Each year, more and more schools are finding ways to attract and try to sway the top high school basketball talent in the country toward their school. The various teams and coaches each have strategies that tend to work best, yielding the most favorable results in the recruiting game. John Calipari has made no secret about the fact that his goal every year is to bring in the very best players in the country, often times (every time, so far) culminating in a top ranked recruiting class. Calipari’s results both on the court, and with putting players into the NBA at a staggering pace, speak for themselves. The numbers certainly don’t lie. Calipari can easily point in a number of desirable directions to prove why Lexington is the dream destination for the top talent to carve a path to the NBA, while competing for a national championship. With that said, the bells and whistles during the recruiting process still matter to sixteen, seventeen and eighteen year old kids. If you don’t think that kind of stuff matters, try explaining how Oregon’s football program has become one of the “coolest” places to play college football.
Kentucky has the amenities when it comes to the locker room, the lodging for the players, etc. Kentucky’s new locker room is second to none (except for maybe Alabama football). The
Wildcat Lodge (whatever it is they call it now) is state of the art as well. Calipari has no shortage of resources available at the tip of his fingers to throw at these kids. Calipari has two tools at his hands though that not every coach in the country has available. One tool has always been available, and will continue to be available likely for all of time. The other is probably more unique and specific to Calipari. Both are the type of thing that set Kentucky apart from other schools though: The fan base and the track record of putting players in the NBA.
Calipari has wasted no time in using those two tools to his advantage. Between the two events, a number of the top prospects from the 2014 and 2015 classes will be making the trip to Lexington this fall to be wooed by all that Kentucky and Calipari have to offer. For recruiting purposes though, which event is more appealing to the prospects? And does that match up to which event is more appealing to the fans?
The case for Big Blue Madness:
— For the Fans
Big Blue Madness is more than just the event itself. The camp out has become such a huge part of the experience. Kentucky fans have a chance to congregate together and mingle with one another as well as the players. The camp out also gives the fans another chance to showcase why they are the best and most dedicated in the country.
The experience is affordable for everyone… because it’s free... if you are willing to brave camping out. For the fan that may not be able to afford season tickets, Big Blue Madness offers a chance to experience Rupp Arena and the hoopla of Kentucky basketball.
For most people, Big Blue Madness is the first real chance to catch a glimpse of what the next year’s team will look like. The anticipation mounts for months as the stories from summer pick-up games flutter about. Until the fans actually see the players take the court for Big Blue Madness though, it’s all a bit of a mystery.
Rupp Arena is electric AND Calipari has turned it into an almost concert-like environment. The crowd is amped up with excitement and the rafters are always filled to the brim.
— For the Recruits
Recruits get a chance to see Rupp Arena in all its glory… when it’s filled with passionate fans who are showing their love for Kentucky basketball.
Recruits get to catch a glimpse of what it feels like to be a “rockstar” around Lexington. The treatment from the fans, and the bells and whistles of the event often leave the high schoolers impressed and in awe.
Even though the scrimmage is low key, the recruits still get to see the product on the floor– even if it’s unpolished. The players get to see how Calipari lets his players play and showcase their talent to its fullest in his system.
The case for the Alumni Game:
— For the Fans
The fans get a chance to see some of their favorites from the past Calipari teams, some of whom they may not have seen play in person since leaving Lexington.
Since Kentucky doesn’t have a local NBA team, fans can get their NBA fix with the talent on display.
Fans who have been craving Kentucky basketball since the disappointing finish in the NIT will be given a small early holdover until Big Blue Madness.
Unfortunately though, unlike Big Blue Madness, the tickets for the Alumni Game are a bit more expensive. The fans haven’t flocked to the event in the same mass numbers like they do when selling out Big Blue Madness. Rupp Arena won’t be rocking quite as hard for the Alumni Game.
— For the Recruits
As much as the recruits enjoy seeing a packed arena, seeing the results of Calipari’s program on display is impressive. These young players look up to NBA stars like DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Anthony Davis. Seeing these guys in person and getting to hang out with them a bit during the weekend is a huge recruiting tool. The number of NBA players returning for the Alumni Game leaves no doubt as to how successful Calipari is at turning talented high school prospects into future NBA players.
The recruits won’t get to see Rupp Arena at its absolute best for this event. Although the fans will still show up for the event, the arena doesn’t appear to be near capacity for the evening.
I would argue that in this case, Big Blue Madness is most beneficial for the fans, while the Alumni Game is the most beneficial as a recruiting tool.