John Calipari plans to use a two-platoon system when UK opens the season in November. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
When the Wizard of Westwood talked, you listened. When John Wooden, arguably the king of college basketball coaches and the architect of one of the greatest dynasties in all of sports, offered advice, you took it.
John Calipari did so in 2010 after his first season at Kentucky when he called the late UCLA coach to ask him about his team. Wooden told Coach Cal that that he played too many guys. He advised Calipari to play six, seven or eight guys - at most - in his rotation.
And so for the next few years at UK, Coach Cal heeded Wooden's advice and played a small rotation.
In the 2010-11 season, Calipari's first team after that phone call, just six guys averaged double-figure minutes. The next year - Kentucky's national championship season - only six guys played more than 12 minutes a game.
The rotation has slightly expanded over the last two seasons with seven or eight guys getting significant minutes, but Coach Cal, at least during his time at UK, has never been one to unload his bench. Yanking five guys at one time when a he saw something he didn't like just wasn't Calipari's style.
"All kinds of ways of doing this," Coach Cal said last season.
It's just a big rotation wasn't one of them.
But if you've watched Calipari enough during his time at UK and studied his on-court philosophies, the one thing you may have noticed is that he has no set-in-stone philosophy. Sure, from a recruiting standpoint, he's labeled as the coach who perfected the Dribble Drive Motion Offense, but how many times in Calipari's five seasons in Lexington have you actually seen his teams run the Dribble Drive?
Instead of sticking to one style, Calipari has adjusted his style to fit the needs of his teams. He likes to play to his players' strengths.
In 2010, with a team that Coach Cal has said wasn't a great executing group, he did a lot of posting up with bigs like DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton. The following year, with Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Josh Harrellson starring in the offense, the strength of the team was hand-offs. The title team was a strong pick-and-roll group.
The point is, the best description of Calipari's coaching style is that he has no coaching style. If one had to label his method, it's his adaptability. He changes to fit what best suits his team.
That brings us back to that conversation with Wooden.
When Calipari had that conversation with the legendary coach four years ago, he adapted the notion because it worked for those particular teams. With so much roster turnover due to the NBA Draft every year, Coach Cal's teams, while supremely talented, weren't overly deep.
And then this last offseason happened and the model was blown up.
A perfect storm that featured a disappointing regular season, a magical run to the national championship game and continued success on the recruiting trail has created an unlikely scenario for the 2014-15 season. When players who undoubtedly could have gone in the NBA Draft announced they were coming back to join another heralded recruiting class, it created unparalleled depth.
Coach Cal not only had a starting lineup of McDonald's All-Americans, he essentially had two rotations of Burger Boys at his disposal.
So, as he rhetorically asked himself in a post on CoachCal.com in the middle of September, how does everybody eat when so many want to sit at the dinner table? How does he keep 12 guys who are all capable of playing and making an impact happy?
Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics
The trip to the Bahamas may have provided the answer.
Going against everything he's ever done as the coach at Kentucky, Calipari and his assistants employed a two-platoon system comprised mainly of 10 players (remember, Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles were unavailable because of offseason procedures).
"The players are bought into it," Coach Cal said in a preseason roundtable interview with local reporters last month. "They liked it. They all thought it was terrific."
How could they not?
With the exception of a couple late-game situations where a player or two stayed on the floor, the coaching staff stuck with the same two teams and split the minutes almost dead even. Whenever a TV timeout would roll around - every four minutes - no matter how well the unit on the floor was playing, it was out with one platoon and in with the next.
Perhaps more surprising than Calipari's persistence to stick with the two-platoon look throughout the trip was just how well the system actually worked.
The Wildcats overwhelmed their three professional opponents with talent, depth and a constant motor. Aware they would play just four minutes at a time, the players seemed to play at a high level at all times, making it harder for the thinner rosters and older players to keep up.
"It just showed how much talent we have," Andrew Harrison said. "From the first group to the second group, it showed different people are better at different things and stuff like that. It was a great concept. I liked it."
UK won its first five games by an average of 20.2 points. The Cats' only loss was in the final game against the Dominican Republic national team when legs were tired and minds were set on returning home. And oh, by the way, that Dominican team, which beat Kentucky on a buzzer beater, went on to the round of 16 just a few weeks later at the FIBA World Cup.
The success of the two-platoon system in the Bahamas turned what looked to be nothing more than preseason experiment into the regular-season model for 2014-15. As Calipari outlined in that post on this website a few weeks ago and confirmed on Monday at a tip-off luncheon in Louisville, he's now dead set on using it and making this a "watershed" year at Kentucky.
