Ex-Cats attest to recruiting power of Big Blue Madness

Former Kentucky players Anthony Davis and Willie Cauley-Stein testified to the recruiting power of UK’s annual Big Blue Madness.

Speaking before their NBA teams play a pre-season game in Rupp Arena Saturday night, Davis and Cauley-Stein said UK’s basketball celebrated a role their decision to play for the Cats.

Davis and Cauley-Stein got a reminder of Madness’s power of persuasion by attending Friday night’s show.

Davis described the Madness effect on a typical recruit succinctly. “I’m coming here,” he said. “Something like that. . . . Nobody puts it on better than Kentucky. That’s one of the things that made me commit. It opens your eyes to a lot of things.”

Of course, Davis led UK to the 2012 national championship. He was National Player of the Year.

“You just get chills,” he said of his 2010 visit to Madness as a prospect. “Even when you’re walking around, people are ‘What’s up, Anthony?’ You’re, like, man, these people already know me. It just changes your whole perspective on college basketball.”

Cauley-Stein spoke of a similar swept-off-his-feet reaction to his visit during 2011 Madness.

“I don’t know how you don’t come here . . . ,” he said. “I didn’t think I was coming here. Then I came here and it was like, ‘Oh, there is it, mom. I’m coming to Kentucky.'”

UK had three top 10 prospects in the class of 2016 visit this year’s Madness.

Transcript of Cal address at Madness

Tonight, we stand in a place of history as we celebrate the beginning of this program’s 113th season.

Eight national titles and the jerseys of 43 Kentucky basketball legends hang in these rafters. It’s a building named after Mr. Kentucky Basketball, Adolph Rupp. I am honored and proud to be in the seat he created.

We’re the winningest program in the history of college basketball. We’ve won more NCAA Tournament games than any school in the country. We have been and will continue to be the gold standard in college basketball.

You all know that playing at Kentucky is about being on the biggest of big stages. Playing here is like performing at Carnegie Hall. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

Because of our national following, everything we do is on national television. From practices to scrimmages and exhibition games, even pro day. The Big Blue Nation fills opposing gyms, whether we’re in Tennessee, California, Hawaii or the Bahamas. You fans give us an advantage in every game.

Like you, I want to win every single game I coach. In six years, we’ve won more games than any other team in the country, we’ve been to more Final Fours, and in the SEC the last six years, we’ve won more games and more titles than any other school. And let’s not forget that 2012 national championship.

But my goal … our goal … is to help these kids chase their dreams. They are the reason those national championship banners are up in those rafters. They are the individuals we retire jerseys for. They are the reason why thousands of you camp out for a week each year to celebrate them on this night.

If we continue to focus on their dreams, our program and school will prosper like no other. If we make sure these kids eat first, we’ll have more than we can ever eat.

Let’s stay focused on who we are and be proud of it.

Kentucky encourages players to chase their genius. We want them to explore the outer limits of their talents and abilities, and leave us without regrets.

What does the future hold? You’re looking at it right here with this team.

This season will be a process. Nothing happens overnight.

I want these guys to worry about pleasing each other, not worry about pleasing me. They also have to play with a curious mind so they can improve even more than they thought they could.

Most importantly, they have to have more fun than any other team in the country, playing together and growing together, IF they want to be the last team standing. I believe in this group.

From Pat Riley, Louie Dampier, Dan Issel and Kenny “Sky” Walker. Jamal Mashburn, Tony Delk, Tayshaun Prince and Rajon Rondo. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, MKG and Anthony Davis. Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein.

Who wants to be next?

This team wants to be next!

And hopefully some other people in this building.

UK, North Carolina co-No. 1 teams in coaches’ poll

For the third straight year, Kentucky will go into a season ranked No. 1 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll.

UK and North Carolina tied for the top spot this year, it was announced Thursday. Both teams had  749 points from in the balloting by 32 Division I coaches. North Carolina had 12 first-place votes, while  Kentucky had 11.

Kentucky, which has a 63-5 record as the No. 1 team in John Calipari’s six seasons as coach, was also the pre-season No. 1 the past two seasons. UK was ranked No. 1 throughout last season, and finished No. 3 after a Final Four loss to Wisconsin.

Of course, Kentucky went from pre-season No.  1 to the Final Four in each of the last two seasons.

Kentucky will play four teams ranked in the coaches’ pre-season top 25: No. 4 Duke, No. 5 Kansas, No. 19 LSU and No. 20 Vanderbilt.

Labissiere defends relationship with guardian

At Kentucky Media Day Wednesday, star freshman Skal Labissiere defended the integrity of his guardian. The guardian, Gerald Hamilton, has been the subject of speculation about Labissiere’s eligibility being in jeopardy.

