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Coach Cal's visit, speech punctuate Madness campout

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John Calipari spoke to fans at the campout for tickets to Big Blue Madness on Friday night. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) John Calipari spoke to fans at the campout for tickets to Big Blue Madness on Friday night. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Perhaps as well as any coach that has sat in his seat, John Calipari understands the passion of the fans that support the Kentucky program. He understands what drives them to brave the elements en masse seeking tickets to Big Blue Madness, and he appreciates it.

That's why he felt so bad that he has been gone all week recruiting. He would have liked to have been making the rounds at Tent City on Wednesday or handing out pizza on Thursday with his team, but duty called.

So on Friday night - when Coach Cal finally returned to Lexington - he wanted to make sure he did something to show the fans how thankful he is. Rather than trying to do it with a tour of the campout, by distributing foodstuffs or by signing autographs - though he did plenty of that too - he decided to just tell them directly.

"How about all of you guys?" Calipari said in a familiar refrain. "You're nuts, you're crazy and I love it."

In an event that was equal parts political rally and the headlining act at a music festival, Coach Cal took to a makeshift podium on the outdoor basketball courts adjacent to Memorial Coliseum. Microphone in hand and portable speakers to his left right and front, Calipari addressed hundreds of fans who temporarily vacated the nearly 600 tents at the campout to say thank you.

He thanked them first for what they do for his team. With a roster featuring four freshmen and a first-year transfer playing projected to play significant roles, the three days of the campout served as a sort of an initiation into what it means to play basketball at UK.

"You have inspired them, no question," Calipari said. "Because every team I've coached, think about it if you're them and you're saying, 'Six hundred tents, three thousand people waiting on tickets to watch me practice. This must be serious.' "

Serious indeed.

The fans surrounding Coach Cal only broke their rapt silence to loudly cheer parts of his seven-minute speech they especially enjoyed. Many such moments came when Calipari was discussing the prospects of this year's team, which will try to defend UK's 2011-12 national title.

"This team we have here, you won't believe this, we're going to be young," Calipari said.

He went on to say he may start as many as four true freshmen this season, meaning early-season expectations should be adjusted accordingly.

"I really don't know," Calipari said. "I do know we'll be different but I think we're going to be a really good team as the year goes on. Early, it's going to be really ugly. But that's because we're so new, we don't know each other."

Players and coaches may still be getting accustomed to one another, but this week was the first time members of the Big Blue Nation got to meet the team they'll cheer on this season.

"I hope you see that the guys that are around, they're all good guys," Calipari said. "Yes, they can play basketball, but they're good guys."

Fortunately for Calipari, his current players ably filled in by signing autographs and posing for pictures while he was out making sure there are more players to follow them at UK.

"I hope you enjoyed yourself here," Calipari said. "I apologize. I just got back (from a recruiting trip) and picked up my wife and came on over. The flight took a little longer than I thought, but I did want to come over and say thank you all for doing this and being here and being a big part of what we do and being a big part of what we recruit."

If that means another top-ranked recruiting class or two will be around at future campouts, fans will assuredly take the trade.

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