It’s a practice in name only.
The Kentucky men’s and women’s basketball programs held their annual Big Blue Madness festivities on Friday in Rupp Arena. It was every bit the event Wildcat fans have come to expect, with dazzling effects, dancing, a speech and even a little basketball.
Let’s take a look back at the top six moments from the big night.
6) Drake returns
After an infamous appearance at Big Blue Madness 2014, Drake’s presence on Friday night was only virtual. It was still quite entertaining. The rapper and Kentucky fan provided John Calipari’s introduction in comedic fashion, closing by calling him the “most luxurious coach in NCAA basketball.”
5) Dom and EJ’s dance moves
It’s an annual ritual, speculating which players will bypass the customary wave to the crowd in favor of some actual dancing. This year, Dominique Hawkins and EJ Floreal were the ones to do it, and quite impressively as well.
4) Anthony’s interruption
As Calipari delivered his State of the Program Address (more on that later), Anthony Davis – in town for an NBA preseason game at Rupp this weekend – took his seat along the baseline. Never missing anything, fans began to cheer loudly enough that Coach Cal couldn’t help but stop midsentence.
“I’m giving a speech up here, Davis,” Calipari said to the national champion and NBA All Star.
The crowd quickly quieted down, but cheered again later when Calipari invited Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein and newly enshrined Hall of Famer Louie Dampier to midcourt. It’s the kind of assembly of former Wildcat greats that only happens at Madness.
3) Actual basketball
The women’s team played a short game of five-on-five after a 3-point contest, and veteran guards Janee Thompson and Linnae Harper were impressive, as expected. They figure to be the foundation of this year’s team. UK could also have a formidable frontcourt, as Alexis Jennings and Alyssa Rice return. Freshman Batouly Camara looks likely to be an immediate contributor as well.
On the men’s side, the Cats are as talented as their preseason No. 1 ranking would suggest. Beyond potentially being the best floor general Calipari has ever coached, Tyler Ulis also appears to have increased confidence as a shooter. Ulis will be throwing plenty of highlight-reel lobs this season to Skal Labissiere, but the potential No. 1 NBA Draft pick showed some range of his own.
However, drawing conclusions from scrimmages as informal as Friday’s is difficult, other than this: Basketball is back.
2) Matthew Mitchell does it again
Mitchell had fans worried for a moment when he was introduced and told the crowd of his retirement from his customary Big Blue Madness dance routine. Fortunately, his boss wasn’t having any of it.
Mitch Barnhart took the microphone from him and said, “That isn’t working for me. That isn’t working for anybody.” Mitchell was quickly surrounded by two youngsters and members of the UK dance team, who did the “Whip/Nae Nae.”
Mitchell feigned surprise, but of course he was ready to join in. Add another to the long line of memorable Madness performances by Kentucky’s women’s basketball coach.
1) Cal’s speech
Coach Cal wanted to keep his remarks brief on Friday night and he did. He delivered a speech of a little more than 500 words and it lasted about seven minutes only because he had to pause for applause so often.
He reinforced messages heard often from him, namely that there is no stage like Kentucky basketball and that his focus and that of fans should remain always on the players. Calipari expressed confidence in this year’s team, saying the Cats want to be the next to take over the mantle of the greatest tradition in college basketball.
Based on recent history, there’s little reason to doubt him.