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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.
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."
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.
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.
Today, Bria Goss writes about the group's final hours in Ethiopia and looks back how a memorable trip changed her forever.
Today is the last day in Ethiopia and I feel like I just got here. I feel like I need to stay longer because there was still more to be done. I knew I had to make the best of the last day!
After breakfast we went to visit kids while they were learning at school. There were so many kids learning their ABCs and learning to count. We completely distracted a class by our entrance. We were so energetic and ready to play with the kids. Some were shy, but most were pretty open. They were first and second graders and for their age, they spoke pretty clear English. I noticed how well they got along with each other. They were very polite and generous to each other and really tried to show the same generosity and politeness to me even though we just met.
They were so eager to show me what they know. I was blown away by their willingness to learn. This was considered to be optional and the kids did not have to be there, but the class was full. There were no seats left open. The kids told me it was because everyone there cherishes school and wants to have a good education. I was in shock. Kids see the school as a way out. They are passionate because it can provide for their families.
There was one little girl that really stuck out to me. Her sassy attitude and outgoing personality is going to lead her to a bright future. She stole the show by showing us her dance moves and spirit. She swung her hips and put her hands in the air as we sang our tune. The girl had skills! I could see her as the next winner on Got Talent!
After the fun time with the kids it was time to go. We went to a market to get some food supplies for the next city we were going to. The market was very busy and muddy. It smelled terrible and people were shoving things in your face to get you to buy their product. There were flies everywhere, which gave me goose bumps! After we got the food we left to the market to go to drop off the food to the widows. They were so thankful for the blessings we brought them. They repeatedly said "May God bless you" and "Thank you, God bless"! This put a smile on my face. I fell in love with serving others! I want to help people with nothing in return. I get the utmost joy when I put smiles on other people's faces.
Somewhere..some people have ahold of my heart 💙 #Ethiopiaonmymind-- montana whittle (@montanawhittle) August 2, 2014
After passing out the food it was time to pack up and leave. We had about an hour to shower and get our things together and get something to eat. We gathered downstairs to eat and after we all finished, we gave Girma money to get his driver's license. He was thrilled and surprised. We wanted to do this for him because to get his license was very expensive and he had just about given up on his dream of one day being able to drive. Now, he will be able to take his test and get his license. We were happy to help him and be a part of something so special.
We then left for the airport and said our final goodbyes! It was so hard saying goodbye to our new friends. They were a big help and made the trip so much easier. I love how well this team came together and became friends. We weren't ready to leave. We got to the airport around 7 and we board at 9:30. This plane ride was a little different than the first. We were all close now so this made the flight more enjoyable.
Eighteen hours later, we were back in the U.S. The trip was life-changing. I know more than I ever thought I would about Ethiopia and had the chance to experience it firsthand. This trip will stay with me forever. The thing that really sticks to me is that life is not about what you do or don't have. It's about the relationships you build. It's about the friendships you cherish. It's about the people you reach out to. I learned how to give willingly and what that feels like. I learned to put others before myself to lift them up. I am not perfect, but living for God you don't have to be.
It was so good to be in Ethiopia but hearing "Welcome home Mr Sutton" felt too good. Glad I was able to take part in such an amazing trip.-- John Sutton (@KingSut) July 30, 2014
To start off, Bria Goss writes about the group's first day of travel and time in Washington, D.C.
By Bria Goss
This is the day we have all been waiting for. As excitement rises, so does nervousness. There are so many questions running through my mind as I make my final preparations for the trip. I am unsure what to expect when I get to Ethiopia, even though I have a pretty clear image.
The plan was to meet in the K Fund office to get lots of snacks from Coach Rock (Oliver) and double-check our bags to make sure we had everything. Today is Haley Mills' birthday so Katrina very generously gave her homemade brownies. Katrina and Haley had only met once or twice before that and Katrina already showed an act of kindness by giving her brownies. From that point on, I knew I had to make friends with Katrina to get some sweets on my birthday!!!
As 10:30 a.m. rolled around, it was time to load the bus and head to Cincinnati where we will depart for Washington, D.C. I slept the whole ride to catch up on some much-needed rest. We arrived at the airport and check our bags. Everyone was so nice helping us along and pointing us to our next destination. We had a wonderful lunch in the airport and continued on our way. As we boarded the plane was when I first realized I was traveling to Ethiopia.
