For the 17th time in school history, the Kentucky Wildcats will be featured on ESPN College GameDay when the Kansas Jayhawks come to town tomorrow afternoon. It will be the program’s eighth trip to Lexington, tied for the second-most of any location in the nation, and the 10th straight year Kentucky will make an appearance on the broadcast.
Back on Feb. 13, 2010, Kentucky set a record when 22,144 fans attended the morning show at Rupp Arena to prepare for the Wildcats’ big matchup against Tennessee in John Calipari’s first year in Lexington.
Needless to say, when the College GameDay crew is in town, it’s important.
But important for whom, exactly?
During his pregame press conference this afternoon, Calipari said that while this event is massive for the Kentucky fanbase and the city of Lexington, it doesn’t affect his players much at all. It’s impressive for the program to garner the national spotlight for the day, but the Kentucky head coach said the players themselves don’t even notice the festivities taking place.
“I don’t think (it affects them), he said. “They don’t go down there. They don’t see it. I don’t think it does, but it’s great for our fans. It’s great for the people to see. It’s funny, that building, whatever’s in it, most of them don’t have tickets to the game. And then there will be 24,000 at the game and whatever thousand, 20,000, is at that thing. You think about it, one day. It’s a pretty big deal.”
Judging from the player reactions this afternoon, Coach Cal is right.
When asked about the team’s motivation going into their matchup with Kansas on the big stage, UK forward Reid Travis said preparation has been no different for this game than any other they have played or will play this season. And a big reason for that, he says, is Calipari’s ability to settle the team down and keep their mindsets in the right place.
“Motivation-wise, it’s just exactly like another game,” he said. “I think we’ve been good at taking it week by week, our preparation has been the same. Coach has done a great job, even if we lost a game, we still have the right mindset. OK, we’ve got to go back, watch film and get better. That’s kind of been our mindset that has helped us get on this winning streak.”
Kentucky forward Keldon Johnson said the team is “laser focused” right now, and though they’re not worried about GameDay specifically, they’ll use the rowdy Rupp Arena crowd to their advantage.
“Of course it’s a good advantage to have,” he said. “I think we still treat it as a game as if we were on the road, coming in focused – laser focused – and we’re coming in knowing what we have to get done.
“It’s good to play in front of the home crowd. I think that we’re still going to come in with that focus to come and do whatever it takes to win. I think we’re just—it’s good to be playing in front of Rupp, in front of the Big Blue Nation, but we’re still going to come with that same focus.”
Travis agrees, saying it’s important for his team to use the high energy from the crowd to get hyped for the highly-anticipated matchup, but maintain focus.
“(The crowd helps) a lot,” he said. “I think it’s great that we get to have a game like this at home. There’s going to be a lot of energy, a lot of hype around it, so as much as we can feed off the crowd, we’re going to use that to our advantage.”
While the team certainly wants to win, Travis said it’s more important to look at the big picture. The end result is to develop into a team strong enough to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, not stress out over a non-conference game in January (especially with how difficult conference victories will be to come by this season).
“For us, obviously it’s a big game,” he said. “We want to win this game a lot, but also just looking at, what are the little things that have helped us throughout the season and stay true to what we’ve been doing all year?”
They’re certainly saying all the right things, but Calipari is excited to learn how his players respond to this type of game setting. Johnson said he’s the most amped-up player on the team, while Travis confirmed Johnson’s label of being the calmest, especially in tense situations. The Kentucky head coach wants to see everyone else’s reaction.
“This is one where we’ll learn about each other – who’s amped up, who’s calmed down,” he said. “This is the kind of game you do that. So, we’ll see. They’re (Kansas) going to come in – they’re terrific. They’re a top-10 team. … We know they’re going to be good and I just want to see where we are at this point against that kind of team.”