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Excitement contagious at Tipoff Luncheon

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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."

Video: Coach Cal speaks at campout

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Final 2014 tent count: 770

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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) 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."

Video: Cats visit campers, deliver pizza

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Wednesday afternoon tent count: 680

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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.



And in the early favorite for cutest moment of the week, fan Scott Charlton tweeted this photo. This is what it's all about.


2014 campout matching last year's record pace

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Fans wait to set up tents at the 2014 Big Blue Madness campout on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Fans wait to set up tents at the 2014 Big Blue Madness campout on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The record is in danger yet again.

The annual campout for tickets to Big Blue Madness began at 5 a.m. on Wednesday. Just four-and-a-half hours later, approximately 650 tents had surrounded Memorial Coliseum. The 9:30 a.m. count matches last year's record-setting pace exactly. The final tent count for the 2013 was 755.

Tent City was mostly calm during the Wednesday count, with many campers getting some much-needed rest after an early-morning wake-up call. That figures to change in the coming days with a pleasant weather forecast and visits in store from a number of UK teams and coaches. The first will be from John Calipari, who will tour the campout at 1 p.m. on Wednesday to give away dozens of Tempur-Pedic pillows and a mattress to one lucky fan.

Those who were awake were eager to talk. Passing through the annual campout with pen and paper, it doesn't long for fans to figure out I'm counting tents, which always leads to a conversation. I typically end the conversation by telling fans to have a good day. One response to that, in particular, struck me.

"Can't beat this day," a fan said.

The Big Blue Madness campout, truly, has taken on a life of its own.

Check a photo gallery from Wednesday morning.



Video: 2014 Big Blue Madness campout begins

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