is on,” he said as the 2019-20 season officially dawned. “Let’s have some fun.”

Players past and present, members of UK’s women’s and men’s teams, arrived on a “Blue carpet” on the first floor of the adjoining Civic Center Shops.

Jarrod Polson (2011-2014) said the zeal Kentucky wanted to play with this coming season probably would not be part of Madness. “I doubt they’ll go too hard tonight,” he said.

University of Kentucky women’s basketball coach Matthew Mitchell performed his annual Big Blue Madness dance to “Old Town Road” by rapper Lil Nas X in Rupp Arena on Friday night. Alex Slitz

As if on cue, the scrimmage that came at the end of Madness featured a noticeable disinterest in defense. Dunk after dunk brought only a polite response from fans. Nick Richards drew cheers by making more than one three-pointer. He did not take a three-point shot in his first two seasons for Kentucky.

Sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley won the three-point shooting contest for a second straight Madness. Freshman Tyrese Maxey won the dunk contest.

Dontaie Allen, the reigning Kentucky Mr. Basketball, participated in the shooting contest. He is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Nick Richards greeted the crowd during player introductions at Big Blue Madness. Alex Slitz

“Getting a lot better,” he said. “I’ve probably got like a month and a half left (in the rehabilitation).

When asked if he expected to play this season, Allen said, “Yeah. Yeah.”

Allen had attended Big Blue Madness as a high school prospect. So he said he was familiar with the tone and tenor the celebration sets.

Basketball insight into what players can shoot and what players need to improve defensively? “Nah, not really,” he said. “It’s kind of relaxed. You get to laugh because it’s relaxed. Everybody is going to show their game, but we’re going to have fun, too.”

Mission accomplished.


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Important upcoming dates

Oct. 16: SEC Media Day

Oct. 18: Blue-White Scrimmage

Oct. 27: Exhibition opener vs. Georgetown College

Nov. 1: Exhibition vs. Kentucky State

Nov. 5: Season opener vs. Michigan State

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