Big Blue Madness has gotten a little stale over the years, but it was back tonight in a very big way. While it’s fresh on my mind, here are five thoughts from Big Blue Madness, the spectacle.
1. The Blue Carpet told me a lot about the recruits
UK moved the blue carpet from the back hall of Rupp to High Street, putting up bleachers so fans could watch the players walk in. For the most part, it was really cool; however, the men’s team showed up too early and had to drive around the block for a little bit then got stuck in traffic and finally arrived about 10 minutes before Madness began. Whoops.
That entire time, a group of ten or so recruits, including Zion Williamson, Bol Bol, and James Wiseman, waited in a corner next to the carpet, taking in the scene. A few of the guys seemed to truly enjoy it, but others looked bored to tears, and honestly, I don’t blame them. For over 45 minutes, they just stood there, waiting for people to come down the carpet. There was no music, nothing. Fans did their best to engage with them, chanting Zion and Bol’s names and tossing them basketballs to sign, but there were a few guys that stared at their phone the entire time. Zion, Bol, Wiseman, and Zion Harmon were eating up the attention (particularly Wiseman), which is hopefully a very good sign moving forward.
2. The intros were better than usual
I’ve only been around this team a little bit, but I already love them. This is one of the most likable and personable groups we’ve had in recent years. And, they danced! Like actually danced. The videos that accompanied each player’s entrance were neat, too. Tai Wynyard’s featured his uncle doing a New Zealand tribal dance:
Tai Wynyard’s Uncle with tradition from New Zealand pic.twitter.com/qgCqNmJARs
– alan cutler (@cutler18) October 14, 2017
Jarred Vanderbilt had the best dance in my opinion:
– Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) October 14, 2017
3. Cal’s speech was the best since 2009
Nothing will top Calipari’s Madness speech from 2009, but tonight’s was a close second in my book. In true Calipari form, he pretty much talked to the recruits the entire time, preaching about how Kentucky is only for those that — wait for it — “embrace the challenge.”
My message has always been and will continue to be, are you willing to embrace the competition that you will go up against every single day at Kentucky? Will you embrace the grind and the daily responsibilities that being in this program demands? Will you embrace being a great teammate, student and a member of this community? Embracing education and having a curious mind are cornerstones of this program. Will you do it?
Will you, Zion? Will you, Bol?
4. The Drake Show
Very few people in this world can upstage Kentucky basketball during Madness, but Drake did it. Drake made a grand entrance to serve as honorary coach and made the arena go bonkers when he announced he wants to put on a free concert for students at Rupp this year. He spent a good ten minutes sitting next to Calipari on the bench in front of the recruits while Calipari had one of his assistants put on his OVO Air Jordan 8 Calipari Pack sneakers for him. If there’s a more absurd sentence than that in the English language, find it for me. I’ll wait.
Seriously though, Drake’s presence was a show all of its own. From the minute he walked in until the minute he left, most eyes in the building were on him despite the fact a scrimmage was happening. My favorite moment was when Sam Bowie approached him and asked if he could take a picture of Drake and someone, presumably his daughter. How often does Sam Bowie ask to take pictures of people and not the other way around?
Think what you want of Drake, but the images of him embracing Cal and posing with players past and present will be a lasting one, as will this line.
“People ask why I don’t come to other Madness events,” Drake said. “I tell them a Wildcat through and through, and there’s only one Big Blue.”
5. A fun start to a fun season?
I have trained myself to come into Madness with low expectations. Tonight’s event was by far the best in recent memory, due in part to Drake, but also to the attitudes of the new players. Kentucky fans love their team with an unrivaled passion, a sentiment that isn’t always returned. At the end of the scrimmage, the team walked around and motioned to the crowd to get loud, not ready to leave the court just yet. Who knows what this season will hold (it’ll be messy to start), but it’s nice to know that this team isn’t only embracing the challenge of playing at Kentucky, but Kentucky fans as well.