By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON — It’s officially basketball time in the Bluegrass.
The University of Kentucky men’s and women’s basketball teams ushered in the 2019-20 season with the annual Big Blue Madness Friday night in new-look Rupp Arena Friday night. The upper side rows of the arena were converted to charity-back seating during the off-season, limiting capacity to 20,500 but as in the past, fans were lively as Kentucky unveiled its basketball teams to Big Blue Nation for the first time this season.
Legendary announcer Bruce Buffer introduced the Wildcats and John Calipari topped off the introductions with his annual “State of the Program” address.
The Kentucky coach, entering his 11th season at the helm, looked back at the first decade as he prepared for what he termed a “second tour.”
“We worked hard, together. We built trust, together. We became a family, together. We didn’t surrender to the pressure,” Calipari said. “We distinguished ourselves as we climbed atop the mountain of college basketball. Ten years ago, we said we would be a players-first program defined by integrity and purpose. We built this program to serve our players to help them reach their dreams.”
Calipari said the level of success at Kentucky “is crazy” and said could only be accomplished at Kentucky.
“The Big Blue Nation is more than a fan base,” he said. “You uplift this team, the commonwealth’s team. You’re the heartbeat of this team, Kentucky’s team. You, the greatest fans in the world, make this the greatest stage in college basketball. The Carnegie Hall of college athletics.”
As he looks ahead, Calipari asked what more could be accomplished and said the goal remains the same as it’s always been under his watch.
“What will we do next? What will we do in the next 10 years? How do we grow?,” he said. “How do we keep getting better? What will the big blue nation achieve, together, as we start this second tour? Our potential is limitless. The competition will be fierce, the road will be difficult. We need an entire nation — A Big Blue Nation — behind us as we start a new decade and continue to showcase why Kentucky will forever be the greatest tradition in college basketball. It’s on.”
Kentucky women’s basketball coach Matthew Mitchell performed a shortened-version of “Old Town Road” after his squad was introduced to the fans.
Both teams had a 3-point shooting contest and scrimmaged, while the men’s squad had a slam dunk competition.
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Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.