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Kentucky sets 'Midnight Madness' attendance mark

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- More than 23,000 fans filled Rupp Arena on
Friday night for Kentucky's Big Blue Madness, the party that
signals the start of college basketball practice.

The turnout by Kentucky fans meant the university set an
attendance record for one of these events. The previous record was
held by North Carolina, which drew more than 21,700 fans to the
Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., in October 2003 for the Tar
Heels' first practice under coach Roy Williams.

"If we would build a bigger building, we would get more people,
and I think we would sell it out, even if it was 50,000," Kentucky
coach Tubby Smith said. "We have a great audience, we have a great
product and we have a great tradition here at Kentucky."

That opinion was seconded by one of Smith's predecessors, Joe B.
Hall, who proposed using an even larger venue -- the Wildcats'
football field.

"This is fantastic," Hall told the crowd. "Next year, I
suggest we go to Commonwealth Stadium."

Since the inception of Big Blue Madness in 1982, it had been
held in on-campus Memorial Coliseum, where the Wildcats played
their home games during the tenure of legendary coach Adolph Rupp.
That facility has about 8,700 seats, but its capacity now is
limited to 5,600 because of ongoing construction of an adjacent
practice facility.

The move to Rupp Arena, where Kentucky plays its home games,
coincides with the 30th anniversary of the downtown facility.

Kentucky began distributing the free tickets for Big Blue
Madness on Oct. 1, and about 20,000 tickets were claimed during the
first 35 minutes of availability. It took a little more than 48
hours to distribute the rest of the tickets, athletic department
spokesman Scott Stricklin said.

Kentucky has drawn as many as 24,459 fans to Rupp Arena for a
game, but Stricklin said the university wanted to limit the number
of tickets distributed to the arena's official capacity, which is
23,000.

"It really is madness," Kentucky women's coach Mickie DeMoss
said. "This is the standard everyone measures their opening
practice by."

A number of Division I programs held similar events, although
they all had a head start. The NCAA passed a rule this year that
allowed the festivities to get under way a few hours earlier than
the traditional midnight start for the sake of fans.

Kentucky, which spends the vast majority of its men's basketball
marketing budget on the event, included touches like a propane
torch that shot fireballs 30 feet into the air during player
introductions. The school also brought in Jon Mason, the public
address announcer for the NBA's Detroit Pistons, to handle the
introductions. (Former Kentucky standout Tayshaun Prince plays for
the Pistons.)

Smith called it more of an "opening ceremony" than a practice
but acknowledged a little bit of anxiousness. Asked if his new
players were ready for the event, Smith quipped, "I don't know if
I'm ready."

Stricklin said it hasn't been decided whether to keep the event
at Rupp Arena, but "it's being talked about. We'll probably do
whatever the fans want. It's the ultimate fan event. You don't
charge for tickets and there's not a whole lot accomplished other
than showing the fans a good time."

• Louisville, which reached the Final Four last season, didn't
have lights or pyrotechnics for its first practice. The Cardinals
held their first workout in Cardinal Arena, the team's 850-seat
practice facility.

Coach Rick Pitino warned those in attendance that the event was
a practice, not a show, and that he might use some words that might
not be suitable for young children.

Tickets to the practice were $50 and proceeds went to the Derek
Smith Fund. Smith, a member of Louisville's 1980 NCAA championship
team, died in 1996.

• Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun was working right away as well
since he'll be without a veteran backcourt because of off-court
troubles.

"We've got an awful lot of stuff to cram in," Calhoun said
although the 7,000 fans at Gampel Pavilion were still treated to a
dunking contest and 3-point shootout.

• There were 10,000 people in Assembly Hall for Indiana's
opening practice and Marco Killingsworth, now eligible after
sitting a season after transferring from Auburn, got them going
with a one-handed dunk during a scrimmage.

• Kansas fans came to see their Jayhawks and renovated Allen
Fieldhouse in the 21st annual "Late Night at the Phog." The
players drew a standing ovation when they entered the court dressed
in tuxedos and tennis shoes. They treated the fans to a step
routine in which seniors Christian Moody and Jeff Hawkins took the
microphones and led the team.

• Maryland had its usual alumni game, spotlights, laser beams,
over-the-top introductions and scrimmage as part of a 2½-hour
program that delighted a packed house at the Comcast Center.

Terrapins coach Gary Williams sounded like his usual self, too.

"It's kind of a thank-you type of thing for our fans," he
said. "It's all about practice tomorrow. Tonight, it's just a good
time for everybody."