By SARAH WHITE, Contributing Writer.
This has been one heck of a weekend. Although, the Kentucky Women’s Clinic has been the yearly destination for me and my daughter(s) since its inception under the guidance of Coach Cal, this turned out to be a full weekend of UK Athletics.
Personally as both I and my daughter, Josie, are from out of state, this was a rare opportunity to have three days of UK Wildcats. From the Big Blue Madness on Friday, thru the UK football game on Saturday, culminating with the Women’s Basketball Clinic, it was a weekend to remember.
It may not have been intentional to have the three days of sports, but it was certainly a highlight for us. I would love to share the good, the bad, and the ugly, but I have to be honest, it was 99 percent good. It was also my 72nd birthday. Who knew you could age so quickly and still enjoy your basketball so much?
Prior to Big Blue Madness, they announced the idea of having the blue carpet in the downstairs area of the Lexington Center. The idea was brilliant. I couldn’t wait to see and hear from the players. It was to start at 5:30 p.m. but did not actually get going until 6. The microphones worked extremely well for the interviewers, but we could not hear anything the players or interviewees said. Someone needs to check on this prior to next year.
It was so obvious that our team was so excited, fun, and full of life. The selfies and posing they did made me super excited about the upcoming season. It was obvious that they will be there for each other. Kahlil Whitney is certainly the winner of Best Dressed.
When Big Blue Madness started, I loved the loudness, the fog guns, the announcements. Of course, who could top Coach Mitchell and his dance prior to the Women’s exhibition. Perfect song; perfect dance moves for Coach Mitchell; lots of love for the women Cats.
Then, it was time for the men. It was loud; it was crowded; it was fun. The one recommendation I would make is to please have the fog guns lower or faster removal of the smoke from Rupp. I literally could not see a single player or Coach Cal because of the smog in the arena. And, I started coughing along with several others and had great difficulty trying to breathe. But, as a die-hard Kentucky fan, I would have coughed for an hour. Thank goodness they have the great scoreboard, and I was able to watch from there.
The players kidded with one another, laughed, danced, seemed to have the time of their lives. I told my husband that we were going to “love this team.” He told me I say this every year; and, he is probably right. But, I do believe we are “going to love this team.” You can tell they have become friends; they act like family; they tease; but then, they appear to be extremely competitive.
Their dunks were great; the cheering on of each other was special; and, the camaraderie was unbelievable. I even enjoyed and cheered for Coach Cal and his speech. It was brilliant, and his delivery gets better each year.
Now, to my reason for being in Lexington — the Women’s Basketball Clinic. I will say my daughter thought it was the best one EVER. The time went quickly and fairly smoothly. This year if you paid the $50 for a basketball, it was NOT signed, so you got to meet the players and have them sign your basketball. I had not purchased a ball so I did not get to enjoy the interaction with the players. Some of the folks were upset because had they known the only way they would have player interaction was by purchasing a basketball, they would have purchased one. I know I would have as well. Perhaps, if next year UK states this, it will make a big difference.
Attendance was way down this year. The Women’s Clinic is now $160 if you buy a basketball and attend. So, I think this may affect the number of attendees. Also, the Women’s Clinic date is always late in being announced. This affects the price of airline tickets for two of my children. In fact, since it was announced less than 30 days in advance, their airline tickets were almost double. I know the Blue/White Game and Big Blue Madness dates are planned way in advance; I do think the Women’s Clinic which is an annual event could be planned in advance.
One positive is that although two of our great friends from our meeting years ago (Karen and Emily) were not able to attend, we found four new friends that we feel will be our friends for life — Janet, Jessica, Amy, and Lisa. I wonder how many friendships have been forged over the past years. I have attended every single clinic with my family, and I know I have made at least one new friend each year.
I loved the new feel of this Clinic. It was exciting to do things differently. In my mind, they planned the perfect program (except for some of us not getting to interact with the players) this year.
Coach Cal interacted with the clinic attendees by letting them ask questions. He is outstanding at this — repeating the questions, answering, and then adding humor. My daughter, Josie Whetstone asked the coach if he would have a dance off. And, he readily agreed. I will award Immanuel Quickley first place for the best dancer. There are several more that are great dancers but he is definitely No. 1.
One of the highlights was Ellen Calipari. I love the way she and coach tease and interact with each other. They probably don’t realize it, but I think their positive attitudes toward life and marriage set a fantastic example for the players and attendees. Kudos for that.
I will disagree with Coach Cal on one thing. She should be promoted from “The Princess” to “The Queen.” She is one of a kind. From her ability to interview the players to her being able to Plank for an unbelievable time, she is a Queen.
In past times a select few (many times the same person or persons) were selected to come out and exercise with Coach Rob Harris. This time Coach Harris invited all of the women to the floor as he led exercises. There were women as old as 82 participating in this. Every one loved being a part of the event rather than watching the same people each year. I can’t begin to tell you how many women complimented this activity. To top it all there was a “plank-off” between Jennifer Palumbo and Ellen Calipari. We all know who won — Ellen!
Coaches Payne, Barbee, and Justus were introduced and answered questions from the crowd. I thought this went really well; however, when the questions were not repeated, the attendees could not hear the questions. Coach Robic was not introduced until later. I hope he will take part in the Clinic next year. His humor and affability add a lot to the interactions with us ladies. Many of the folks with us and around us would love to have the coaches ask the players questions.
I think the most impressive thing to me was when Coach Barbee took over and started “teaching” the players to play Zone. I was impressed at how good he was with his true teaching and processing of a new concept. The players were told over and over to distract the other players they were guarding to keep them on their toes. The highlight of the exercise was when he asked Keion Brooks what he was doing to distract and Keion did a funny little boogie that brought laughter to the entire clinic. He was able to work in at least one more wiggle to put all of the women on his side.
We ended with a group picture. I thought this was a great idea. Luckily I got to sit down a row and to the right of Tyrese Maxey. He was great in interacting with me. I told him he was my favorite player. He said I was his favorite; and, we joked back and forth for a few minutes. It was just like having one of my grandchildren to kid with. I told him I would be at every game and would expect him to listen for me to scream for him.
Thank you Coach Cal, Mrs. Cal, other coaches, players, and staff for providing us such an exciting experience. I can’t wait to see you next year.