The plane ride was smooth and I slept the whole hour and a half. When we got to the Washington, D.C. Airport, we quickly grabbed our bags and headed to the hotel. After we dropped everything off in the rooms, we met in the lobby for our tour. Our tour guide, Zuma, was awesome. Not only did he make the tour interesting, he taught me a lot about D.C. Zuma took us everywhere: the Pentagon, Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Capitol, the White House and much more. He made the tour special and enjoyable.
After the tour was done, we went to dinner. This is where I really got the chance to talk with the other student-athletes. As the day went on, we became closer. After a great meal, we surprised Haley by telling the waiter it was her birthday. The staff of the restaurant came out singing happy birthday with a lot of energy. Haley was shocked! The look on her face was priceless.
After a night of many laughs, we loaded back up in our bus and headed for the hotel. We had a long day the next day so we wanted to get some rest. I am so excited to see what this trip has to offer. I am still so thankful for this amazing opportunity.
Big thanks everybody for all the love as we head to Ethiopia today. Proud to be apart of an athletic dept that makes a difference #weareUK-- John Sutton (@KingSut) July 22, 2014
But on Friday, Matthew Mitchell made a long-term commitment to UK Athletics. Pledging $1 million in donations over the next 10 years to the athletics department with his wife Jenna, Mitchell is showing that UK is more than his place of work.
"The problem we have here at UK now is that even if they ask me to leave coaching, I've become such a big fan then I'll just be at all the games for everybody else," Mitchell said. "Then I'll start calling in on all the call-in shows and really get riled up. It'll probably be better for them that they keep me on for a while because we're not going anywhere."
Jokes about his future aside, it's highly unlikely UK will want Mitchell going anywhere. His seven-year tenure has brought with it unprecedented success for UK Hoops even though Mitchell says it started with Mitch Barnhart taking a chance.
"I wasn't the biggest name that Mr. Barnhart could have hired and so some people would call that good luck or good fortune," Mitchell said. "I call that a blessing. I call that a blessing from God. That's the only way I know how to make sense of it. God's really provided some unbelievable opportunities for me in my life. And for Jenna and me, we have found a home here in Lexington and so we would love to be a big part of this community and do our part in this community and try to help this community move forward."
Mitchell has already shown his commitment to the Lexington community on multiple occasions, but this donation -- the largest ever by a UK Athletics employee to the athletics department -- is the clearest proof yet.
"Matthew has said to me on multiple occasions how much UK and the city of Lexington mean to him and how it's the perfect spot for his wife, Jenna, and his children," Barnhart said in a release. "His ability to grow our women's basketball program into one of the top programs in the country has given him a platform to impact others in a variety of ways. One of those ways is with a philanthropic heart in many areas of our community. He and Jenna wanted to show their appreciation to other sports programs in our athletic department by supporting our capital growth. This gift will allow us to support and grow the things we are trying to do in our football program, which at the end of the day gives support to all of our student-athletes and teams at Kentucky."
Mitchell's gift, spread out in $100,000 over each of the next 10 years, will be used to help fund a variety of capital projects, including football facility upgrades. Mitchell knows those upgrades help not only Mark Stoops' program.
"People need to understand football really makes so many things happen for the rest of us in this department," Mitchell said. "We need football to be thriving and healthy at Kentucky and with Mark Stoops as our head coach I don't have any doubt that that is going to happen."
A $100-plus million renovation of Commonwealth Stadium is already in progress and another $45 million in funding for a new football practice facility was approved in January.
"The incredible renovation at Commonwealth is just really going to put our football program, I think, at the forefront of the country," Mitchell said. "It's going to be a great experience at Commonwealth Stadium in the years to come. We're excited to be a part of that and help that out if we can."
The donation will surely be helpful and appreciated, but it was solely borne out of the Mitchells wanting to make yet another positive impact on the place they've come to call home.
"It's an individual decision because of how good God has been to us," Mitchell said. "No one has pressured us to do this or asked us to do this. This is just what we want to do because of the blessings we've received and it's no more complicated than that. We just love this university. We love the people."
The feeling is mutual.
"I want people to know and understand what special, special people Matthew and Jenna are to this community," Barnhart said. "I'm very thankful for their generosity, team approach and long-term vision to this athletics department and this university."