Cats fans fill Rupp Arena for GameDay


ESPN College Game Day analyst Hubert Davis does the “John Wall Dance” at Rupp Arena on Saturday. Photo by Zach Brake

One sign said it all for the Big Blue Nation: “We’re back baby.”

ESPN’s College GameDay returned to Rupp Arena for the first time since Feb. 10, 2007 when the Cats played Florida. The 22,144 screaming fans, which nearly tripled the previous GameDay record of 8,159, ate it up from beginning to end.

“It was extraordinarily gratifying for us,” ESPN College GameDay host Rece Davis said. “And it was great to just be a part of.”

While the show started at 11 a.m., ESPN college basketball analyst and former Notre Dame head coach Digger Phelps pumped up the crowd before the 10 a.m. Sportscenter preceding GameDay. Phelps gave the pep band instructions and told the crowd when and what to chant for different spots.

After the broadcast finished at noon, Phelps told the fans it was “the greatest day ever at College GameDay.”

The crowd fed off Phelps, the band and each other throughout the morning. Chants of “C-A-T-S” and “Go Big Blue” echoed through the storied arena and the party atmosphere never died.

The previous attendance record for GameDay was set a couple weeks ago when the crew visited Manhattan, Kan., for the rivalry game between Kansas State and Kansas.

Davis, an Alabama native and alum, said he has a good feeling for the passion the UK fans hold for the sport because he grew up with Crimson Tide football, and UK head coach John Calipari is “perfect” for the fans.

“I don’t think we’re knuckleheaded enough to think they came to just see our show,” Davis said. “They came out because they wanted to use our show to exhibit their passion that is, frankly, unmatched for their team, and for their sport.”

The show featured its usual StateFarm halfcourt shot by a fan and signs littered the crowd, along with large cutouts of UK President Lee Todd, First Lady Patsy Todd and UK great Jodie Meeks. At the conclusion of the show, analyst Hubert Davis led the other two analysts, Phelps and Jay Bilas, in their rendition of the “John Wall Dance.”

Fans weren’t the only ones to watch GameDay. Many former players, including Kenny Walker, Richie Farmer, Cameron Mills, Wayne Turner, Chuck Hayes and Jodie Meeks, as well as former head coach Joe B. Hall were also in attendance to see the festivities.

Last season the GameDay crew was debating whether or not UK would even make the NCAA Tournament. Now they’re debating whether UK will be the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament.

Rece Davis said having UK back in the national picture is very important to college basketball.

“When you have a fanbase that cares as much as they do, and when you have a brand name in college basketball like ‘Kentucky,’ they need to be good,” he said. “It makes everybody else better. If the SEC has to keep up with Kentucky, it pulls up the entire conference.”

Bilas said he had never seen anything like what he saw Saturday, and when he first heard UK was going to try to sell out Rupp Arena for the show, he couldn’t believe it. When the show finished, Bilas said as far as atmospheres go, Saturday’s GameDay was the best “by far.”

“The idea that you would walk into an arena at 11 in the morning and have a packed house and it would be that kind of passion behind it is hard to imagine,” Bilas said.