In his sixth year at UK, Coach Cal is out to prove that this many talented guys can play together, sacrifice their minutes for one other, win, and still benefit personally. If it works, Calipari wrote, "There will be no going back. No player will ever worry about who else is in the program or who may stay."
"It's never been done before where the players have benefited," Coach Cal said last month. "It's been done where the program's benefited and the coaches benefited, but it's never been done before where players benefited. That's the challenge that we'll have. I think that if you can get two groups that are balanced yet good enough, we can do it."
Legendary coach coach Dean Smith ran a version of the platoon system at North Carolina, though his method was slightly different. Smith stuck with a seven- or eight-man rotation, but he would bring in what he called his "blue team" for occasional five-minute stretches.
What Calipari is trying to do, even he hasn't done it before, so he pleaded for patience with the fan base on Monday.
"Listen, folks, I have never coached this way," Coach Cal said. "I haven't. But I'm going to. And I'm studying and I'm doing everything I can to make this work so every one of these kids eats. And it's not going to be easy."
Calipari has fallen in love with the two-platoon system because of its versatility and its ability to include guys who have all earned the right to play.
"I'd love to play that way because it includes 10 guys, and really it includes all 12 because even the two that are left, you're in the rotation of injury, somebody getting hurt," he said. "If a guard's not playing well, you're in. If a big's not playing well, you're in. So everybody is into the rotation."
The issue going forward becomes how the players will handle what Calipari has called the "clutter of the ego."
How will players who started and played 30 minutes a game last season handle 20 minutes a game this year? How will five-star freshmen react to coming off the bench and playing 17 or 18 minutes instead of the 25 to 30 they may have gotten at another school? What happens when a player who is capable of scoring 25 in any given night is only getting five or six shots a game? What about when people outside the team circle start chirping about how someone should be getting more of this and more of that?
Inevitably, those things are going to come up during the season.
Calipari and the Cats will likely have to deal with at least some of those issues as the season wears on. It's how they deal with them that could determine the outcome of the year and pave the way for that watershed moment Coach Cal is hoping for.
"You have to sit back and say there are two things: I want to win a championship and I want to be drafted in the highest position I can be. Can that all happen two platooning? Yes, it can, but it'll be a challenge," Calipari said. "No one has ever done it."
One thing Coach Cal and his staff will stress with the team to get it to buy into the two-platoon concept is the efficiency of it.
"Does Michael Jordan in a 40-minute game really have to be out there 32 minutes to show you he can play? Or LeBron (James) or (Carmelo) Anthony?" Calipari said. "You're watching this USA team (at the FIBA World Cup), guys are getting 21, 20 minutes, and you know who can play, who the better players are."
To get his guys to understand that you don't need to play a full game to show NBA scouts what you are capable of, the coaching staff will provide the players with stats that show what their averages would be if they played 34 minutes a game.
Why not 40? Because, as Coach Cal explained, even the best players in the country only play between 32 and 34 minutes.
"For 20 minutes you just play and if doesn't work I'm saying it's (my fault) anyway," Calipari said.
When the Bahamas statistics are translated to a 34-minute outing, the numbers are pretty staggering.
To this point, the players have bought in. Each individual player met with Coach Cal after the Bahamas trip and said he liked the system.
"This is a team that each guy is comfortable in their own skin, which means they don't have to be jealous, they don't have to be resentful," Calipari said. "They just, I'm happy with how I'm playing and happy with how he's playing."
If anything, Calipari said, playing 20 minutes a game as opposed to 35 boosts the numbers because some guys can't play at that high of a level for that long. At 20, they can.
"The clutter is going to say, 'Ah, you can't prove yourself in 20.' Well, some guys need 35 minutes to play 20," Calipari said.
What UK didn't reveal in the Bahamas - with the exception of a couple of late-game situations - is how the two-platoon system could mix and match different players. By and large, the two platoons in the Bahamas stayed the same through all six games, but Calipari said that might not be the case in the regular season.
"You've got to have a team that, say someone's really hurting us in a zone and we say, 'OK, we're putting our best shooting team in,' so we're mixing it up," Calipari said. "Well, you practice that way. It's not like you just did it in that game. What about a team, we get down, we're just playing bad and we just want a catch-up team in there? What would that catch-up team be? Because you've got to both defend and score. What would a team look like if you just wanted it to be a great defensive team? Would it be Willie, Marcus Lee and another big and two guards who are all guarding? What would that team be? What if you needed another pressing team? Who would your best pressing team be? And that may be your catch-up team. So all that stuff will be decided as we practice. I don't even know what the groupings would be."