“I don’t think those people really know what they’ve done for me – my guardian, Gerald Hamilton, and his family,” Labissiere said. “Taking me in from Haiti, I was a complete stranger, and I wasn’t even that good at basketball. They were just trying to help a kid, and I just so happened to work hard and do what I was supposed to do and became really good.

“I really appreciate them and love them, because they really helped me to become the person that I am today, and the basketball player that I am today. I’m very thankful for what they did for me.”

Last week Hamilton acknowledged that the NCAA had not determined when — or if — Labissiere will be eligible this season.

An AAU coach told CBSSports.com last November that Hamilton had asked him how an association with a star prospect could be profitable.

Labissiere said he maintains a close relationship with Hamilton.

“We talk almost every day,” the UK freshman said. “Me and him and his wife. We talk. She’s like a mom to me. They’re like my American parents. We talk a good bit.”

Labissiere said he talks to his parents in Haiti about two or three times a week.

“My family in Haiti and my family here – Gerald and his family – it’s like one, big family now,” he said. “We’re very comfortable with each other.”

Cal mostly mum on Labissiere’s eligibility

As incongruous as it sounds, Kentucky Coach John Calipari did not come to Wednesday’s Media Day press conference to answer a lot of questions.

Certainly not questions about the still-pending eligibility of star freshman Skal Labissiere.

Calipari all but stonewalled questions about the big uncertainty hanging over UK’s 2015-16 season.

After saying that there’s nothing unusual about delays in NCAA approval of players’ eligibility, Calipari tried to quickly return the news conference to purely basketball topics.

Calipari said he would be happy with the team he guided into the season, which seemed to imply Labissiere would gain eligibility for all games.

Calipari declined to say if the issue jeopardizing Labissiere’s status was more like John Wall in 2009-10 (sit out one exhibition game and one regular-season game) or Enes Kanter (sit out the entire 2010-11 season).

Labissiere’s guardian, Gerald Hamilton, said a week earlier that the NCAA had not yet ruled on Labissiere’s eligibility.

An AAU coach, Keith Easterwood said this week that the NCAA had asked him if Hamilton had asked him about how to make money off a player. In November, CBSSports.com reported that Easterwood had said Hamilton had asked such a question.

When asked near the end of the 44-minute press conference about the guardian reportedly asking such a question, Calipari cut off the question.

“You’re done,” he said of the question, which also seemed to end any further inquiries about Labissiere.

UK: Free basketball posters available this weekend

The official Kentucky men’s basketball posters will be available beginning this weekend, UK announced Tuesday.

Fans attending Big Blue Madness Friday night will be the first to get the posters, which will be placed in every seat, UK said.

Then the posters, which are free, will be available in every Kroger store in Kentucky and in some Kroger stores in southern Indiana beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday.

There are three versions of this year’s poster: Isaiah Briscoe, EJ Floreal, Dominique Hawkins and Isaac Humphries on one; Skal Labissiere, Marcus Lee, Charles Matthews and Jamal Murray on another; and Mychal Mulder, Alex Poythress, Tyler Ulis and Derek Willis on the third.

A UK women’s team poster will be placed in each seat at Madness Friday.  The women’s poster will be available in Kroger stores at a later date.

Rupp Arena doors will open for Madness at 5:30 p.m. The celebration will begin at 7 p.m.


NCAA asked AAU coach about Labissiere’s guardian

The NCAA has asked questions about Kentucky freshman Skal Labissiere’s guardian, CBS Sports reported Tuesday.

A NCAA staffer asked former Memphis-based AAU coach Keith Easterwood about guardian Gerald Hamilton.

The staffer, Assistant Director of Amateurism Jack Britton, asked about Hamilton’s reported interest in learning how to make money off high-profile basketball prospects.

In a story posted Tuesday, CBS reporter Gary Parrish quoted two questions Britton emailed to Easterwood:

  • “Has Mr. Hamilton ever texted you asking for your help in finding someone that could advance Mr. Hamilton a sum of mony related to Skal Labissiere?”
  • “Did Mr. Hamilton ever inquire to you about how he could procure a ‘shoe’ deal for Skal Labissiere?”

In November of 2014, Parrish wrote a story about Hamilton’s interest in a player’s money-making potential.

“One of the things he asked me was ‘How can I make money off a basketball player?'” Parrish quoted Easterwood as saying in November.

Hamilton, who UK says is not available for comment, told ESPN.com last week that the NCAA had not yet made a decision on Labissiere’s eligibility.

UK has said it will not comment on any player’s eligibility until the season’s first game, which is Nov. 13.

UK-Duke tickets go on sale Monday

Tickets for Kentucky’s basketball game against Duke this season go on sale at noon Monday.

The game is part of the fifth annual doubleheader involving UK, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State. This year’s games will be played Nov. 17 in Chicago’s United Center. UK, the pre-season No. 3 team, plays No. 6 Duke in the first game. No. 5 Kansas plays No. 19 Michigan State in the second game.

