We’re just days away from the start of the 2015-2016 regular season, and to get you prepared for what’s coming over the next five months, Kentucky Sports Radio has decided to first take you back to the season that began it all.
That’s right, there’s a new book out that you’ve hopefully heard about by now, on John Calipari’s first team in Lexington, and we’ve got a special treat for readers of this website.
The book is called “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats” and it really does take fans behind the scenes of the incredible 2010 season. From the day John Calipari was hired, through the recruitment of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and the first freshman class under Cal, to games against North Carolina and UConn, a million-dollar fundraiser, and of course the night at the 2010 NBA Draft where UK set a record with five first round draft picks, author Aaron Torres covers it all. The book has received five-star reviews across the board on Amazon, and will make a perfect holiday gift for the UK fan in your life. It is available in paperback and Kindle, and for more information, signed copies and excerpts, you can visit KentuckyBasketballBook.com as well.
Aaron has done quite a bit of promotion for the book, starting on KSR last month, before Matt was nice enough to let him run a few excerpts from the book on the site this month. Two weeks ago we ran an excerpt from the famed “Call Me” game and last week we followed it up with UK’s trip to Madison Square Garden to take on UConn.
This week’s excerpt comes from one of the signature moments of not just the season, but the John Calipari era as well.
But for those expecting to read about an NCAA Tournament game, or regular season contest, well, think again.
Instead, the moment comes from Big Blue Madness, where John Wall and his teammates were introduced to the Big Blue Nation.
There, Wall decided to dance.
And a phenomenon was born…
If Calipari’s speech set the tone for the future of Kentucky basketball, the player introductions set the tone for the season ahead. As Kentucky fans would learn by the end of the night, their team not only had the most talent in college basketball during the 2009-2010 season. They had the most style and swag as well.
Prior to the festivities, the players hung out in the locker room, where they put the finishing touches on their own introductions. Some, like John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins had planned intricate dance moves for the occasion; others were simply excited to be introduced to the crowd.
But it’s how they were introduced which quickly caught everyone’s attention that night. Over the previous few months Calipari, Peevy and Schlafer had planned out every moment of the night, but nothing was bigger than the player introductions. Each player would be introduced while standing on a crane, 40 feet in the air, before slowly being brought down by the rafters.
Yes, you read that correctly: Each player began their night 40 feet in the air.
It was a crazy idea, and maybe just a tiny bit dangerous. But this was a big night, and Calipari was a big thinker.
You only get one chance to make a first impression, right?
Well, not all of Kentucky’s players were thinking that way.
“We were all like ‘We’re going to do what? From where?’” Mark Krebs said. “And they were like ‘Don’t worry, you’re going to be safe!’”
Eventually the players calmed down (they also received plenty of safety training) and as the moment inched closer inside Rupp Arena, the anticipation grew. Finally, the public address announcer got on the microphone and said for all the fans to hear: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the 2009-2010 edition of your Kentucky Wildcats.”
It was a surreal moment in time, as one by one the players were introduced. Some, like Patrick Patterson were familiar faces to the crowd, others like Eric Bledsoe, completely new. The Kentucky players smiled and waved, and just embraced the moment in general, as each heard their name called.
Well, actually let’s take that back. Not everyone embraced the moment; one player was outright terrified by it.
“DeMarcus Cousins was the most scared person alive doing that,” Peevy said with a laugh. “If you go back and watch the video on YouTube you will notice, he doesn’t move, he doesn’t say a word, he doesn’t shake, because he was scared of heights and he did not want to do that.”
At that particular moment Cousins didn’t do much of anything (other than to hold onto the rails for dear life), which is a damn shame, since he had made a big promise to his teammates in the locker room that evening: DeMarcus Cousins had promised to dance.
The decision itself wasn’t surprising since, well, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Eric Bledsoe pretty much danced every chance they got. The three danced in the locker room before practice. They danced in the locker room after practice. They might even sneak a quick two-step in during practice if Calipari wasn’t paying particularly close attention.
But on this night, there would be no dancing for DeMarcus Cousins. Even if he and John Wall had promised teammates they’d do a dance when they were introduced at Big Blue Madness.
Yup, you read that correctly: DeMarcus Cousins — who was introduced before John Wall — was supposed to dance during his introduction at Big Blue Madness. Meaning that if history had turned out just a tiny bit differently, the “John Wall dance” very well might have gone down as the “DeMarcus Cousins dance.”
“He was going to go first because he was before me,” Wall admitted. “So he was supposed to dance before me. Then I was going to dance. But he was so scared.”
Chad Sanders backed up the story.
“In the Joe Craft Center, the first person I saw do the dance was DeMarcus,” Sanders said.
When Sanders says “the dance” he is of course talking about the one that Wall made famous that night.
