Sidelines with John Clay

“Inside the Madness” goes behind Kentucky’s wins and losses

Kentucky head coach John Calipari instructs Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (22) during their college basketball game against the Florida Gators at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. Florida beat Kentucky 66-64.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari instructs Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (22) during their college basketball game against the Florida Gators at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. Florida beat Kentucky 66-64. aslitz@herald-leader.com

Many sports documentaries follow a team through a championship season, chronicling its many triumphs. The docu-series on this year’s Kentucky basketball team has the potential to offer something a little different, a very young collection of players fighting through the struggles of their freshman season.

“Sure. Absolutely,” said executive producer Jason Sciavicco last week. “I think the kind of up and down of the season leads to the stories that we’re going to tell this year. I think you tell one story if the team is 38-0 and beating teams by 15-20 points. I think that story is something that could be entertaining. But I think the chance that the audience has to see these kids grow up and see the struggles and the ups and downs and look that’s life, right? Who lives a life where everything is perfect? There’s nobody that I know that does it.”

“Inside the Madness” debuted last Saturday on the Facebook Watch streaming platform. The first episode centered on the Cats’ November trip to play Monmouth at Madison Square Garden.

A production company of 12 to 14 people with two to three cameras every day have been with the team since November, said Sciavicco, who had previously produced similar type series, mainly on college football. Another 12 to 15 people are in California putting together post-production.

Why Kentucky?

“I just think the tradition and the history of Kentucky and how big of a program it is and obviously with John Calipari being there, the great coach he is and character he is, he’s somebody obviously that’s not afraid to speak his mind and he’s very forthcoming,” Sciavicco said. “He doesn’t hide anything. He’s one of those guys he tells you how he feels. You don’t even really have to pry or ask him, he’s going to be forward with what he’s thinking. So I think with all those things, Kentucky was just a great fit for what we were looking to do.”

What they are looking to do is something real and raw with a behind-the-scenes feel. The first episode, for example, features point guard Quade Green face-timing with his family back home. It also shows Queens native Hamidou Diallo, before his first game at The Garden in New York, getting a haircut from his regular barber.

“The great thing about our show, we don’t script anything,” Sciavicco said. “There’s nothing that’s planned. We’re a fly on the wall and we document things as they’re happening and we have to go with the flow. Stories come and go, and a story you think may be a big story doesn’t end up being as big but that kind of idea may take you to another one and another player, another coach, something that happens during the season.”

Any surprises so far?

“I don’t know if surprised is the right word, but I am even more impressed with Coach Cal than I was before this,” he said. “I think he probably doesn’t get the credit that he deserves for what he does with these young players. He’s not only coaching but he’s teaching. And he’s not only teaching these guys how to play basketball, but he’s teaching these guys how to become men.”

Asked about having cameras around all the time, Calipari said, “We just ignore them like they’re not there.”

After all, he has a young team to coach, one that has seen its share of wins and losses this season. In fact, episode two of “Inside the Madness” centers on UK’s December trip to New Orleans, which ended in a loss to UCLA.

“There’s been ups and downs and these kids are learning and they’re coming closer and closer together,” Sciavicco said. Probably now more than ever, even coach Cal has said you see moments even in losses where this team could be really good and really special. And when they finally come together, which we all hope is for that March run they could be a really talented, special team.”

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