Kentucky Basketball — Mere Madness

Mere Madness—By John Huang

Every October, University of Kentucky basketball fans yearn expectantly for the spectacle known as Big Blue Madness. This past Friday night was no different. Over 20,000 screaming fans–ages eight to eighty–crammed themselves into Rupp Arena for the annual dog and pony show signaling the start of another exciting roundball season. Women’s Basketball coach Matthew Mitchell led off the night’s festivities with his customary dance moves that set the frenzied tone for the remainder of the evening. John Calipari’s annual state-of-the-union manifesto then further stoked the flames of Big Blue passion. Finally, an appearance by Drake sent the Wildcat faithful over the proverbial edge of sanity—giving the prized recruits in the audience a taste of what it’s like to be rock stars on stage in front of a fanatical basketball family.

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Finished with the preliminaries, the rabid Rupp crowd finally got to see what they came for—this year’s souped-up version of Calipari’s Cats. One thing’s for certain—as I get older, all these players seem to somehow get younger. How can that possibly be? These guys have no recollection whatsoever of the Goose or the Blur. They still don’t know an Unforgettable from a Comeback Cat. Every one of them can’t tell the difference between Chris Mills and Cameron Mills. Heck, I’m ancient enough to remember Terry Mills.

So as one of the more “mature” media scribes, I thought it would be interesting to query each member of this year’s team about their very first UK Basketball memory. Since most of these players were born around the year 2000, it shouldn’t surprise any of us that most of them immediately zeroed in on Calipari’s first team back in 2010.

“My first memory of Kentucky Basketball was of Big Blue Madness when John Wall was doing his little dance,” said PJ Washington. “That’s when I fell in love with the program and ever since then, I wanted to be a part of it.” Sacha Killeya-Jones, Hamidou Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jemarl Baker, Quade Green, Johnny David, and Brad Calipari were quick to concur. All of them mentioned the number one draft pick of the Washington Wizards as the Wildcat who made the first initial impression in their formative young minds back when they were on the grade school playgrounds.

Wenyen Gabriel went a step further. “Definitely Anthony Davis and John Wall,” said the returning sophomore forward. “I still personally feel like I might not even be here right now if it wasn’t for John Wall when he first came out here. I definitely look at him like a legend.” Quade Green also seemed awestruck, still treasuring the picture he took with Wall at an AAU tournament when he was ten years old.

What about the remaining Wildcats? Nick Richards remembers Julius Randle as his first Wildcat memory while Dillon Pulliam really stretched the memory banks all the way back to Tayshaun Prince and the five threes he tossed in against North Carolina. Meanwhile, Tai Wynyard admitted that he had never heard of Kentucky Basketball in his native New Zealand. The first Wildcat memory he ever had was of Skal (Labissiere) drenched in sweat after a pre-practice workout. “Oh my goodness,” he remembered thinking. “Is this how they work out here?”

Kevin Knox was the most diplomatic of the bunch, unwilling to limit himself to a single Kentucky memory. “I know there’s a lot of great players that came through here,” he said. “John Wall came back. Karl-Anthony Towns, Julius Randle, De’Aaron, Malik. All those dudes came back and just played pick up with us. It was good to see them come back and interact with us.”

There you have it. Their answers may or may not be surprising to you, but they definitely speak volumes to me. It’s obvious that John Wall did more for UK recruiting in the current era than anybody else in the history of the program. Coach Cal may have eventually closed the deals, but John Wall’s dance at Big Blue Madness opened a heck of a lot of doors. As Shai Gilgeous-Alexander aptly reminded us all, “My first memory of Kentucky Basketball was John Wall on stage dancing at Big Blue Madness.”

In the end, Big Blue Madness isn’t about us fans. Realistically, if you’ve seen one Madness, you’ve seen them all. The evening is really all about the future recruits and the current team converging to propagate the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball. John Wall’s dance on October 16, 2009 lasted less than fifteen seconds. But in the hearts of BBN, it arguably remains the single most important recruiting event in the history of our illustrious program.

John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writings, you can read more at or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.