LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - A year ago, Kentucky's Big Blue Madness
was about showing off a new coach. This time, it was about showing
off a new look.
Billy Gillispie's Wildcats donned new blue and white
checkerboard-patterned uniforms as the nation's all-time winningest
team kicked off their preseason preparations Friday in front of
more than 23,000 of their closest friends.
While crowds arrived before 9 p.m., it wasn't until 11:18 that
the second-year coach finally made his appearance.
Last year, four large banners descended from the rafters, and
when they finally dropped, there Gillispie stood, waving to the
This time, the banners fell while pyrotechnics and horn noises
filled Rupp Arena, but Gillispie was nowhere to be seen. Instead,
he entered moments later, jogging through the crowd in his gray
jumpsuit, dishing out high fives along his path.
"I know they're excited to be here," Gillispie, already
seemingly short of voice, said of his players. "They love being
here at Kentucky."
Gillispie's entrance was far humbler than that of UK women's
coach Matthew Mitchell, who appeared riding a fire truck.
The men's team first took the floor with a dunk contest that
Ramon Harris clinched with an off the backboard follow he jammed
Then, there was a defensive-minded scrimmage, in which both
sides took more than three minutes to score. It was a troubling
reminder of the team's slow starts at times last season, which
ended with a loss to Marquette in the first round of the NCAA
Although the checkerboard pattern on the new uniforms is subtle,
those who designed them for Nike said they were intended as a nod
to jockey silks representing the state's signature industry, horse
racing. Penny Chenery, who owned 1973 Triple Crown winner
Secretariat, received an honorary jersey from Gillispie at midcourt
during the festivities.
The uniforms feature a shoulder patch that says "Mr. Wildcat."
The reference is a tribute to longtime equipment manager Bill
Keightley, who died earlier this year at 81. A lasting memorial to
Keightley was painted on the Rupp Arena floor in front of his
familiar spot on the Wildcat bench.
His daughter, Karen, wept at that honor and as fans stood and
politely applauded while a tribute video to Keightley played on the
Although the official opening practice of the college basketball
season isn't until Oct. 17, Kentucky is one of a handful of schools
using a technicality in the NCAA rules to hold its bash a week
earlier. The NCAA allows two hours of team workouts per week,
starting in mid-September.
The early Madness events could be short-lived, though. National
Association of Basketball Coaches spokesman Rick Leddy said the
rule was intended to give coaches and players extra time working on
their skills, not holding a pep rally.
Gillispie said before the festivities that he planned to have
fun at this year's Madness after feeling a little too apprehensive
ahead of last year's event.
"I didn't know what to expect last year," he said. "I've been
to a lot Midnight Madness at different places, but Big Blue Madness
is something special. I'm very excited about it."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)