Commentary

Madness in full force tonight in Kentucky and Texas A&M

Originally Published: October 12, 2007
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Not even an upside-down world of football success at Kentucky and Kansas can derail the euphoria for the official opening of practice Friday night.

And for these purposes we can dismiss the term "Midnight Madness" in its traditional sense. There's nothing midnight about the madness anymore.

The NCAA allows schools to practice beginning at 7 p.m. local time for fear that too late a night was putting people on the roads at a difficult hour.

Soulja Boy
Gary Gershoff/Getty ImagesRapper Soulja Boy will be entertaining the Aggies at "Maroon Madness."

Still, the madness is in full force in traditional settings.

Head to Lexington, Ky., Lawrence, Kan., Chapel Hill, N.C., Memphis, Tenn., or plenty of other locales, and you'll find the students in a frenzied state.

Not everyone buys into the act. Louisville will pass. UCLA doesn't bother.

But at a place like Kentucky, it doesn't matter whether or not the football team is on the verge of one of its biggest home games in recent memory (against No. 1 ranked LSU on Saturday).

Billy Gillispie is debuting his first Kentucky team, albeit in practice, so there's no way that the Wildcat fan is going to miss out on the chance to be in Rupp Arena. That's why there will be a packed house Friday night.

"Everyone has been talking about it for a month, about how much fun it's going to be for the player and the fans,'' said Gillispie, who got the passionate Texas A&M fans to adjust their loyalties to embrace hoops during his tenure. He staged a midnight hoop practice at Kyle Field for the late-night yell.

"They camp out for two or three weeks, waiting for tickets that are free,'' Gillispie said of the Kentucky fans. "There's so much anticipation because there is so much love and passion for each particular team, and I've been told until you go through it you'd never understand it and how important it is to everyone.''

Gillispie isn't into all the fun and games. There are few coaches who get into the skits as much as North Carolina's Roy Williams, who has been a good sport for years at KU and UNC with his "Late Night with Roy" events. Some have even poked fun at their nearby rivals in Durham.

"It's amazing the number of people that have such great knowledge of everything, everything regarding your team and how closely they keep up with the recruiting,'' Gillispie said. "No matter the gender or age, they follow it very, very closely, and we're talking about the offseason.''

Gillsipie's successor at Texas A&M, Mark Turgeon, wasn't sure there was going to be an event Friday until the university secured hip-hop artist Soulja Boy for its "Maroon Madness" on Friday night.

"If we were going to do this, I wanted to do it first class,'' Turgeon said. "The women's team is coming off a great year in the Big 12 and we're coming off a Sweet 16 and we're both picked high, so we think this is the thing to do.''

Tony Bennett
Kirby Lee/WireImage.comTony Bennett is trying to get his team to focus on this season and not last season, so the Cougs are doing away with first-practice festivities.

There is one program that is new to being a top-10 program that avoided this "Midnight Madness" thing.

Washington State coach Tony Bennett opted to go straight forward with a practice instead of celebrating the euphoria after last season's NCAA second-round finish and the preseason hype of being a Pac-10 title contender.

"I've been here five years and there's never been this much excitement about college basketball,'' said Bennett, who was the national coach of the year last season. "We can't make too much of last year, but it would also be a mistake if we don't embrace what happened last year. We're getting the college basketball atmosphere back in Pullman.''

Still, Bennett decided to forgo the hoopla for a working practice not open to the public.

"These guys don't want to be one-hit wonders, so it's important to them to have another great year and leave this program on a great note,'' Bennett said.

Bennett said the buzz about basketball is tangible in Pullman, something he never felt before since he arrived five years ago with his father, Dick, from Wisconsin.

"The good thing about Pullman is that there is excitement everywhere and it's not a very big [city],'' Bennett said. "There are excited college students but they let you do your thing. It's not like walking around at Kentucky. They can't wait for the season and the excitement is shown through ticket sales and all the well-wishers, but it's not that crazy.''

Well, just wait for when the Cougs get into the Pac-10 season with home games that should merit a frenzied atmosphere. For now, the madness of Friday night -- the beginning of practice -- largely will be limited to a few locales that can't seem to hold back the power of the passionate fan until the real games tip off.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com