Kentucky basketball hosts 2022 Big Blue Madness event


Isabel McSwain

Kentucky mens basketball head coach John Calipari talks to fans during an open practice and telethon benefitting flood victims in Eastern Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022 in Lexington, Kentucky.

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Kentucky basketball kicked off its annual Big Blue Madness event on Friday, properly introducing UK fans to both the mens and womens basketball teams.

The event kicked off with the ‘Big Blue Carpet,” a Hollywood red carpet-esque introduction to both teams and many of the NBA talents that returned for the event.

The only active player not to walk the blue carpet was returning consensus national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe, who was on crutches following a knee surgery before the event.

Before the event could even get started fans in attendance were given a treat when news broke that five-star center Aaron Bradshaw committed to Kentucky, providing the Wildcats with the No. 1 overall freshman center for the 2023-2024 season.

Once the event got going both Bradshaw and his high school teammate and fellow five-star recruit DJ Wagner, who Kentucky is also actively trying to recruit, were in attendance.

Starting off the event itself, the first hour was dedicated to the womens basketball program, which looked rather different from last season with just five out of 15 players having been on the team prior.

During introductions a number of players garnered large crowd reactions including Kentucky native Cassidy Rowe, Oregon transfer Maddie Scherr, returning Kentucky native Emma King and returning veteran Robyn Benton, but no athlete got a larger reaction than returning star Blair Green, who missed her senior season last year with an injury.

Head coach Kyra Elzy also garnered a large reaction, riding into the arena on a motorcycle and coming on stage to a live musical performance, both homages to former head coach Matthew Mitchell, who retired from Kentucky due to a brain injury.

The women held a 3-point contest, which was won by Green, who scored 16 points and defeated Scherr in the final. King and Benton also participated in the contest but were knocked out in the first round.

The women then hosted a blue-white scrimmage, which was ultimately won by the blue team composed of Zennia Thomas, Jada Walker, Amiya Jenkins, Nyah Leveretter and Scherr. The white team, composed of Rowe, King, Eniya Russell, Saniah Tyler and Benton came up short by a final score of 12-10.

“I think (the womens team) will be good,” lifelong Kentucky fan Jimmy Turner (54) said. “They’re young but I think they should do well.”

Following the scrimmage, Kentucky celebrated 50 years of Title IX, the law that prohibits sex-based discrimination and was partially created to ensure equal opportunities in mens and womens sports.

With the celebration Kentucky honored several members of its Title IX Top 50 team, which features 50 of the best female athletes in university history.

After the celebration, both the cheer and dance teams put on performances for the now packed house.

With seats mostly full in the venue, Kentucky showcased a number of its current and former NBA alumni that decided to return for the event. Those in attendance included Brandon Knight, Tyler Ulis, Kevin Knox of the Detroit Pistons, Nick Richards of the Charlotte Hornets, Hamidou Diallo of the Pistons, Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Following the professional guests, it was time for the mens team to make its entrance with much of the returning talent, including Damion Collins, Lance Ware, Jacob Toppin and Sahvir Wheeler, receiving large reactions from the audience. Big Blue Nation also welcomed new prospects such as Ugonna Onyenso, Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston with large amounts of cheers as well.

That said, no player received a louder reaction than Tshiebwe, who hobbled onto the stage with his crutches and introduced head coach John Calipari.

With the team ready to show what it is capable of, the men started similar to the women: with a 3-point contest. Illinois State transfer Antonio Reeves won the contest with a score of 19, defeating reigning champion CJ Fredrick, Toppin and Livingston.

Next, the men held a dunk contest which, despite the two leading scorers being Livingston and Collins, who scored 78, was won by Toppin thanks to votes from the fans and guest judge Diallo.

Moving on from the dunk contest, it was time to close the event with the men’s blue-white scrimmage, similar to how the women ended their portion of the event.

Ultimately, despite many fans feeling like the men did not take the scrimmage very seriously, the final score finished 23-23 between the white team, comprised of Wheeler, Onyenso, Toppin, Reeves, Brennan Canada and Walker Horn, and the blue team, comprised of Livingston, Adou Thiero, Fredrick, Collins, Wallace, Kareem Watkins and Grant Darbyshire.

“Honestly I feel like the women had more energy coming out than the mens team,” lifelong Kentucky fan Rachel Simpson said. “The (mens) entrances in the past had more excitement and (more) to do as far as the show aspect and this year seemed to lack that.”

Only Tshiebwe and Ware did not participate in the scrimmage, with Calipari saying Ware’s absence was nothing serious and that he will be ready to go in “three-to-five days.”

Ending the event with a mic-drop, Calipari spoke to the fans before the seats began to clear out and attendees began going home eager for the basketball season.

“I thought (Big Blue Madness) was really nice,” lifelong Kentucky fan James Simpson (42) said. “It’s nice to see the older players come back and see the new team every year.”

Turner agreed with Simpson in his analysis, saying the event “brings back some great memories” including of the 2012 National Championship.

With fans now properly riled up for the basketball season to begin, the annual blue-white scrimmage is set to take place in Pikeville this Saturday, Oct. 22, before the Cats take on their first exhibition opponent, Missouri Western State, on Oct. 30.

The women will also host a blue-white scrimmage this Saturday inside Memorial Coliseum before hosting a scrimmage against Pikeville on Nov. 2.

Both teams kick off their respective regular seasons on Nov. 7, with the men hosting Howard inside Rupp Arena and the women hosting Radford inside Memorial Coliseum.