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Kentucky junior guard Tod Lanter. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Kentucky junior guard Tod Lanter. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Throughout the 2013-14 season, UKathletics.com and CoachCal.com will be here to serve as your primary source for Kentucky basketball coverage. From feature stories to game coverage, video and more, we pride ourselves on being your one-stop shop for all things UK basketball. However, nobody can paint the picture quite like the people who create the artwork. Throughout the 2013-14 year, the players who make the stories will share in writing a season-long blog to share with the Big Blue Nation their experiences, their thoughts and how the year develops in their own eyes. This week Tod Lanter shares his thoughts about Big Blue Madness and bonding with his teammates with the Big Blue Nation.

By Tod Lanter (Follow on Twitter)


What's going on, Big Blue Nation? Glad to get this opportunity to talk to you.

Since Big Blue Madness is fresh in everyone's mind, let's start with that. Although I was on the team last year, this was my first Big Blue Madness experience as a part of the team (more on that later). Growing up here, I had been to a couple as a fan, so it was obviously a special experience for me to actually be a part of it.

The build-up for it was pretty crazy. As all of you know, a lot of people were talking about what dances we were going to do, but we didn't know who was going to do what until we took the stage. The guys were joking around all week saying, "I should do this," but really they were just trying to see what everybody's reaction was to make sure it was good. The exception was Jarrod because he was the first guy who was going to be introduced and we wanted the lead person to do something different and get things started off right.

Honestly, we had no clue what to expect. The first time we saw the setup was Thursday night during our walkthrough. That was actually the first time we found out about those warm-ups with the lights on them. I was the first one to see them because my locker is at that first corner. I turned around and I was like, "Look at these sweat suits. Are those lights?" Right after that, one of the guys from our marketing department walked in and said, "Make sure your battery packs are working." He told us they would control the lighting and they would light up as we were coming up the lift and on to the stage. It was kind of relieving to us to wear those and see the setup because we didn't have to do much to make the whole thing exciting. (A big shout-out to the people in the marketing department for that because it was really exciting and made things easier for us.)

Anyway, when the night actually came, I thought I would be a lot more nervous then I was. I remember Jarrod telling us how he was still nervous even though he'd been through it three years already. He was the first to go, so it was understandable, but as I was standing there, I was expecting my hands to start sweating but it never happened. Julius was really nervous, but it was weird for me. I felt more excited than nervous when it came time to take the stage, and I'm glad I did. Otherwise, I don't know that I would have danced.  

I still didn't know if I was going to dance until I went up the lift and finally got up there. Once I did, I decided to go with it. You know how they say when you're young, if they can't see you then they think you can't see them? That's how I felt. I couldn't see anybody's face because it was so dark out there. At that point, I was like, "I'm going to do it." My dance was alright, but I've got to give Jarrod and Sam some credit. I didn't get to see Jarrod's live since I was the fifth one up the lift, but Sam's was pretty awesome.

Looking back, it all happened so fast for me. We did all that preparation for it and were excited about it all week, but before I knew it we were in the locker room taking a picture with John Wall and Anthony Davis and it was all over. I guess that's because we were having fun. Hearing my name called and rising up to see all those cheering faces is something I dreamed about for a long time. It was something I'll never forget.

It was also extra special for me because of my dad. He was actually part of the first Big Blue Madness here, when they held it in Memorial. I obviously wasn't there for that one, but he said they just announced the players and they ran out onto the floor. Now it's evolved into this spectacle where we've got light-up warm-ups with a rising floor and smoke coming out of everything. It's crazy.

It's exciting for him to see me get to go through this because he told me when I was growing up and working in the gym late at night that nothing comes easy without hard work. He said, "If I could take my experiences and hand them over to you, I'd do it, but that work that gets you there is what makes it so sweet." The fact that I'm getting to experience it and do it on a whole 'nother level than he ever did with this team is just an unbelievable gift.

One of the things I'm really enjoying about this year is just knowing what to do and what to expect. At this point last year, my head was kind of spinning. I was cleared to play the day of Madness last year, and my first practice was that next morning with another practice in the afternoon. Two days earlier I wasn't even a part of the team and all of a sudden I'm in two-a-days and eating lunch at Coach Cal's house that afternoon during our break.

I can remember my first practice last year. I specifically remember Coach calling "Two Circle" and thinking, I have no idea what that is. I think it was JP who told him, "Coach he doesn't know that play. He wasn't there for that play." I'm usually pretty good at remembering things by doing them, but I'd only done them a few days last year by the time I was playing in the Blue-White Scrimmage. I was sitting in the locker room before the scrimmage trying to remember where the ball went for certain plays and where I was supposed to screen. I was over-thinking everything.

