In my heart, Big Blue Madness will always be “Midnight Madness.” Even though the name has changed, the concept and excitement building up to the event have not wavered over the years. The camping out days in advance for tickets, the mingling with players and fellow fans during the camp out, the end of the long wait until the kickoff of the college basketball season, the first real look and introduction to the new team and players, and just a celebration in general of the year that is to come. My first ever Big Blue Madness was Billy Gillispie’s first year. I only really have two real memories from that one, and they mostly revolve around weird things happening with white sheets to unveil Gillispie for the first time and an introduction of around 73 players (the memorable one of course being Patrick Patterson).
John Calipari came in and made an already spectacular event even more of a spectacle. From Calipari’s first Big Blue Madness, when he let the Big Blue Nation in on what he had in store for us, to this year’s— the first one since his arrival that follows the winning of a national championship… each one has provided us with great moments.
Some of the “Best of Madness” moments in the Calipari era include, but are not limited to:
The birth of “The John Wall dance”
From the moment John Wall was introduced, you knew that he was going to be a star. What was just a silly dance he planned shortly before his intro, turned into a craze that swept through Big Blue Nation for the better part of a year. People took pictures and videos of themselves replicating the dance all over the world, in a variety of situations. For a while it became almost a contest to see who could either find the most absurd person to do it (such as a baby, a really old man, or a celebrity). The reach and influence of just how powerful Big Blue Nation could be, was once again on display.
Enes Kanter’s “Underkanter” walk-out
The sad part about Enes Kanter’s intro during Big Blue Madness was that it turned out to be the high point in his Rupp Arena career. At the time, Kanter’s eligibility was still on the table, and fans were salivating to find out if the Turkish sensation was going to be able to take the court. In a moment that was separate from all of the anxiety and worry about the decision on his college basketball fate, Kanter was able to soak up the spotlight and hoopla that comes with being a Kentucky basketball player in Rupp Arena. Kanter, a big fan of wrestling and the Undertaker, put his own spin on the famous wrestler’s intro. It truly was Kanter’s moment, and he enjoyed every second of it. Just listen to the reaction of the fans…they were enjoying it too.
Calipari’s first speech
When Calipari took the podium for the first time, in what I like to call his “from Pikeville to Paducah” to speech… he gave Kentucky fans a glimpse into his vision for his time while at Kentucky. With one speech, albeit a long one, he completely changed the culture of Kentucky basketball. Whether or not everyone bought in right away (I heard a few “amens” in the crowd, so I think most did), the winds of change were sweeping through Rupp Arena with every word that came out of his mouth.
Jorts’ “Carlton” dance
The dance was not nearly as epic as John Wall’s, or even Kanter’s entrance, but it was perhaps the first step in Harrellson’s transformation into one of the most beloved players to wear the Kentucky uniform. Though he hadn’t had the big breakout game yet, and no one knew just how good/important he was going to be come to that season, his ability to be “in tune” with the fans and his infectious personality were on the display in full force in this moment. The fans asked, and Jorts delivered.
Matthew Mitchell’s “Dougie”
I know this is a different direction, away from the men’s basketball side of it, but Matthew Mitchell has even stepped up his Big Blue Madness game since Calipari’s arrival. When Matthew Mitchell hit his Dougie during his intro a few years ago, it set off what has now become a tradition of him doing some kind of dance when introduced. “Two can play this game, Cal.” Last year it was Michael Jackson. This year…what will it be?
Last year’s Big Blue Madness was also a spectacle, where the players once again looked like rock stars and the building was filled with an incredible buzz. For whatever reason though, last year’s felt more to me like the first step in what just had all the makings of a national championship run. It wasn’t necessarily about a dance, or a funny moment, or even Calipari’s “we are the needle” speech. To me, it was about really knowing for the first time– really seeing with my own eyes, that this was going to be THE YEAR.
What other Big Blue Madness moments do you hold near and dear to your heart from the Calipari era? What were some of your favorite pre-Calipari Big Blue Madness moments? Feel free to share your favorite memories in the comment section.