UK Men's Basketball

Fans get first taste of UK's new season

The NCAA might have disapproved of it. The coaches' association may have booed it.

But judging by the cheers Friday night in Rupp Arena, the fans loved an early start to Kentucky's annual Big Blue Madness.

And no doubt, the fans would approve UK Coach Billy Gillispie's insistence on continuing to find innovative ways to enhance his program even if the critics move to block previous attempts.

For instance, the NCAA seems poised to ban early starts to Madness beginning next year. This comes after such schools as UK, Illinois, West Virginia and Marshall found a way to circumvent the official Oct. 17 return of basketball.

"If I'm wrong, I'm wrong," Gillispie said before Madness began. "I respect that. I don't take it personally.

"But we're going to keep being aggressive, and we're going to keep trying to think of things that are innovative. Not outside the rules —but we're going to give ourselves the best chance to be successful.

"I don't think anybody in Kentucky would accept anything other than that."

UK made news before the men's and women's teams were introduced. Kentucky unveiled a tribute to the late Bill Keightley, the longtime equipment manager. As his daughter, Karen Marlowe, stood nearby, UK revealed a "K" and the words "Mr. Wildcat" on the floor in front of the seat Keightley used on the UK bench.

Alas, the informal scrimmage by the men's team drained much of the excitement out of the celebration. The Cats made only seven of their first 26 shots. Of the baskets, four were either tip-ins, dunks or layups.

Many fans filled the time by chanting the name of highly regarded prospect Daniel Orton, a big man from Oklahoma City who was among the UK recruiting targets in attendance.

Country singer Eddie Montgomery, who sat with his family on the second row, voiced his desire for a take-no-prisoners attitude.

"I think it's going to be wild and it's going to be a rush," he said of the upcoming season. "We're in store to see real Kentucky basketball, and the way we love it."

Montgomery, who calls Perryville home, defined "real" Kentucky basketball as unrelenting and action-packed.

More than once, he noted that he meant no disrespect to any former UK coaches (read Tubby Smith). But he saw Gillispie infusing Kentucky basketball with remorseless attack.

"No holds barred," said Montgomery, who wore a beanie-type cap dangling blue-colored dreadlocks a la Manny Ramirez. "I'm not sure how big the floor is, but we're going to be pressing every inch of it."

As for the NCAA opposing early Madnesses (and the recruitment of eighth-graders), Montgomery said, "I think they need to chill out."

By Gillispie's standards, Madness was a time for the UK players to relax. The UK coach noted how Madness was a time for smiles and basketball fellowship.

"It's considered a practice," he said, "but there's not a whole lot of fundamental stuff going on.

"It's just a fun time for these guys to get a first taste of Kentucky basketball."