Don’t tell anyone, but there was a Michigan State fan among the Kentucky faithful that celebrated Big Blue Madness on Friday night.
Justin Winarski, a high school student from Webster, Ky., came to Rupp Arena. He said he is a fan of Michigan State, which plays UK in a jump-in-the-deep-end season’s opener on Nov. 5.
Without his confession, it was hard to tell that Winarski roots for Michigan State. He wanted to make it obvious by wearing a Spartans shirt at Big Blue Madness. But his mother, Christa, would not let him. Christa said she is a Kentucky fan.
Heredity explains Winarski’s rooting interest. His father grew up in East Lansing, Mich.
Winarski said he makes no secret of being a Michigan State fan in Breckinridge County.
“At home they know a lot” of his rooting interest, he said. “But here, I might get jumped.”
Darren Headrick, the play-by-play announcer for UK’s women’s team, committed the season’s first turnover.
He did interviews on the “blue carpet” entrance used by UK’s women’s and men’s teams plus former players for each team.
A crowd estimated at several hundred stood on all three levels of the Civic Center Shops to watch the players enter and listen to interviews.
Headrick’s turnover came when he got an introduction wrong. And he couldn’t blame the mistake on confusing one freshman for another. Two highly regarded sophomores got the best of him. He introduced Immanuel Quickley as Ashton Hagans.
“A lot of people think he’s my twin,” Hagans said. “But, nah, that ain’t true.”
Anthony Epps, the point guard on UK’s 1996 national championship team, was one of the ex-Cats who attended Big Blue Madness.
Epps said he will be coaching the boys’ team at Campbellsville High School this coming season after having led the girls’ in recent seasons.
“Basketball is my passion,” he said. “This is my way to give back to the next generation.”
When asked how his coaching style compared to his UK coach, Rick Pitino, Epps paused for a thoughtful moment and then said, “Pretty close. I’m hard on my kids. But it’s to a point. I want them to do well. It’s a Catch-22.”
Wayne Turner, the point guard on UK’s 1998 national championship team, acknowledged the passage of time.
“They used to call me ‘Burner,’” he said. “I’m just a flame now.”