By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
LEXINGTON, Ky. – For this edition of “Life In The SEC,” I ventured to Lexington for one of college basketball’s biggest events, Big Blue Madness, at the University of Kentucky. It is a three-hour celebration of the best traditions in the history of the sport, and provides fans with their first look at both the men’s and women’s basketball teams for the 2011-12 season.
Here is a look at some of the special things that make it one of the most unique events in the nation.
The House That Rupp Built
Memorial Coliseum served as the home of the Kentucky men’s basketball team from 1950 until 1976 and earned the nickname “The House That Rupp Built.” Memorial Coliseum continues to serve as home of the school’s women’s basketball team, along with the volleyball and gymnastics teams. It was built as a memorial to honor all of the Kentuckians who had died in World War I, World War II and the Korean War.
Home To The Greatest Tradition in the History of College Basketball
The Joe Craft Center, which opened in January 2007, is home to the men’s and women’s basketball programs as well as administrative offices and coaches offices at the University of Kentucky. The palatial facility features practice courts for both the men’s and women’s teams, office space, locker rooms, video rooms, and team lounges, along with a training room and a strength and conditioning facility. Tradition and history is seen all throughout the facility, including this mural touting the “Greatest Tradition in the History of College Basketball”
Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams have their own individual meeting and video rooms with plenty of space and the latest video technology to help players evaluate their own games and scout opponents.
More Than Just A Basketball Scrimmage
Inside Rupp Arena, the annual Big Blue Madness is much more than just a basketball scrimmage. The planning process, which takes about nine months according to Kentucky associate athletics director Jason Schlafer, includes even the smallest of details to ensure a fan-friendly and entertaining performance. Big Blue Madness featured a stage at one end of the court and an impressive array of video production, including highlights.
Everyone is familiar with the Kentucky men’s basketball tradition of winning national titles, but what they may not be familiar with is that the UK cheerleading squad has won 18 national championships in the program’s history, with the most recent coming in 2010.
The King of Pop
Kentucky women’s basketball coach Matthew Mitchell came out to the beat of Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean" and was dressed from head to toe like the King of Pop. Mitchell danced not only to Jackson songs but also included The Dougie and the John Wall Dance in his repertoire. “More than anything, it’s a celebration and people are getting together who love Kentucky basketball,” Mitchell said. “We want to be in that mood and make it fun for the fans.”
The Kentucky women’s basketball team, which finished 25-9 with an NCAA Second Round appearance last season, participated in a scrimmage following introductions at Big Blue Madness. The Wildcats have made seven consecutive postseason appearances, including three NCAA berths during that span.
Welcome to Rupp Arena
The Kentucky men’s basketball team was introduced to the crowd one-by-one and each came out to a different song and dance that fit each team member’s personality.
The Kentucky Effect
John Calipari, entering his third season as head men’s basketball coach at Kentucky, has revitalized the program, bringing energy and excitement to every minute of his time in Lexington. Calipari spoke to the crowd about the “Kentucky Effect” and his emphasis on a players-first program.
In Pursuit of Another NCAA Title
Big Blue Madness concluded with a scrimmage by the men’s team that consisted of two 10-minute halves. The Wildcats, who advanced to the NCAA Final Four last season with a 29-9 overall record, are seeking the program’s first national title since 1998.