This year I'm a lot more comfortable. I know the plays better than just about anybody outside of Hoody, Jarrod, Alex and Willie because I was in there last year and played just about every position at some point in practice. I'm definitely looking forward to getting out there this year for the Blue-White Scrimmage and feeling comfortable with how to execute everything we've been working on.

One of my favorite things about this team is just how close we all are. Everybody got here in the middle of the summer and we went to a movie like six hours after meeting everyone for the first time. It was just like a random group of strangers at the time who had just met, but we all felt so comfortable with each other. And it doesn't matter who it is or what our role is on the team, we're all friends. Like the other day, Brian, Julius, Andrew and I all went out and ate together. We don't have a certain group of teammates that just hang out. We've literally done all kinds of different stuff with different kinds of people, and I think that's important.

The better relationships you build with your teammates off the court, the more you're going to be able to trust them on the court and mesh well with each other. The more that we can build those types of relationships, the more we can trust each other. Cal always says he wants to be able to hand the reins over to the team at some point during the season and run ourselves. A team that he trusts enough to be able to do that needs to start with trusting in ourselves, so that bonding stuff is important.

Things like going to the hockey and volleyball games together, going bowling and out to eat, it matters. We're having fun together.  I know Marcus told you guys about the hockey game a few weeks back when we dropped the puck at center ice. Yes, I did almost fall. The first thing they told me was not to fall, but you don't realize how slick it is until you start sliding. I played it off with a move to act like I had it under control. (On a side note, I want to encourage everyone to go support them on Fridays at midnight. They're a lot of fun to watch).

It's things like that remind me we're just a bunch of kids getting to do something really special here. Before I got here last year, I didn't realize that all these guys I grew up looking up to and idolizing are kids just like me. Now that I get to be a part of this, I realize that we're all just a bunch of college-aged kids who enjoy the same things like everyone else. I strive to be a good influence for people who look up to me like I did to those players back then. I'm grateful for the opportunity

Alright, I've got to get out of here. I enjoyed sharing some thoughts with everyone. You stay classy, BBN.

Video: Behind the scenes at softball photo day

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Video: Behind the scenes at cross country photo day

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Video: UK football APTUS Discovery

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As part of football's High Performance program, Kentucky is working with a company called APTUS Discovery to give the Wildcats a mental edge on the field. The beginning of the process was an assessment administered to players. Here's a short video showing how it worked.


The Kentucky swimming and diving team participated in team-building exercises this week. (Charlie Healy, UK Athletics) The Kentucky swimming and diving team participated in team-building exercises this week. (UK Athletics)
A day before the first official practice of the 2013-14 season, the University of Kentucky swimming and diving team participated in a day of team-building exercises.

Led by Jason Cummins - the director of the UK Athletics Impact Leadership Program - and staff members from the ROTC program, the Wildcats joined together to solve mental and physical challenges and obstacles.

"It was great to get all the team together, with such a large and diverse team," UK head coach Lars Jorgensen said. "The best time of the year is at the beginning, to bring everyone together, we don't often have that opportunity while we're training, so it was a good way to start out our training. We want to thank Jason Cummins and the ROTC staff for helping us out."

Swim-TeamBuilding3.jpg The purpose of the team building activities was to get the team to think and work together. Each station was different, and the lessons learned on each event varied. Thought processes or methods didn't carry over from station to station. The team learned to move together and communicate better on various exercises.
 
"I think what we got out of the team building exercises was firstly that we learned a lot about ourselves, what our strengths and weaknesses are," senior Maclin Simpson said. "Most importantly though, we learned about each other. We learned how to get to know one another in order to find out our teammates' strengths and weaknesses so that we could utilize them in order to come together.

Swim-TeamBuilding1.jpg "There was a station that involved a circle with a white line around it. There were strategically placed cinder blocks and we had three wooden beams, all different sizes. We had to get everyone across the pit, just using the beams without touching the grass. We had to figure out which beam to use, how to pass it around and how to get across. The most important thing about that was communication, how to communicate effectively with one another. That's incredibly important in a team sport."
 
Other stations included pulling a teammate on a tarp for a strength and endurance event and two puzzles with different shaped pieces of wood.

The goal was to get the team working and thinking together before they begin the season Sept. 25 at Georgia.  The 2013-14 campaign, which lasts six months, will be a demanding test for the 'Cats. The team-building exercises before the season began hopefully will make that road to March a little easier.

Video: Neal Brown mic'd up at second scrimmage

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Video: Behind the scenes at UK Hoops photo day

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Video: UK football on cutting edge with new iPads

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Video: Football summer workout highlights

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