Adding Cauley-Stein and Lyles into the two-platoon mix makes it seem like the possibilities are endless.
"You can play Willie and then could have Alex staying at four or Trey Lyles staying at four," Calipari said. "With a big, you could have Willie there with Karl, who can shoot it better, and Marcus Lee. How about that team? Now all of a sudden it's nutty."
Over the next three days, we'll post a transcript of John Calipari's preseason media roundtable in three parts. To start with, Coach Cal talks preseason expectations, the platoon system and the Bahamas trip.
Are the two injured guys, are they back doing everything that you want them to do now? "Willie's back. He played the other day and looked really good. A couple of the guys said to me, 'We forgot how good he was.' And Trey, I watched him go through a workout, and it's just, he probably needs more time. So he's not playing and not fully engaged yet, but he is going through what I would say is, without being able to play up and down as hard as he can go, that's what he's doing."
With so many guys back this year, do you feel like you're better prepared to deal with the hype and the expectations than maybe they were last year when all the 40-0 talk started? "Well, more prepared for a lot of stuff. You saw it in the Bahamas. Like, how did they--you've never seen one of my teams look that far advanced. Why? Because I've had a new team every year. So now all of a sudden you have the majority of your guys coming back. Now you could say, 'This kid looked good, that kid--' but we looked like a team, and that's a big part of those guys coming back, handling all that, knowing the anxiety of knowing why they're training the way they are. It's made it all easier. And then the freshmen can kind of get in line and follow, which is what's happening."
How much does it help individually having guys come back that are on a mission to finish unfinished business and does that help to keep the motivated? "Yeah, and they want to win. They know they need each other because they went through it last year where you start and you're more into your own stuff and then all of a sudden you look and it's not going real good and then you start worrying about everyone else and your stuff gets better." What do you see are the pros and cons of platooning and would you consider that during the season? "Yeah. I mean, it's never been done before where the players have benefited. It's been done where the program's benefited and the coaches benefited, but it's never been done before where players benefited. That's the challenge that we'll have. I think that if you can get two groups that are balanced yet good enough, we can do it. We have some time. We have to see. I'd love to play that way because it includes 10 guys, and really it includes all 12 because even the two that are left, you're in the rotation of injury, somebody getting hurt. If a guard's not playing well, you're in. If a big's not playing well, you're in. So everybody is into the rotation. The players are bought into it. They liked it. They all thought it was terrific. The biggest thing will be the clutter that will circle, which (is) the clutter of the ego and all the other things. But we have a couple things I'm going to do to try to make it clearer, you know, how they're playing. One thing I would say is, does Michael Jordan in a 40-minute game really have to be out there 32 minutes to show you he can play? Or LeBron or Anthony? You're watching this USA team, guys are getting 21, 20 minutes, and you know who can play, who the better players are. And the question is the clutter of the ego. And then you have to sit back and say there are two things: I want to win a championship and I want to be drafted in the highest position I can be. Can that all happen two platooning? Yes, it can, but it'll be a challenge. No one has ever done it. I'm going to say it again. People have done it, but not where the players benefited."
How much of that is your responsibility to manage and how much responsibility do they have on themselves to deal with it? "The one thing I said to them - and there was no reason to say it because they were all (into it) - we came back and I kind of had the staff break down what they saw and then I met individually with each guy about their own, what they thought about what they learned about themselves and what they saw with our team, how did they like two platooning, that kind of stuff. My point is, I can have a seven- or eight-man rotation and some of you may really like it unless you're not in the seven- or eight-man rotation. And then you would hope we're two platooning. And who the heck knows who would be in that seven-, eight-man rotation with the guys we have. So the best thing they can do is keep challenging each other and let us figure out all that stuff. But they've been good with that. This is a team that each guy is comfortable in their own skin, which means they don't have to be jealous, they don't have to be resentful. They just--I'm happy with how I'm playing and happy with how he's playing. I'm happy for him; he's playing good."
You've said many times that people like John Wooden told you that you're playing too many guys. Does the platoon system fly in the face of that? "It does, but again, somebody said that, 'Well, Dean Smith played the platoons.' He did, but he did it different. What he did was he played seven guys and then he brought five of the whatever you want to call them - I can't remember what he called them (reporter: the blue team) - they came in. So he played 12 that way to make sure he got everybody minutes. And again, he was so far ahead of his time when you think about some of the stuff he did. He was the first guy to say, 'When it's the season it's about us, when the season is over it's about each individual.' He's the first guy to tell the old guys they need to leave early. He was ahead of his time in all the stuff he did."
