On Sunday afternoon, the 2018-19 University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball team met the Big Blue Nation. It was the first time head coach John Calipari could show off recent additions: re-classified freshman Ashton Hagans and Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis. The players and coaches put on a clinic at Franklin County High School and afterward boarded a train in Frankfort to make stops in Midway and Lexington.
One thing was evident during the train ride from Frankfort to Midway: Swaggy Cal is back. John Calipari has a team that he knows is going to be really, really good. With Hagans and Travis joining an already loaded roster, Cal has his deepest team since the 38-1 Final Four team in 2014-15. And he wants everyone to know it. These Wildcats have the talent and the experience to return Kentucky to the Final Four in 2019 and bring home the school’s 9th NCAA title. The train ride, however, was more than John Calipari showing off his team to the fans, it was about letting the team know about the fans what it means to wear the Blue and White with Kentucky across your chest.
There was about 400 or so folks in Midway when the train arrived just after 5:30 pm. Over 400 people waiting for a college basketball team on a June Sunday evening. Over 400 people waiting for an event that was announced less than 48 hours prior. And along the route, there were fans standing and waving at the train. When Coach Joel Justus introduced the team as they exited the train in Midway, it was to loud cheers and thunderous applause. The BBN lined up for autographs and to take pictures with the players and coaches. It didn’t feel like an event for a basketball team, it genuinely felt like a family reunion.
I know that the Big Blue Nation and Kentucky fans can sometimes get a bad rep for being too over the top. Sometimes, that’s deserved, but most of the time it isn’t. People just care about their college basketball team and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. In Midway, there were older people that remember Adolph Rupp and his great teams standing in line with kids for whom John Wall isn’t even a memory. There was a DJ playing music and people were dancing, each person most assuredly wishing that there will be dancing at celebration at the end of the year.
It wasn’t lost on most people that the last time Calipari took the Cats on a train ride through the Bluegrass, it was to show off the 2012 NCAA Championship trophy. With some hard work, some blood and sweat, the Big Blue Express will return to Midway in April with another trophy in hand.