It was an all-day event for the KSR gang at the Yum! Center on Wednesday as the teams, the arena, the media, and all the other pieces involved prepared for the next four days of college basketball action in Louisville. Here is a late-night rundown of what all went down in Rupp Arena West on open practice/media day:
— I showed up at about 10:00 AM to meet Beisner and Bradley to record fan interviews for Wednesday night’s episode of KSTV. When I first learned we’d be taping the segment, I wondered how in the world we would find fans to interview so early in the morning. I was almost certain we’d end up interviewing parking garage attendants, Yum! employees, and anyone walking by on the street. Instead, I was surprised to find Kentucky fans lined up outside the arena, waiting for the doors to open for the practice sessions. Keep in mind, UK’s practice was at 4:25, so fans were there at least six hours early and there is no telling how long some of them were outside before we got there at 10. I don’t know why I doubted Big Blue Nation.
— Of course, they didn’t have my media credential when I lined up with the Larry Vaughts and the Jeff Goodmans of the world to pick up the pass. This is what is called “The KSR Effect.” It’s never a smooth process; no matter what we’re doing. Rocco, Louisville’s SID (who probably hates me and everything KSR), was helpful in tracking down a nameless badge for me to wear until mine surfaces. It still hasn’t turned up but my guess is Alan Cutler intentionally threw it away as part of the never-ending media initiation process.
— Once inside, it was time to pick out some fans out of the couple hundred already in attendance to talk sports with. We met a wide range of people — from elderly couples to a group of elementary school kids skipping school with their parents — and all were excited to catch a glimpse of the Cats on their first stop on the road to #8. It’s events like these that bring out the most passionate fans, who most likely aren’t able to attend games in Rupp or at the SEC and NCAA tourneys. Their passion, excitement and enthusiasm really showed when we talked to them about the upcoming three weeks for Kentucky. And if their predictions are correct, UK will coast to the Final Four and then beat UNC to win it all.
— The actual action got underway when Colorado State took the court at noon for the first practice session of the day. Matt and Tony Vanetti showed up a little after noon to tape KSTV so we weren’t able to watch the Rams practice. We did, however, catch a glimpse of the Colorado State cheerleaders and I’ll go ahead and say we have a leader in the clubhouse for which squad will steal our attention during the games. Who knew Fort Collins, Colorado had such talent???
— The Cyclones of Iowa State were up next in the practice rotation, featuring former-almost-Wildcat Royce White. White arrived to Louisville from Ames by way of car because of his anxiety disorder and fear of flying. He said he ate honey buns and listened to Adele while he made the 611 mile trip with his grandfather.
— Just an FYI: These so called “practices” are nothing more than the players standing in one spot and shooting jumpers. The only entertaining part about it is when they shoot halfcourt shots for the final two or three minutes of each session.
— If Wednesday’s practice session was any indication, Murray State has to be the worst team in Division I basketball at the halfcourt shot. It took at least 25 tries before any of the players were able to hit one. The crowd erupted when a player (I can’t remember who it was) finally knocked one down.
— While Murray State clanked deep balls off the backboard in its practice, Marquette did the exact opposite. If you take away Buzz Williams’ 20+ missed attempts at the heave, I’d say the Golden Eagles hit about 15% of their shots. They were a fun group to watch, especially Darius Johnson-Odom, who was cutting up the whole time and interacting with the Kentucky fans. I know we’re not supposed to like Marquette in March, but this is a pretty likable group of guys. I will secretly be pulling for them.
— After Marquette’s practice, we joined the rest of the media in the back for John Calipari’s press conference. You can read my notes from the presser here. It wasn’t really anything we haven’t heard from him before.
— Here is an interesting tidbit from inside the life of a media member at the NCAA tournament that I was baffled by… The complimentary soft drinks in the back are served in a clear plastic cup, BUT if you’re taking it to your seat on the court, you have to pour your drink from the clear plastic cup to a red Powerade cup. There are big signs outside of the tunnels reminding everyone of the policy, too. I could understand if you had a drink in a can or whatever, but the clear plastic cups they’re served in aren’t allowed??? Ah, the power of advertising. Moving on…
— The arena looked completely different when we returned to the floor to watch Kentucky’s practice. Thousands of Kentucky fans had shown up in the 30-45 minutes we were in the back and the lower bowl of the Yum! Center was almost at capacity. We estimated about 9,000 people in attendance just to watch Kentucky shoot three-pointers and free throws. You people are crazy.
— The Cats got a great ovation when they took the floor. I can only imagine what it’s going to be like Thursday night.
— The star of Kentucky’s practice was none other than Brad Calipari. He was one of the three guys left in the game of knockout and he was the first to hit a halfcourt shot for Kentucky. On another note, the young Calipari is the same size, if not bigger than Brian Long. Yeah.
— Since UK’s practice was incredibly boring, Matt asked DeWayne Peevy if Cal had plans of getting on the microphone to hype up the crowd. Peevy said he wished he could but the NCAA doesn’t want Calipari and Kentucky having any advantage over the other teams. Basically, they didn’t want it to become a pep rally for UK, which makes perfect sense. However, it wasn’t two minutes later before Calipari walked over to the scorer’s table and grabbed the microphone on his own. He kept the talk simple, thanking everyone for coming out, but it was enough.
— After Kentucky’s practice, Matt and I sat down over a nice meal of pasta and meatballs in the media buffet room with Jeff Goodman. We scarfed down the free food, chatted with Jeff a bit about the Cats, and then decided to call it a day. We’ll be back again Thursday for another long day at Yum!, including Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky at 6:50 in a game that Vegas has the Cats favored by 25 points.
— A reminder, here is the schedule for tomorrow in Louisville:
10:00 AM: KSR Radio Live From Sport and Social Club: The sports bar on 4th Street in Louisville will be the home of the KSR gang, as we preview the game and get you ready for a huge day of action at the Yum Center.
12:15 PM: Murray State vs Colorado State
3:00 PM: UK Alumni Association UK Pre-Game Gathering: The Louisville chapter of the UK Alumni Association is getting ready for the game at O’SHEAS in downtown Louisville beginning at 3 pm. Make sure and stop in and tell them hello.
6:30 PM: KSR LIVE BLOG for UK vs WKU begins
6:50 PM: Kentucky vs Western Kentucky on TBS
9:45 PM: KSR POSTGAME RADIO SHOW from Sport and Social Club: We meet up again after the game to talk about what happened and look ahead to the winner of UCONN and Iowa State.
We’ll see you around.
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