In the Bahamas it seemed like this group is really close in terms of the entire group hanging out. Do you think that stuff really matters? "Oh yeah, absolutely does. The best NBA teams, that's what happens. They go on the road and that's what they'll do. They'll go to a movie, they go out to dinner and they'll go in mass - the best NBA teams. The bad teams, everybody breaks up and goes their own way and gets on the road and you don't see the guy until the game starts. The good ones don't. They know we got to just be together and be about each other and this what we're doing. So yeah, no, that will help. These guys play pickup five, six nights a week. That's important. And you go like, 'What's important with that?' We're not doing it. They're doing it themselves and they all like to compete and play, which is a big deal. I've been on teams here that we had to call to get them to play pickup and you had some guys that were, you know. But it's tough for those guys as they leave us to really do well at that next level. This, if you're not really into this, it's hard. So that's a big thing. The thing they've got to learn as they're playing pick-up is, we've put in a couple rules so that we can establish some things that will be habits when they're playing, which is get the ball across the half court in three to four seconds. Have a manager there, it's a turnover on a miss or make if the ball doesn't cross half court in three or four seconds. Alright, well you play that way, everyone's got to cross the court in five seconds. If the wing isn't looking at you, throw the ball off the back of his head so he'll start looking at you. And then, after you get it up there, I don't really care what you do; it's pickup. I just want you to get it up there. Trying to create that habit, on a miss or make, the ball goes. Now, we talked as a staff and I talked to the guys a few nights ago, we didn't do anything defensively and won't until October. So before the Bahamas, other than playing against ourselves, we told them pick up and play full court. Well, what did we teach them? Pick up and play your man. If somebody leaves, then try to rotate a bit, figure it out on the run. We told them to force down pick-and-rolls. We did not teach them how to do it. We didn't teach. We just said if a guy tries pick-and-roll, forces them down the side. So by doing none of that, we ended up 40 percent, holding those teams 28 (percent) from the 3, plus-whatever rebounding. We were not a bad defensive team and we taught nothing. So again, playing against each other they'll get better defensively if I can get them to create habits of getting the ball up the court quickly. And then let them, maybe in another week or so, 'OK, the point guard, if he hits, just make sure you go through every time,' something we didn't do in the Bahamas that I think we'll do some."
Watching those guys, it seems like each of those five-man units had become super comfortable with each other. There was a chemistry there and obviously that helps in one regard. But when you get to a crunch-time situation and you pull a couple off one team and put in a few from another team, do you worry about the chemistry? "No. You have to practice that way. You've got to have - and we've talked about it as a group - I said you've got to have a team that, say someone's really hurting us in a zone and we say, 'OK, we're putting our best shooting team in.' So we're mixing it up. Well, you practice that way. it's not like you just did it in that game. What about a team, we get down, we're just playing bad and we just want a catch-up team in there? What would that catch-up team be? Because you've got to both defend and score. What would a team look like if you just wanted it to be a great defensive team? Would it be Willie, Marcus Lee and another big and two guards who are all guarding? What would that team be? What if you needed another pressing team? Who would your best pressing team be? And that may be your catch-up team. So all that stuff will be decided as we practice. I don't even know what the groupings would be. Aaron and Andrew, yesterday in the pickup games, they were on opposite teams. So I told those two, 'Don't always play with each other. Play opposite.' You don't want to be labeled that you have to be on the same team. You've had guys like that before. It hurts them. It's not helping you; it hurts you.' So they're playing opposite of each other. Like I said, until we start practicing, I liked what I saw, I liked that you could just swamp people, just keep coming. I liked the fact that the numbers were really good for 20 minutes. And then we'll do some things so that people will know what their numbers relate to if they played 34 minutes. You have a team full of guys playing 20, what would that relate to if they're playing 34 minutes? Basically it's all about efficiency. Have that stat sheet."
Is it crazy to you that, two years removed from Brian Long guarding Nerlens Noel in practice, you're talking about catch-up teams and my shooting teams and zone teams? "Yeah, but did I ever plan on six guys leaving in one year? No. So I had to deal with it. Did we plan on five guys leaving after our first year? No. So all of a sudden it changed the whole direction of the program. Now all of a sudden we had guys come back that I thought would never come back. Well, now we've got to make it work. So that's part of how this is--it's not easy on anybody, but at the end of the day I don't think it's a bad problem. It's probably a good problem."