Honestly it wasn’t anything special (at least to Wall), and wasn’t intended to turn into anything that anyone would remember. But when the spotlight turned to John Wall that evening at Big Blue Madness, he let loose the famed “John Wall dance.”
And Kentucky basketball would never be the same.
“It’s a dance, it seems stupid,” Matt Jones said. “But for the first time in my lifetime, with the possible exception of Rex Chapman, Kentucky had the coolest player in the country. Now everyone thinks of Kentucky as the cool team, but that didn’t used to be the case. People kind of looked at Kentucky like, they were always the good team, but they never had the cool player. Nobody had posters up of the UK players. We weren’t the Fab Five, we weren’t UNLV, we weren’t even Duke, who wasn’t cool, but at least had players everybody knew. The only player Kentucky had in 20 years that the whole country really cared about was probably (Jamal) Mashburn.”
The dance truly was one of those perfect moments in time, a rare instant that can’t be scripted, can’t be anticipated and just kind of happens. To John Wall it was just a dance, but to everyone watching, it was a window into his personality. For just a few short seconds no one cared about the ancillary things that came with John Wall — his one-and-done status, his projected draft spot, his NBA future — but instead, fans got to see who he really was at his core. They got to see his exuberance and his excitement. And they got to remember that despite all the hype, he was in fact just a kid. A kid who really was enjoying the moment.
And speaking of “enjoying the moment” no one enjoyed that specific moment quite like Kentucky fans did.
Within days, the “John Wall dance” wasn’t a dance at all. Instead, it was an outright phenomenon.
“I didn’t expect for there to be that atmosphere (and excitement) behind it,” Wall told me last winter. “Everybody went crazy.”
Everyone did go crazy, and interestingly, it spoke to the changing world of college basketball and sports coverage in general.
Remember, 2009 was right around the time that the landscape of sports — and how we as fans consumed those sports — was changing. Newspapers were slowly losing their cache, with more fans turning to the internet to get information about their team. Well as we all know now, internet coverage isn’t always strictly just straight “news,” but all the ancillary stuff that comes with it, with box scores and game recaps supplemented by goofy pictures and videos as well. The fall of 2009 was an especially interesting time, as Twitter had just come into vogue a few months before, and YouTube was still just a few years old itself. To put things into perspective, neither John Wall nor DeMarcus Cousins had a personal Twitter account during their time at Kentucky.
So with that as context, it’s safe to say that the 2009-2010 Kentucky Wildcats really were one of the first sports teams anywhere, pro or college, basketball, baseball or football to go “viral” on the internet. Unlike Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls or the mid-90’s Dallas Cowboys, the 2009-2010 Kentucky Wildcats were basically covered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They were the perfect blend of talent and personality, and Kentucky fans simply couldn’t get enough of them.
“I really believe that team is why so many Kentucky fans are on the internet,” Jones said. “Kentucky fans, in my opinion, are on the internet more than any other college team. I think it was that team, and it was kind of because they (the players) all kind of were on the internet. DeMarcus Cousins asked me to help him find a nickname, and he got fans on the website to vote on it. John Wall, with the John Wall dance. They (the fans) wanted to eat up everything about the team, so the internet was there for that to happen.”
And nothing personified just how much Kentucky fans loved the 2009-2010 ‘Cats quite like the “John Wall Dance” did. To quote Wall, everybody did “go crazy” over it, with just about everyone doing the dance itself, then recording it and posting it on the internet every chance they got. Couples did the dance at their weddings. Friends did the dance while on vacation. Kids did the dance….basically everywhere they could.
The “John Wall dance” was never intended to be a signature moment for Kentucky basketball. But that’s exactly what it became.
“The moment was when John Wall danced; if you asked Kentucky fans to remember something from the Cal era, almost everyone is going to mention that,” Jones said. “It was almost like a moment, where people were like ‘Ok, we’re back.’”
Kentucky was back. And it wasn’t just the fans who felt it, but folks inside the program as well.
“That was the first time but from a staff standpoint it (Big Blue Madness) did what it was supposed to do,” Peevy said. “It started the hype of ‘This is going to be a special season.’ Not just that. It was going to be a part of a new era.”
That new era was just weeks from beginning, with a season opener against Morehead State.
But while everyone was excited for games to get underway, internally, the Kentucky Wildcats were nervous.
They still had a lot of work to do.
And they had to start the season with John Wall on the sidelines.
To read more about John Wall, and the rest of his teammates at UK, pick up your copy of “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats” which is available in paperback or Kindle on Amazon.com.
The book is a must have for every Kentucky fan, and will make a great holiday gift for friends and family as well. For more information on the book, and to read an excerpt about DeMarcus Cousins’ excellent adventures during a trip to New York, visit www.KentuckyBasketballBook.com.