By Dr. John Huang
Kentucky fans expecting a glimpse of some sort of risqué entertainment at this year’s Madness event were highly disappointed. By my count, there were no stripper poles or lighted blunts; no seductive gestures or curse words; no Eminem or Snoop Dogg sightings. In fact, the closest BBN got to pushing the envelope was a high-stepping routine from Matthew Mitchell’s backup dancers.
But other than that, it was all wholesome, family oriented, G-rated entertainment to tip off the start of another much-anticipated basketball season. With five-star recruit, Cade Cunningham, allegedly looking on, nearly 20,000 or so Big Blue fans were packed to the rafters in the newly installed chairback seats of Rupp Arena.
Here are my top ten moments of the evening.
10. Nate Sestina Having Fun
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Kentucky player enjoy himself more than Nate Sestina. The Bucknell graduate transfer literally skipped up and down the court during the entire Madness scrimmage with a giddy smile on his face. He gave the fans a glimpse of his ability to stretch the floor by hitting a couple of long three-pointers. To Nate and the rest of the team—WELCOME TO THE FAMILY!
9. Coach Cal Manifesto
As he’s done every year, Calipari addressed the Rupp Arena crowd with a litany of “what have I done for you” already references. Performing as usual for potential recruits, our hall of fame coach ran through an impressive listing of why players need to come play for him.
“It’s a level of success that’s only possible in one place—Kentucky,” Coach Cal said from behind the podium. “The greatest tradition in the history of college basketball is right here. The greatest players make their marks here. This is home forever.”
“What will we do next?” Calipari challenged both players and fans. “What will we do in the next 10 years? How do we continue to grow? How do we keep getting better? We need an entire nation—a Big Blue Nation behind us as we start a new decade and continue to showcase why Kentucky will be forever the greatest tradition in college basketball. It is on. Let’s have some fun.”
8. Chairbacks Galore
The 5,204 new chairbacks gave the upper portions of Rupp Arena a bit of a different look. With the bleachers gone, empty seats stood out much more than usual. Now with the individual seat rails, you just can’t scoot over anymore if there’s a bit of room to your side. I guess I’ll take the added comfort every day of the week, but I do miss the “packed in like sardines” look of the old Rupp.
7. Recruits Galore
I mentioned Cade Cunningham earlier. The 6-foot-7 point guard from Texas skipped the USA Basketball camp in Colorado in order to take in the Madness event. He wasn’t the only one. Others scheduled to attend included: JJ Traynor—a 6-8 forward with a 7-2 wingspan who’s the top prospect in Kentucky; Paolo Banchero—a 6-9 power forward from Seattle, who’s the No. 2 overall player in the 2021 class; Moussa Cisse—a 6-10 center from Memphis, who’s the most recent player to land a Kentucky scholarship offer; and Trey Kaufman—a 6-9 forward from Sellersburg, Indiana, who’s now ranked No. 29th overall in the class of 2021. Hopefully, the excitement of Madness will convince all of them once and for all to make Lexington their New Kentucky Home.
6. Hunting for Treasure
Not wanting to be left out, Matthew Mitchell also hosted some big-time recruits. The name at the top of everyone’s list was Treasure Hunt—a 6-2 five-star wing from Chattanooga, ranked No. 10 overall in the 2020 class. Besides the Madness event, the player with one of the greatest names of all time also hopes to visit her former teammate Rhyne Howard, who’s returning to UK for her sophomore season as arguably one of the best players in the nation. Here’s hoping former teammates become future teammates.
5. Blair Green Reppin’ the 606
Sophomore Blair Green paid homage to her hometown roots by throwing open her warmups and revealing the numbers 606–the Eastern Kentucky area code. The Middlesboro native has a chance to become one of the most popular players to ever don the blue and white.
4. Matthew Mitchell Keeps Delivering
You’d think it would eventually get old, but Matthew Mitchell keeps bringing it with his singing and dancing. His “Old Town Road” routine delivered another hit. I’d hate to be the future UK women’s coach having to replace the legend at these functions.
3. Kentucky Cheerleaders Always a Hit
The reigning twenty-four time cheerleading champs performed in between the women’s and men’s appearances. Need I say more?
2. Biggest Ovation for Returning Players
Ashton Hagans got the biggest cheer during introductions, followed in order by Nick Richards, Immanuel Quickley, and EJ Montgomery. All four of them happen to be returning players. Hmmm? There’s something to be said for the BBN’s love of familiarity.
1. Immanuel Quickley’s 3-point Shooting
Immanuel Quickley surprised many with his dead-eye shooting. The sophomore easily won the three-point shooting contest over freshman Tyrese Maxey, scoring a record 24 points.
How’s that for a top 10? Overall, probably a toned down Madness compared to previous years–but still plenty of excitement for fans of the program with the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball.