LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Before Kentucky’s annual Big Blue Madness began, highlights from last year’s near-perfect season dominated the video screens, setting the stage for Friday night’s annual event.
Although a bulk of last year’s NCAA national runner-up squad which finished 38-1 weren’t in attendance, it didn’t take away the excitement generated by the festivities that mark the unofficial start of the college basketball season.
“We are the winningest program in the history of college basketball,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We’ve won more NCAA tournament games than any school in the country. We have been and will continue to be the gold standard in college basketball.”
A capacity crowd filled the arena to get an early glimpse of the Wildcats. The players were introduced with a full length video displayed on a white backdrop covering the court.
Kentucky is replacing more than 80 percent of its scoring and a bulk of the inside cast from last season. Overall, six players, including overall No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns, were chosen in the NBA draft.
“What does the future hold? You’re looking at them right here with this team,” Calipari said. “This season will be a process. Nothing happens overnight. I want these kids to worry about pleasing each other, not worry about pleasing me. They’ve got to have more fun than any team in the country playing and growing together. That’s how we become the last team standing. And I believe in this group.”
One of the post players signed to help fill the void vacated by Towns – Skal Labissiere – hasn’t been cleared to play but is practicing with the team as the NCAA reviews his eligibility status for the upcoming season.
Earlier this week, Calipari wasn’t concerned about Labissiere’s status and expects the 6-foot-11 center from Haiti to be in the lineup when the Wildcats open the season against Albany on Nov. 13.
The Kentucky women’s team scrimmaged before the men’s squad took their turn on the court. Wildcats coach Matthew Mitchell danced after announcing he had “retired” after five years of entertaining the crowd. Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart asked Mitchell to reconsider to the delight of those in attendance.
Mitchell’s squad was without junior Makayla Epps, who didn’t participate as part of her suspension. Epps, the team’s returning leading scorer (14.9 points per game), was suspended following an off-court incident in her hometown last spring.
Former Kentucky standouts Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins were in attendance. Davis is in town for the New Orleans Pelicans-Sacramento Kings exhibition game on Saturday. Willie Cauley-Stein and recent Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame inductee Louie Dampier were among the attendees.