Kentucky hosts 'Big Blue Madness'

Updated: October 16, 2010, 10:22 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kentucky coach John Calipari raised his hand, calling for silence from the 22,000 who packed Rupp Arena on Friday night for Big Blue Madness.

He gave a brief rundown of his dizzying first season with the Wildcats, when Kentucky won 35 games, the Southeastern Conference championship and produced five first-round NBA draft picks.

Then, pausing as if to stress the point, Calipari delivered a message.

"It's time to turn the page," he said. "We must focus on this team."

Even if most of the focus during the team's first practice of the season -- which was equal parts pep rally and sloppy scrimmage -- centered on who wasn't on the court.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Knight
AP Photo/James CrispKentucky freshman Brandon Knight heard the crowd roar at Big Blue Madness at Rupp Arena on Friday night.

While fellow freshmen Brandon Knight, Stacey Poole, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Jarrod Polson ran up and down the court, center Enes Kanter could only stand on the sideline.

The 6-foot-11 Kanter must sit out team activities while the NCAA determines whether he lost his amateur status while playing for a Turkish club team in 2008-09.

Kanter walked through pillars of smoke clad in a black hat similar to the one sported by professional wrestler "The Undertaker," one of Kanter's role models.

He held his hands above his head as the crowd -- some of whom wore "Free Enes" T-shirts -- roared. Then, he walked to the sidelines and watched as the newest batch of Wildcats went to work.

Calipari has stressed it's not fair to compare this year's recruiting class to the one he landed a year ago after leaving Memphis for Kentucky.

That class featured John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton, all of whom are now playing in the NBA.

Calipari said comparing any other class to last year's isn't fair because "you'll come out on the short end."

Maybe, but the departed stars paid homage via video message to the campus. Wall even busted out his signature dance move, the one that became a local YouTube sensation after he debuted it during last year's event.

Several Wildcats tried to follow in his footsteps, with mixed results. Jones, Poole, Darius Miller and Josh Harrellson all busted a move during their introduction.

All lacked the showmanship of Wall, but that might not be a bad thing.

A year ago, Calipari turned his initial Big Blue Madness into a rock concert complete with an appearance by rising hip-hop star Drake.

There were no celebrity guest appearances this time, maybe because Calipari knows he's got his work cut out. The Wildcats must replace their top four scorers and live up to the expectations of one of the nation's most exacting fan bases.

Calipari knows those expectations come with the territory. But he pleaded for patience as the Wildcats try to find themselves.

"I love this team, but we have a long way to go and I cannot wait to get started tomorrow to help these young men realize their dreams," he said.

Around the country, other schools celebrated the opening of practices with "Midnight Madness" events of their own.

Duke unveiled its fourth and most recent title banner and passed out championship rings as part of the school's "Countdown to Craziness" event.

Meanwhile, the national runner-up, Butler, began a private two-day minicamp at Franklin College, 25 miles south of Indianapolis.

Coach Brad Stevens wants to start the season it his way, and that means sticking to basics.

"That's just not part of our preparation," he said about the Midnight Madness tradition before leaving Hinkle Fieldhouse. "For me, it's about getting a chance to go to work. To each program, their own. But just because other schools are doing it, doesn't mean it's the thing for us."

Tom Izzo was decidedly in his element in East Lansing, Mich.

A few months after deciding to stay at Michigan State instead of going to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers, Izzo was in an upbeat mood during the Spartans' Midnight Madness. He even mentioned his big offseason choice while promoting Saturday's football game against Illinois.

"Tomorrow at noon, at Spartan Stadium," Izzo said. "There is nothing like that in Cleveland."

The Spartans then showed off their Final Four banner from last season -- their second straight and sixth in 12 seasons -- and scrimmaged a bit. Guard Kalin Lucas, who ruptured the Achilles tendon in his left foot in the NCAA tournament last season, was back on the court.

The Spartans enter the season with high expectations, and there was plenty of excitement during Midnight Madness, which included a visit from actor Gerard Butler.

West Virginia scrimmaged for 12 minutes and raised Big East championship and Final Four banners in Morgantown.

Over 7,000 Kansas State fans got a look at the first Wildcats team in 25 years to be named conference favorites. Some of the biggest cheers were for senior guard Jacob Pullen, the preseason pick in the coaches' poll for Big 12 Conference player of the year, something else that's new for Kansas State in the conference.

Perennial Big 12 contender Kansas outdid their in-state rivals, packing in 16,000 for "Late Night in the Phog." Among the spectators were about 16 recruits.

At Maryland, coach Gary Williams entered the arena amid smoke and the sound of guitars. He was dressed as a pilot, wore sunglasses and carried a helmet. Then, of course, he pumped his fist to the crowd.

Harrison Barnes, regarded by many as the nation's top recruit, had 13 points in North Carolina's intrasquad scrimmage.

Stanford kicked off the 2010-11 campaign with a full practice in the Arrillaga Gymnasium because a women's volleyball match took place in Maples Pavilion.

Steve Lavin, taking over St. John's after seven years as an analyst for ESPN, opened practice at Carnesecca Arena by introducing former Purdue coach Gene Keady as his special assistant and adviser. Lavin's first job was as a graduate assistant with the Boilermakers in 1980.

Fans at Connecticut's "First Night" were distracted keeping tabs on what was going on in Indianapolis where coach Jim Calhoun and other university officials met for 12 hours behind closed doors with NCAA investigators, hoping to convince them that the school has done enough to punish itself for recruiting violations in the men's basketball program. Associate head coach George Blaney said it was more important for Calhoun to return in time for the first real practice on Saturday.

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