Ticket prices range from $50 to $200 and can be bought at Ticketmaster.com, by calling Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000 or at the United Center box office (open Mon.-Fri. from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sat. from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.; hours might vary on event days).

Last season saw these dynasty programs continue to excel. Of course, Duke won the 2015 national championship. Michigan State and Kentucky also advanced to the Final Four.

Since the so-called Champions Classic (sponsored by State Farm) began in 2011, all four teams have made at least one Final Four appearance, and two have won national titles (Kentucky in 2012, Duke in 2015).

SEC Network to televise Big Blue Madness

For the first time, Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness will be televised nationally.

The SEC Network will televise UK’s Madness in its entirety, the school and network announced Thursday. Sean Farnham and Kara Lawson will be among the SEC Network announcers working UK’s Madness.

Madness will be held Oct. 16 at Rupp Arena. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. The show will be from 7 to 9 p.m. and feature UK’s men’s and women’s teams.

Players will be introduced, run drills and then scrimmage.  UK officials promise other surprises as the programs celebrate the beginning of another basketball pre-season and season.

Cal: Ulis is key player for Kentucky this season, especially early

Sophomore guard Tyler Ulis’s performance will be critically important, especially early this coming season, Kentucky Coach John Calipari said Wednesday at the 2015 Wildcat Tip-Off Luncheon.
Late in his 17-minute talk, Calipari got to the upcoming 2015-16 season.
“As we speak, we stink,” he said, causing a good-natured chuckle to fill the air. “Early on, we’re going to be ugly. We’ve got to hope Tyler is so good, that we get by the ugly.”
Calipari said Ulis had 25 assists and three turnovers in a recent three-day practice period.
“Really good,” the UK coach said. “The other guards are under water. More turnovers than assists. That’s OK. They’re learning.”
Earlier this year, two ESPN analysts, Seth Greenberg and Sean Farnham, said Ulis would be the best point guard in the country this coming season.
When junior Dominique Hawkins broke a bone in his right hand Sunday (which was not mentioned at the Tip-Off Luncheon), that left the UK backcourt in the hands of Ulis and three newcomers: freshmen Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe, plus transfer Mychal Mulder.
Junior forward Marcus Lee also got a do-better nudge from Calipari. Not getting a rebound in two practices ignited the coach’s corrective impulses.
“Told him about it the next day,” Calipari said. “He got seven rebounds (the next practice).”
A crowd of about 800 heard Calipari describe the UK team for 2015-16 as in flux.
“Everything right now is an experiment,” he said.
UK must decide what type of offense to run, whether to press, whether (or how much) to play zone defense.
“That’s what makes this job tough,” Calipari said. “The turnover.”
Of course, seven Kentucky players entered the 2015 NBA Draft, six were selected. Calipari suggested that this revolving door each year is a double-edged sword: tough for coaches who must almost totally revamp strategies to fit new personnel.
But …
“What’s great about this job is the turnover,” Calipari said. “Being able to sit in the green room (at the NBA Draft) and see families’ lives change and be able to see generational poverty end.”
Upon being introduced as a Hall of Fame coach, Calipari was treated to a 20-second ovation. He immediately turned attention to another newly enshrined Hall of Famer in the downtown hotel ballroom: Louie Dampier.
“Thank you,” he said. “Now, let’s give the real hand for the guy who made all those shots and did all he did for Kentucky. How about Louie going into the Hall of Fame.”
Calipari briefly reviewed the 2014-15 season, which Kentucky began with 38 straight victories.
“They did it by sharing,” Calipari said. He then cited Devin Booker taking relatively few shots (7.6 per game), plus Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein taking the fourth- and sixth-most shots.
“That’s what was amazing about the season,” Calipari said.
Of UK’s platoon-system of substitution, Calipari said, “I had 10 children who had to eat. Now, I could starve three.”
Instead, he devised and sold a system of regularly playing 10 players.
The luncheon was something of a salute to Calipari. UK women’s coach Matthew Mitchell joined in the spirit of the affair by referencing Calipari’s attendance at Pope Francis’ recent speech to Congress, then jokingly said a UK coach who had a 38-1 record last season didn’t need divine assistance as much as he did.
Calipari seemed to shy from the spotlight.
“I do not think I am Kentucky basketball,” he said. “I don’t think that. I’m in the seat temporarily. If Kentucky basketball is about anybody, it’s Coach (Adolph) Rupp.”
Continuing the thought, Calipari said he called Rupp’s son, Herky, upon learning of the Hall of Fame nomination.
“I want you to understand it’s taken this long for someone else at Kentucky to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame that’s not associated with your father,” Calipari said he told Herky Rupp. “And he said, ‘You’re part of our family.’
“Which made me feel good because he knows I’m not trying to be Kentucky basketball.”