We are just two days away from one of my favorite events of the year….the beginning of basketball season, represented by the spectacle of Midnight Madness. For the fourth straight year, I will be there live blogging the event and providing silly commentary on the festivities, one of my favorite things I do on this blog. And while we all love Midnight Madness, it is time to face a real issue, Madness needs a real facelift. For the last three years, the event has been….well a bit of a disappointment. Part of the issue is that the event was moved to Rupp Arena and lost some of its distinct feel that occurred for so many years at Memorial Coliseum. However I like that move, because this event is a great chance for many to get to see the Cats that never see them at any other occasion. Still, there is no doubt that the event has grown stale and an overhaul is in need.
When I look back at the last three years of Madness, no single occurrence stands out as memorable. The night usually goes by fairly quietly, and the only moment that sticks in my mind is when Adam Williams put on Jeff Sheppard’s jersey before bricking a number of dunks in the dunk contest….and no offense to the guy, but if an Adam Williams memory is your best memory, you need an overhaul. Part of the problem lies in the fact that I dont think UK has ever really known who their audience is for the event. Is it the students who camp out, the kids in the arena, the larger audience on television or the recruits in attendance? In fact, I dont think UK even has an audience in mind, which is why none of these groups ever really leaves satisfied. The recruits think the skits and music are lame (will we ever forget the cloggers three years ago?), the kids fall asleep at the lack of excitement, the students dont enjoy the Kyle Macy/Kristi Thomas announce team and the larger television audience gets nothing close to the feel of an exciting event. In all, everyone is disappointed.
So what to do? Here are five suggestions that would improve things INFINITELY:
(1) Make Your Audience the UK Students and Young Fans:
This event needs to be crazy….specifically it needs to be like a student party to start basketball season. Thus make sure that the student section is all around the side of the floor, not behind the basket like in normal games. Make the students part of the action and gear the events, music and sideshows for THEM, not the old blue hairs in the crowd. That may mean bringing a musical act that was popular WHILE THEY WERE BORN, and nothing resembling clogging let anywhere near the arena floor. The students should be given t-shirts for all to wear that create a feel that makes the event feel special and the band, cheerleaders, etc should have the crowd rocking up until the opening moment. This is the chance for Rupp to be like a larger Cameron Indoor and the event should be geared as such. Do that, and you take care of the recruits, who want to see a fun campus as part of the entire spectacle.
(2) Bring PERSONALITIES PEOPLE CARE ABOUT to the event:
The best thing that UK has done in recent years were the two events in which the Detroit Pistons PA announcer was part of the festivities. He had a lot of air play leading up to it, and the players loved his announcing of their names (BOB-BY PER-RY). That impresses recruits and gets the fans fired up. Equally as important, bring a couple of former players in to be part of the action if available. Have some celebrity brought in, be it a music act or a comedian, or someone to make a BIG event feel again. And in the process, ditch Kyle and Kristi. Lord love them both, but they are as boring as any two humans can be and their jokes make even Rob Bromley shake his head in disgust. They consistently are awful and consistently are brought back time and time again…..find an entertaining and known MC, and many of the problems go away.
(3) Do Something to MAKE THE PLAYERS HUMAN:
Three years ago, UK did some player videos, in which they gave Ramel a video camera and had him go around campus and ask students questions about UK basketball….comedic and entertainment gold. Why is that? Because Ramel had personality and could use it. The same is true now. Take a guy like Josh Harrellson, who has a great sense of humor (as you will see on here later today) and have him involved in a video of some sort. Bring in someone with some entertainment ability to make a video with Patrick or Jodie or Jared Carter at O Charleys. The fans want to LIKE the players….help them make that happen by helping them get to know them. Most fans dont know Donald Williiams from Donald the Duck…..INTRODUCE them by giving something that fans will remember. And if the Razor Ramon/Sarah Palin connection doesnt write its own bit for you, then hire me…..we will do it at half price and it will be solid.
(4) Limit the Non-Men’s Team Activities:
This is the hardest for a bleeding heart like me to write, but it is the single biggest crowd killer at the event every year. When the action starts, the crowd is pumped….but then slowly, we see little kids dribbling, Kyle Macy shooting free throws and cheerleading routines and the crowd loses its mojo. Then comes the women’s team with a full event and the crowd simply loses all of its energy right before the men’s team comes out. I know the women’s team needs their forum, but this simply may not be it. And if it is going to be it, integrate them with the men’s team. Maybe have games of 2 on 2 with one woman and one guy on each team. Have the girls team shoot against the guys team in a three point contest….something to keep the women involved but the crowd’s energy high. By the time the men’s team hits the floor, the crowd has sat through an hour of stuff they dont care about…..it kills their buzz and takes away the energy.
(5) CHANGE THE FORMAT of the Practice:
The most important change that can be made is to make the event more audience-friendly. When we did the Barnstorming Tour, we quickly learned that except for the die-hards, a simple game of basketball doesnt do it from an entertainment standpoint. Thus we introduced the “Woo” challenge in which four kids from the stands played “one-on-one” with a 7 footer. Could this be more tailor made for Jared Carter? How about a three point contest between a local youth sharpshooter and Jodie Meeks? Or maybe a “Take on a UK Player” event in which students get to challenge one of the guys to attempt to score on them? Or maybe you have a mini two-on-two tournament where the players go against each other? Add this to some dunking events and a scrimmage where something is at stake, and you have an entertaining event. Again, the fans want to connect with these guys….and nothing makes that happen more than to make them human and have them interact with the crowd. These types of events were the most popular at our Barnstorming events and they would be adored by the crowd at Midnight Madness.
None of this is to say that Midnight Madness is not a great event. It still showcases the UK program and no school can pull off what UK does each year. But it can be so much better. Like the Indiana warm-up pants, it needs an upgrade….something an event coordinator and some association with mainstream pop culture could pull off. If that happens, the fans will enjoy it more, the students will make it a must-see event and recruits will be impressed even more by the spectacle. Its time for a change.
We will be back all day with a great Josh Harrellson-KSR moment, some more wanna-be bloggers and Tomlin telling you what you Need to Know……