Kentucky revels in ‘Big Blue Madness’
by Steve Jones, The Courier-Journal
LEXINGTON, KY. — The University of Kentucky raised its eighth national title banner at Rupp Arena last spring. The Wildcats raised it again Friday night at Big Blue Madness, along with the other seven.
Coach John Calipari used the Wildcats’ highly anticipated celebration of the start of basketball season to pay homage to all the program’s championships.
After UK lowered the banners of the 1948, ’49, ’51, ’58, ’78, ’96, ’98 and ’12 title seasons from Rupp’s rafters, Calipari invited stars from the title teams, including Ron Mercer, Cliff Hagan, Jack Givens, Vernon Hatton and Wah Wah Jones, to center court to simultaneously pull a rope that lifted them back up.
The packed-house crowd at Rupp went wild, cheering the past success and getting ready for a new run.
The new-edition Cats entertained the crowd during a scrimmage that was low on defense but high on highlights.
There was a strong dunk by Willie Cauley-Stein on fellow freshman center Nerlens Noel — noteworthy because Noel figures to be one of the nation’s elite shot-blockers. Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer looked leaner and more muscular in scoring a variety of jump shots, hook shots, dunks and layups. He also threw an alley-oop off the backboard to new UK point guard Ryan Harrow.
Senior Jon Hood, coming off a knee injury that kept him out last season, looked spry and healthy.
Freshmen Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress lived up to their reputation as high fliers.
The scrimmage followed an elaborate light show in which the court was covered by a white cloth, then was used as a giant de facto movie screen to display animations and highlights projected down from above.
Before that, UK women’s team coach Matthew Mitchell, whose introductory dances have become an annual staple of Madness, tried his best to steal the show. He slid across the stage above the court to MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This, then down on the floor to Too Legit to Quit.
Later, after most of UK’s men’s players performed elaborate dance moves while being introduced, Calipari joked, “If we’re in a dance competition, we’ll win.”
The entertainment value of Big Blue Madness has made it … [For more on Defending champion Kentucky revels in 'Big Blue Madness', click here.]