UK Men's Basketball

Calipari promises fun afternoon at alumni games

Although he's repeatedly appealed through social media for more fans to attend charity exhibition games on Saturday, Kentucky Coach John Calipari can accept the idea of a less-than-big Blue Nation in Rupp Arena.

"I'm fine," Calipari said Thursday. "... You'd like to have 25,000 there. We're not going to."

Even though UK basketball seems to preoccupy fans every day of the year, Calipari cited the off-season timing of the exhibitions as a possible reason for slow ticket sales. He also noted the cost of admission: From $20 to $100 per ticket.

"If 4,000 people can show up, (or) 10,000, (or) 15,000, whatever comes, they're going to have a ball," the UK coach said. "They're going to say, 'I'm so happy.'"

The extra effort to draw a crowd continued Thursday night as Calipari tweeted about how the sale of $20 discount tickets will end at 10 p.m. Friday.

The first game tips off at noon Saturday pitting members of UK's 1996 national championship team against participants in Calipari's Fantasy Camp. The second game (2 p.m. tip-off) will feature former UK players currently on NBA teams.

Earlier this week, Calipari tweeted about being "a little disappointed" about Rupp Arena's lower stands not being sold out. He noted that the players are not being paid for appearing.

The UK coach also pointed out that "other special people," presumably including highly regarded prospect Julius Randle, could be impressed by an immense — and raucous — crowd. Randle reportedly is visiting UK this weekend.

"You've never let me down before, Big Blue Nation," Calipari posted.

On Thursday, Calipari spoke of whipping up a historical froth in Rupp Arena on Saturday no matter the size of the crowd. Former players like Sam Bowie, Mike Pratt, Jimmy Dan Conner and perhaps Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones may attend. Former coach Joe B. Hall is expected to be there.

"It should be a great celebration of the history of the program," Calipari said.

When asked why he's made an obvious attempt to embrace former players and Hall, Calipari said, "It's the right thing to do. When you're sitting in the seat I am, you're the keeper of the tradition. Part of that means you reach out. ... Let them know this is about them. This is their program."

Two of the former UK players participating in the exhibitions offered varying responses to expectations of a crowd of only about 10,000.

Wayne Turner, the point guard on UK's 1998 national championship team, noted how NBA rules prohibited UK or promoters to say which former Kentucky players are participating. That muted the expectation of seeing a particular player, he suggested.

Walter McCarty, a forward on the 1996 title team, tried to put a crowd of 10,000 in perspective.

"A lot of colleges can't get 10,000 to watch their college team," he said. "I think (10,000) is pretty damn good to watch old guys."

Derek Anderson, a member of the 1996 title team, said he and his teammates aim to win. "I don't care who it is, we're going to play hard," he said.

Among players participating in the Fantasy Camp workouts Thursday were Antoine Walker and Turner.

Proceeds from the event will go to charity. Among the charities benefiting are efforts to give shoes to the needy, provide guide dogs to wounded war veterans and improve Kentuckians' financial acumen.

Calipari said that because of sponsors, the charities will receive more than $300,000. That number could double, depending on attendance, he said.

'Wing' man

While Calipari spoke to reporters, he noticed a familiar face. It was former UK star DeMarcus Cousins, who wore a red Detroit Red Wings cap.

"Red Wings?!" Calipari said to Cousins. "You don't know who the Red Wings are."A moment later, Calipari playfully added, "That's a good baseball team, the Red Wings."

To which, a smiling Cousins noted, "Hockey."

Familiar faces

Among familiar faces spotted at the Calipari Fantasy Camp on Thursday were former South Carolina coach (and Lexington native) Darrin Horn and former Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio. They're working the camp as coaches.

Tony Greene and fellow Southeastern Conference referees Mike Nance, John Hampton and Anthony Jordan are officiating camp games. Their presence reflects how seriously the campers take their basketball fantasies, Calipari said.