LEXINGTON – More than 24,000 blue-clad fanatics got their first look at the latest incarnation of the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team Friday night.
Saying they liked what they saw would be the understatement of the off-season.
More than 45 minutes before Big Blue Madness started Friday, Rupp Arena was already filling up. Why? Because this year is the year, the one fans have been hearing about and looking forward to since Coach John Calipari arrived in Lexington more than two years ago.
The John Wall/Demarcus Cousins team? That was a pleasant surprise. No one knew Cuz would be that good. Or Bledsoe. Or that Daniel Orton would get drafted in the first round (really Orlando? Really?).
The Brandon Knight/Josh Harrellson team? No one thought that team would gel like it did, or win like it did. Or come within a bucket of playing for a national championship – like it did.
Nope, fans would say. Nope, the so-called experts would say. No chance. Look to that third year, they would say, the year when we get Gilchrist. Now that is going to be a team. Heck, we could have Lamb and Terrence Jones and maybe a third season with Cuz and Bledsoe and Orton, and throw in Darius and DeAndre – and put it all together and you’ve got a title.
Well it didn’t really work out that way, did it? But the funny thing is, even though the situation has changed (no one had even heard of a center named Anthony Davis three years ago) we still have the same expectations. NATIONAL CHAMPS. Right?
But of course. And why shouldn’t we? Even though Cuz and Bledsoe and Knight and Deandre left (not to mention a guy named John Wall) Cal still brought in a third-consecutive No. 1-ranked recruiting class, one that featured the all-around No. 1 player in Davis, the aforementioned Gilchrist, the top point guard in Marquis Teague and a tall, throwback wunderkid named Kyle Wiltjer. Add them to a team that returns Jones and Lamb and Miller, and you’ve got a nice squad. Throw in Stacey Poole and (at Christmas) Twanny Beckham, and you’ve got the No.2-ranked team in the country.
And let me just say this: They looked like a team that could very well be the second-best in the land.
This team will have more depth than last year, and it will be more explosive. But will they get as far? Yeah – that’s the question, right?
Friday’s festivities did nothing to quell the fans’ hopes.
THEN THE ROOF CAME OFF
Things got loud when the NBA alumni were announced: Cuz, Josh, Knight, Jodie, DeAndre, Nazr, Tayshaun, Rondo and Wall all made appearances to loud ovations.
After the team was introduced (Kyle Wiltjer may have taken the cake for best dance intro), Calipari made a speech talking about the standard UK has set over the past two seasons, and how they hope to go further this season.
Then the 2011 Final Four banner was unfurled. Hey – it looks nice. And Rupp got very loud.
I know I only watched a scrimmage where there was no defense played, but due to the tremendous athleticism on the floor (and the shooters! and the scorers! and the rebounders! oh my!) but I haven’t been this excited about a team in a long while. These guys have so much potential, you can really see this becoming a national championship-type of team.
– This team is big. And long. Maybe more long than big, but wow they look athletic.
– Wiltjer has a gorgeous stroke from three. Just beautiful.
– Davis and Gilchrist are dunk freaks. Can’t even explain it.
– With as many versatile players, this team will give others fits. Will be very hard to guard.
– Gilchrist is everywhere, all the time, rebounding and putting shots back up and in. And he also hit a three.
– Darius Miller shot the ball out of his mind (5 threes), and looked nothing but smooth on the court. Is it his time? Finally?
– Terrence Jones, combined with Davis, could form the best tandem on the low blocks in the country. Hear that Carolina? Yeah, I said it. Jones lobbed two (TWO) passes off the backboard to himself for monster slams. That’s how much non-defense was being played.
– Davis added to his stellar evening of dunks and athletic moves by also canning a three. Nice. (Kevin Garnett, anyone?)
– This team will have no problems scoring. Barring injury, they will score in bunches and bunches. And they will be hard to defend.
– But the big question is: Will they guard anyone? It’s much more fun to win games 100-60 than it is to win 100-99. If this team can play defense even nearly as good as last year’s squad did in the postseason, these Cats will scare a lot of opponents.
WOW. JUST WOW
After I watched the scrimmage, I wondered how long it had been since I was this excited about a UK team. Cal’s first year, maybe? I was definitely excited about Wall, but I didn’t know about Cuz or Bledsoe. I was excited when Tubby brought in a No. 1 class with Randolph Morris, Joe Crawford and Rajon Rondo. Then add in transfer Patrick Sparks and toss in veteran Chuck Hayes and we had a great team.
But I’m really excited about this year. Really excited. With all of the recruits there Friday night, I just kept wondering why wouldn’t a kid want to come to UK?
– MITCHELL CHANNELS KING OF POP
Well, Matthew Mitchell really stole the show. Again.
Last season at Big Blue Madness the UK women’s coach wowed the crowd as he performed the Dougie. (And did it well).
Many wondered how he would top himself – or even if he could top himself. Well he sure did.
Coming out to “Billie Jean,” Coach Mitchell dressed up just like the King of Pop, with glittery silver top hat and one glove. He came out and danced as the faux sidewalk underneath his feet lit up with each step. Then he transitioned to the Dougie and then the John Wall dance. It was a thing of beauty and the crowd was understandably frenzied.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team love its coach the way these ladies love Coach Mitchell. And, to make things even better, he should have a really deep, talented squad this year.
– BAND STEPS OUT OF COMFORT ZONE
Nice to hear some new stuff from the Kentucky band. Loved their take on “All I Do is Win,” and “Forget You” was also very nice. Props.
– BAD NEWS FOR UOFL?
We never want to see a player get hurt, even if he plays for our most hated rival. And, to make matters worse, he’s a Kentucky kid.
Here’s hoping Chane Behanon didn’t hurt himself too bad when he sprained his ankle during UofL’s Midnight Madness Friday night. Ugh.
Go Big Blue!