By RENE CORNETTE
The excitement for this year’s basketball team is rabid. That was on full display yesterday. Big Blue Nation was out in full force and our team delivered. They delivered pizza. They delivered autographs. They even delivered pictures but most of all they delivered attitudes and personalities that were refreshing. Attitudes that showed everyone there last night that they get it. They appreciate Big Blue Nation and they are ready for the spotlight. Correction, they need the spotlight. Get ready folks, I’m telling you this team will do big things. It’s written all over the faces. It’s their destiny. Some things you can just feel. It’s a lightness, a glow that surrounds this team and even though you can’t see it, you know it’s there. The specialness of this team is just that. Everyone here feels it. We’re on the verge of greatness. It’s coming and we’ve already started the journey towards it.
The evening got started outside of the Coal Lodge. Hundreds of fans lined the rails in front of the Joe Craft Center, in hopes of getting a glimpse of our team after practice. It was insane. The Ahhhh C A T S, CATS, CATS, CATS and Go Big Blue chants were incredible to hear. One small child kept looking at the Joe Craft Center and saying, “Come on out, Jarrod Polson. I’m your biggest fan.” That’s Kentucky basketball in all it’s glory. It’s a love and devotion that starts at birth and never ends. It gets in our blood and it never gets out. It’s special and from that small boy yesterday to the little gray haired lady who greeted every player with a hello and a tidbit of what she liked most about them, it was all on display. Every single bit of it.
I watched every player yesterday interact with Big Blue Nation. I watched them smile, I watched them laugh and I watched them engage in conversations. It was not faked. It was genuine. One of my favorite moments was Andrew Harrison serving pizza to a small toddler who was sitting on his father’s shoulders. The toddler looked at him and said, “I bet you can’t dunk on me. I’ll dunk on you.” The smile that came across Andrew’s face could light up a million Rupp Arenas. A day later and I’m still at a loss for words to describe it justly. That was the real Andrew. A kid who had at that moment realized just what wearing the blue and white was all about it.
I watched Dominique Hawkins and James Young sign a young boy’s cast. I talked to Dominique Hawkins and when I asked him how his day was he said good, how was yours. That’s the kind of stuff you don’t ever forget. That’s the kind of stuff that leaves an impression on you more than any dunk or three point shot ever could. That’s the kind of stuff that makes Big Blue Madness Campout so special. That’s the stuff that Big Blue Madness is about.
Later on that night, I watched Andrew Harrison again, engaging in a “pick up” game with small children one of whom was Reese Kemp. Andrew laughed, he blocked their shots playfully and most of all he was really connecting with Kemp and the others. If you don’t know who Reese is he has become a favorite among Kentucky basketball players. He has cystic fibrosis but it doesn’t have him. He is a kid on a mission to raise awareness about his ailment and he does it all with the help of our CATS. It started with John Wall and I was so happy to see that it’s still continuing with Andrew. It’s just another example of Calipari players doing great things off the court as well as on.
The night was capped off with a visit by John Calipari. He whisked in and out in only a few short minutes but that was all he needed. He spoke about this years team with passion and excitement. I have said this before and I will say it again, Calipari was born to coach at Kentucky. He gets it and every time I hear him speak I have to resist the urge to scream out,”Amen.” He’s preaching the Big Blue Gospel and I along with countless others are buying into it word for word. He has his swag back this year. Gone are the days of, “This team isn’t good.” That’s not apart of his vocabulary anymore. It has been replaced with praises for our players. He likes his team. He likes them a lot.
He was quick to point out last night why he loved Big Blue Madness Campout and I think that bears repeating today. He said Campout is a chance for the players to see that Kentucky basketball is serious. It gets them in the right frame of mind. It’s their chance to see what basketball means to this state. Campout is about the fans he said while looking around into the eyes of campers who were hanging on his every word and he was right. This is our moment. Our time and it’s so dream like that you almost need to pinch yourself to make sure it’s really happening. This is Kentucky basketball in all of it’s passion. This was only Thursday night. The future is bright. I like my team. I love my coach and Big Blue Madness Campout has been great. We are on the road to nine, folks. Enjoy the journey. I know I am.