How are this year's freshmen different from last year's freshmen? "I don't know if they do. I would say on a whole they're probably in better condition, but I could say that because of the Bahamas trip. They're probably more advanced of how we're going to play. They're probably able to play looser because they know it's not going to be on them. It's pretty good to know that--how about five freshmen, anybody returning had a great experience in the NIT at Robert Morris? Now all of a sudden you've got a team full of guys that played in the championship game and now you're coming back and watching and learning. If you can compete with them, you start building your own confidence. This guy, I can compete with this guy. It's a good thing."
Cal you mentioned some things about, statistically, and I wonder, what's your relationship with analytics? Are you looking at any more of it? Are you looking at numbers more than you used to? "Look, there's the guy that's never played, coached or done anything but look at numbers and tell you what your team should look like. Beat it. Then there's the guy, the old-school guy, that never looked at a number, doesn't know how to open a computer, doesn't know how to Twitter, Facebook - which would be me -- and he doesn't want to look at numbers. You got to--it's both. The numbers that are good for us are for the players to see what they're accomplishing, in my mind. And it's good for everyone else to see what those numbers say. That's good for them to see what those numbers say, but the reality of it is we could all watch a game and if you have any feel for the game at all you could say he played a great game even if the numbers said he played OK. Yeah, but here's what those numbers don't take into account. I mean we've got things that we'll do that are nonnegotiable that there's no analytic that can do it. They don't have one invented, so there's numbers of things we take. But, if I'm going to two platoon, the numbers will matter and the efficiency numbers, numbers translated into 34 minutes - now, why do you think I'd say 34 minutes and not 40? (Reporter: Nobody plays 40.) Yeah, and if I did 40, everybody in the country could say, 'Yeah, but if I made my guy do 40 minutes.' So most teams, if you're going to play between 32 and 34 minutes - the best players in the country (play those minutes) so every one of our guys gets rated to 34 minutes - what do those numbers mean?"
A lack of energy has never been a problem for John Calipari.
Even coping with the unique demands of coaching at Kentucky, Calipari is always ready and raring to go for the next practice, the next recruiting visit, the next event. But with the start of the 2014-15 season approaching, something has Coach Cal even more fired up than usual.
This two-platoon thing you've heard so much about? It's really happening.
"I'm doing things I've never done as a coach," Calipari said. "And I'll be honest with you, can you tell I'm excited about it? Like, this has got me stirred."
Calipari's excitement was plain to see and hear on Monday as he spoke at the annual Wildcat Tipoff Luncheon hosted by the Greater Louisville UK Alumni Club, where he was joined by UK President Eli Capilouto, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell.
Coach Cal didn't speak at length about how the two-platoon system will work - there will be plenty of time for that when games begin - but he did reveal his reasoning for it. In short, it's the next step in the evolution of his players-first philosophy.
"If it's not about those guys, we're playing eight of these guys and those other two or three, you're out," Calipari said. "But if we're about them and all of them, this is the only way you can do it. Well, it's never been done before. Well, it's going to be done now."
Breaking new ground, however, will bring growing pains. Coach Cal is ready for them and he did his best to prepare the more than 1,000 in attendance on Monday.
"We have a chance of being really good, but we're doing it a different way," Calipari said. "What we do early may be at the expense of winning some games making sure we're figuring this out. And if that happens, I'm telling you, I'll be fine with it. You won't, but I will be fine with it."
Ultimately, the people who matter most to the success of the two-platoon system are the players, not the fans or even Calipari. Fortunately, Coach Cal has some recent past experience to call on in guiding them through the challenge, different as this one may be.
"How in the world do you get McDonald's All-Americans to sacrifice and play for each other?" Calipari said. "And how do you get them to do that as freshmen? Would you say you'd like to know? Because I'm asking it everywhere. They trust we have their back and their best interest so they will share and they will sacrifice for each other because we have their back, we have their best interest."
Calipari confirmed UK will start the season using the platoon system in the same way as on the Big Blue Bahamas tour, but he knows he'll need to be ready to change on the fly.
"What happens at the end of the season if it's not quite happening the way that we want?" Calipari said. "We can make adjustments. Doc Rivers told me, 'What if one of the guys needs a few more minutes a half? You're going to have to give it to them, Cal.' I said, 'I know that.' So if two guys are playing a little bit better, we'll give them a little bit more minutes."
Calipari spoke first on Monday, a departure from tradition in past years at the event. With a recruit in town, he had to get back to Lexington in short order, a fact Mitchell used to playfully jab his good friend.
