On Friday night, Kentucky Basketball kicked off the 2018-19 season with its annual Big Blue Madness. Both head coach Matthew Mitchell’s women’s team and head coach John Calipari’s men’s team took the Rupp Arena floor to be introduced to the Big Blue Nation. The yearly event has reached legendary status with members of the BBN camping out for what can’t even be considered a practice. There are player introductions, there’s dancing, there’s fireworks… it’s a celebration of everything that makes Kentucky Basketball, well, Kentucky Basketball.
“You people are crazy.” – John Calipari
While standing on the Blue Carpet, which welcomed current Wildcats and legendary Wildcats from bygone eras, I was hit with the realization that Cal is right. Kentucky fans are crazy. Not in the way that we are portrayed by opposing fan bases and in the media, but there’s something special here at the University of Kentucky that makes it unique. Where else are people going to cheer for players from the 1948, 49 and 51 teams and clap for team managers and pay reverence to those players that have transcended their status as basketball players and have become legends? It’s rare to see a fan base this connected to a program, but the folks in Blue are unique.
Big Blue Madness, while special, isn’t a perfect event. Thanks to the SEC Network broadcasting BBM live, the in-arena experience isn’t what it was before. The pacing is a bit slower with some, in my opinion, unnecessary downtime between events. I would definitely like to see the Women’s team get a bit more time in front of the Big Blue Nation. Sure, Coach Mitchell does his annual dance routine (and does it well), but the women work just as hard as the guys and should get some of the spotlight. Even with those quirks, it’s still a fun time for all 23,000 plus in attendance.
With the team taking a trip to Bahamas for some pre-season play, this wasn’t the first time that fans were able to see Calipari’s 2018-19 squad. This was, however, the first time that they were on full display in Rupp Arena. To continue from what we’ve seen so far, this team is going to be fun to watch. This team is deep and talented. Immanuel Quickley defeated Tyler Herro in the three-point contest and PJ Washington, scowl on his face and fall, won the dunk contest. The most important aspect of the night, and the buildup to Big Blue Madness, was that the team, collectively, gets “it.” The players understand that they are apart of something special in putting on the Blue and White with Kentucky across their chest. Cal has made sure to let these guys see just how invested the fans are in this team. As Calipari often says, “Kentucky isn’t for everybody.”
These Wildcats, men and women, are ready. Practice is underway as Coach Mitchell looks to get his team back to the NCAA tournament and return to the Elite Eight. And, for Coach Calipari, the hope is that his team returns to Rupp Arena for an end of the year celebration that includes putting another banner into the rafters. That will be enough to make sure the Big Blue Nation stays mad.