Calipari’s version of Madness brings entire new experience

The UK dance team performs at Big Blue Madness at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Friday, October 12, 2012. Photo by Tessa Lighty | Staff

 

By Connor Link
sports@kykernel.com

Without fail, fans religiously flock from all corners of the Bluegrass to the Commonwealth’s favorite college town every October with one thing on their minds: basketball.

If Lexington is college basketball’s holy Mecca, Rupp Arena is its sacred Kaaba.

From the rural hollers of Johnson County to the hustle-bustle streets of Louisville, citizens of all parts of Big Blue Nation ceremoniously unite under one roof to officially welcome the new season into its infancy.

Young or old, black or white, male or female, native or newcomer, many become one. If UK basketball is your passion, there is a seat reserved for you at Big Blue Madness.

Since UK basketball head coach John Calipari was formally introduced as the men’s basketball coach in April of 2009, the Cats have shown no limitations.

Judging by the spectacular display Friday night, the 2012-2013 season looks to be no exception. Building upon the legendary winning tradition already in place, the past three years have resulted in no less than the school’s first two No. 1 overall NBA draft picks, two Final Fours, over 100 victories, and an 8th national championship banner. What’s more impressive is the limitlessness of the cult following that is the UK faithful.

Over 23,000 elbow-to-elbow fans packed the house in a sea of blue Friday evening, with expectations of flattops, fadeaways, and free throws (oh my) to inaugurate the first official practice of the upcoming college basketball season.

Ask, Big Blue Nation, and ye shall receive—From the high-flying acrobatic dunks of 6-foot-2 sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow to the monstrous seven-foot freshmen twin towers Willie Cauley-Stein and Nerlens Noel battling below the basket, Cats’ fans were not disappointed.

But how could they be? Even in an absurd world where not one single ball made it through a hoop Friday night, the giant television screen that was actual hardwood court itself and the raising of the eight national championship banners were worth the journey to Rupp Arena alone.

“Amazing,” was the only word UK engineering sophomores Dave Stapleton and Naz Taylor could mutter after witnessing the festivities of Big Blue Madness, while UK sophomore attendee Nick Tomlin added, “The best performance I’ve seen yet!”

The Kentucky Effect is strong, and boy is it contagious.

The bondings of comradery, prideful tradition, and high-level fun run strong through the blue-blooded veins of every member of the Big Blue Nation. Unfortunately for the rest of college basketball, the end seems nowhere in sight.

For these reasons and more, fans pride themselves as citizens of a nation. They live and die by the belief that no nation is stronger, none more diverse and no-one greater.

More incredibly, the culture of Cats fans is more than just a normal passion — it is a new way of life.

Followers no longer identify themselves merely as farmers, business workers, or even Lexingtonians, but a mix of all three (along with many more): Cats.