Madness Delivers Again: Top Moments from UK Basketball’s Big Night
Dances. Dunks. Introductions. Hype videos. Pyrotechnics.
Generally speaking, Big Blue Madness is the same thing every year. Somehow, it still manages to feel different and special every year.
The 2016 edition was no different, as the annual event was truly a celebration of everything that makes Kentucky basketball, well, Kentucky basketball.
Let’s look back on the evening by breaking down the top moments from UK men’s and women’s basketball’s big night.
No. 5 – Blue Carpet
Madness had a new feature this year, with VIPs arriving at Rupp Arena on a Blue Carpet. This night is always big-time, but this year took on a Hollywood feel with media clamoring for photos and interviews with every arriving star.
Adding to the atmosphere was Michael Buffer, the world-famous ring announcer. He handled the introductions of the men’s team and even modified his signature phrase just before the scrimmage portion of the evening.
“Let’s get ready for roundball!” Buffer said.
No. 4 – Makayla Epps’ arrival
Makayla Epps is the face of Kentucky women’s basketball. She acted like it on Friday night.
Soaking up every bit of the environment, Epps was introduced among smoke and bright lights. As her name was called, she revealed a shirt saying “Straight out of Lebanon” – an homage to her hometown – and a wrestling-style championship belt.
Safe to say she’s fired up for her senior season.
No. 3 – Basketball
Technically, Big Blue Madness is a practice for Kentucky’s men’s and women’s teams. While the evening has evolved into something much, much more, it does still give fans an opportunity to watch some actual basketball.
The women’s team went up against a group of men’s practice players, seeming poised to play an exciting brand of basketball this season. Epps, of course, was the best player on the floor and could have one of the most productive seasons in school history if all goes according to plan. Elsewhere, Evelyn Akhator and Alyssa Rice look solid in the post, while the dynamic Taylor Murray is settling in as she takes over the role as UK’s primary point guard. She could have a breakout sophomore season.
On the men’s side, speed is what catches the eye. The intensity of a normal practice was missing, as the Wildcats took it relatively easy, but the talent is clearly there. Bam Adebayo had some thunderous jams (and one failed windmill on a fast break) and Malik Monk looks every bit the dynamic scorer he’s been billed as, while Isaiah Briscoe – whose work on his outside shot shows – is clearly the team’s leader.
No. 2 – Matthew Mitchell does it again
Matthew Mitchell has the unenviable task of following his own act each season, but he never seems to disappoint.
This year, he had a long routine just to get to the floor, dancing with his team and others to Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling” in typically entertaining fashion. Once he reached the floor, former Cat and current staff member Amber Smith told him the act wasn’t quite good enough. He promptly delivered an impressive “Juju On That Beat” with members of the dance team backing him.
No. 1 – La Familia
Every living player in Kentucky men’s basketball history was invited to Rupp Arena on Friday night to participate in Madness festivities. More than 70 of them walked the blue carpet, took in Madness from the stands and were invited to the stage to join this year’s team by John Calipari, who spoke about the history of the program.
Many who couldn’t make it – including a handful of the ones currently playing in the NBA – lent their faces and voices to a goosebumps-inducing video saying “welcome to the family” to this year’s team. Three NBA Cats – John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein – did make it to Rupp Arena, all taking the microphone to express how happy they were to be back in front of the best fans in the world.
Kentucky really is a family.