"Cal stole one of my oldest tricks in the book, about recruiting," Mitchell said. "The recruiting trick. Gotta leave, gotta leave. Got a big recruit coming."
Once Mitchell moved on from making the sellout crowd laugh, he expressed similar optimism about his own team.
"This season, I think we have a great opportunity to have a good team," Mitchell said. "... I think we can land in a really, really great spot and I'm excited to see what comes of this team and this 2014-15 edition."
The annual campout for Big Blue Madness tickets just won't stop getting bigger.
A year after the 2013 edition obliterated the previous record, Tent City grew to an unprecedented size on Friday. At the final count of 2014 -- as control cards were being distributed at 2 p.m. -- approximately 770 tents had surrounded Memorial Coliseum in hopes of securing tickets to the highly anticipated madness event, topping the previous record mark of 755.
Though campers are finished moving in, the party goes on. Friday night at the madness campout is typically the most festive of the week the Mother Nature appears wiling to cooperate with a perfect weather forecast.
We'll have more from the campout this evening, so stay tuned.
Karl-Anthony Towns and his UK teammates handed out pizza to eager fans on Thursday night at the Big Blue Madness campout. (Elliott Hess, UK Athletics)
By Nick Jones, UK Athletics
Since 1950, 201 Avenue of Champions has served as the home of Memorial Coliseum. This week, though, thousands of UK fans have made the address their own temporary home as they anxiously await the ticket distribution for Big Blue Madness.
Tickets will be made available to the public Saturday, Sept. 20 at 7 a.m. at the Memorial Coliseum ticket office and online at Ticketmaster.com. But for the fans that have been living out of the estimated 770 tents -- an all-time record -- lining north campus sidewalks, the pecking order has already been determined.
At 5 a.m. on Wednesday it was a frantic pursuit for the finest camping spots that the University of Kentucky has to offer.
Shane Johnson of Seymour, Ind., who is a first-time Big Blue Madness camper, illustrates the scene as something far more than chaotic.
"It was like seeing as a crowd of people running hysterically from a tornado," Johnson said.
Like Johnson, Many Cats fans arrived days in advance as they lined Avenue of Champions, Rose Street and Lexington Avenue. The daily grind of life outdoors may take some getting used to, but it is all worth it in the end for the hottest free ticket of the year among the Big Blue Nation.
Rick Osborne, who made the trip from Harlan County, said his family has multiple spots in line.
"This is a family event for us," Osborne said. "But you certainly could not get an experience like this with all the other fans without camping out. Don't get me wrong, there are hardships that come with it, but it's too good of a time to not come out here."
And getting to spend a week with the 2014-15 Kentucky men's and women's basketball teams making consistent appearances has to be at least worth the price of admission, right?
"It is really nice to just be around them," Johnson said. "Seeing them go to and from class and having them stop by to spend a little time with us fans, it's great. We get to see them on the court once the season starts, but this is a different experience getting a small look at their lifestyle."
Fans will get a glimpse of what will likely be the preseason No. 1 team in college basketball on Oct. 17 at 7:00 p.m. A month from the annual open practice at Rupp Arena, they're already buzzing.
"After seeing them in the Bahamas last month, my expectations are very high," said Scott Mattingly of Lebanon, Ky. "I knew they weren't going to go 40-0 last year. But this year is different, and I think everyone - all the experts - is scared to give them that same hype. So I'm just excited to see it all play out."
The Cats amassed a 5-1 record during an eight-day span on their Big Blue Bahamas tour against teams from around the world that were made up of primarily professional talent.
So, there is not much the UK faithful does not have to be excited about, and that was once again demonstrated this week.
Look no further than the record-breaking crowd at the annual campout.
These people use their vacation days to take as much as a week away from work. They sleep in tents crammed beside complete strangers. But they all have one thing in common: love for Kentucky basketball.
"There is no other fan base like it. It's special," Mattingly said. "Now that we are all settled in out here, we have all come together to support our team."
Not even 12 hours into the annual campout for Big Blue Madness tickets, approximately 680 tents have popped up around Memorial Coliseum.
The 3:30 p.m. Wednesday count is up about 30 from this morning and 10 behind the pace of last year's record-setting campout. The majority of the new tents are on Stoll Field. That's also where most new campers will set up before our next count on Thursday morning. Last year, more than 60 new tents were set up on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.
More is in store leading up to Saturday morning's ticket distribution, but UK fans were treated to visits by John Calipari and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on Thursday.