Is Big Blue Madness an effective recruiting tool?


Isaac Humphries is introduced during Big Blue Madness on Friday, October 14, 2016 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky..

Over the years at UK, Big Blue Madness, the annual open practice held for the basketball team, has been one of the most talked about recruiting tools for John Calipari and the Cats.

When a recruit is on the fence or deciding between schools, the unified message from the fan base is “just wait until they go to Big Blue Madness.”

But is it effective?

In 2017, the numbers were a wash for the Cats. Immanuel Quickley came to the event as UK’s first commit, which he had announced the month before. D.J. Jeffries, the 2019 recruit, had yet to commit. He committed later to the Cats, but decommitted earlier this year.

As for the other players in attendance, they haven’t all selected their schools yet. Of those that have, none of them have been Kentucky.

Zion Williamson went to Duke, Bol Bol went to Oregon and Darius Garland went to Vanderbilt. Williamson was greeted with cheers of “we want Zion” and had a UK basketball thrown at him to sign. When Williamson visited Duke, the school played “Every Time we Touch” by Cascada.

2016 was a much more effective year for the event. Quade Green, Kevin Knox, Nick Richards and P.J. Washington all committed to the Cats after the event, with Knox waiting a whole seven months to make his call. The Cats added even more firepower for future classes, with Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley both committing to this year’s Cats long after the event.

In 2015, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Sacha Killeya-Jones were the commitments the team received after the event, with Monk surprising the nation by not selecting Arkansas. Killeya-Jones was already committed to Kentucky when he came to the event. Alabama’s John Petty and Duke/Sacramento Kings forward Harry Giles, then the No. 1 recruit in the class, also attended the event.

The Cats nearly blanked in 2014. They got Charles Matthews, who ended up transferring to Michigan. No other players that attended the event that year became UK players. They may not have liked Drake’s airball.

2013 was a much more successful year. The Cats got Tyler Ulis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles to commit, although Ulis and Towns came to the event already dedicated to Big Blue Nation. Towns had attended the event the year before and committed two months after that first trip. This set-up one of the biggest, if not the biggest, piece to UK’s 38-1 Final Four run in 2015 with Towns.

2012, for the ratio, was the most successful Big Blue Madness for recruiting. It was the year the Cats were coming off their championship, and first overall draft pick Anthony Davis was still a fresh memory for everyone in attendance. Of the nine players that attended the event, seven ended up being Wildcats. Towns and Lyles attended the next year’s Madness as well, but 2012 was enough for the junior Towns. He committed two months after the event.

Other gets for the Cats that year include the Harrison twins, James Young, Marcus Lee and Derek Willis. Willis was committed long before his Madness visit, however.

In 2011, the Cats got commitments from Archie Goodwin, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and the Harrison twins (who went to Madness twice), all of whom ended up playing on an NBA roster. Shabazz Muhammad and Dajuan Coleman were the two recruits in attendance that didn’t become Wildcats.

In 2010, the Cats had 100 percent success, getting all four high school recruits in attendance to commit to the school. Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were the No. 1 and No. 2 NBA Draft picks after their freshman year, while Kyle Wiltjer and Marquis Teague were key pieces of UK’s championship run.

The first year of Calipari’s tenure, 2009, was mostly unsuccessful. Kyrie Irving and Tobias Harris, now NBA starters, both attended the event but neither committed to UK. Irving went to Duke, while Harris went to Tennessee.

Overall, Big Blue Madness seems to have some recruiting effect, but not the massive pull that is touted by the fan base. Team success appears to have as much to do with recruiting as anything, as 2010 (the John Wall/DeMarcus Cousins year) and 2012 (the national championship) were the top years for UK recruits, in terms of the ratio of committed players to attending players.

This year, the Cats are coming in with commitments already from Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney and Dontaie Allen. The late-night event at this point is a formality for them, but other recruits may find the school appealing after the show.