Kentucky Men’s and Women’s Basketball welcomed Big Blue Nation into Rupp Arena Friday night for another year of Big Blue Madness, the biggest spectacle in all of college basketball practice. This year, the festivities got off to a great start with a surprise commitment from Aaron Bradshawthe five-star center who happened to be in attendance Friday night with many other special guests of the past, present, and future of Kentucky Basketball.
Once Bradshaw got the night rolling with big news, the Madness followed with the player introductions, contests, scrimmages, and all the little things in between that make this night special every year. For a rundown of all the festivities, KSR’s staff in attendance – Drew Franklin, Jack Pilgrim, Zack Geoghegan, and Grant Grubbs – has their takeaways and best moments of the night.
Aaron Bradshaw is a Kentucky Wildcat
JACK: Surprise! Kentucky’s monster recruiting weekend got rolling with a monster commitment, as five-star center Aaron Bradshaw joined the program’s 2023 class just 30 minutes before Big Blue Madness got rolling. Originally scheduled to commit in November, the 7-foot shot-blocker out of New Jersey decided there was no reason to wait any longer, jumping on the opportunity to begin his visit to Lexington. He did so without making any other visits – he originally planned to see Texas, UCLA and potentially even USC before making a decision – choosing the Wildcats over Louisville and the G-League Ignite on Friday.
Bradshaw joins five-star guards Justin Edwards and Rob Dillingham, along with four-star guard Reed Sheppard in Kentucky’s 2023 class. That leaves DJ Wagner as UK’s prime target among senior prospects.
The Blue Carpet atmosphere was lively
ZACK: Arguably the most exciting part of the night was before the event even started. The Big Blue Carpet runway that took place pregame featured all of the smiles, plenty of laughs, and some serious style. Head coach Kyra Elzy and the women’s basketball team got it started by flexing off their 2022 SEC Tournament championship rings before a slew of Kentucky alums walked down center stage. Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo, and Nick Richards all made an appearance and later were celebrity guests for the dunk contest. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist even stopped by for some Blue Carpet pictures.
Then the men’s team made its way down the Blue Carpet dressed to the nines. There was plenty of flashy jewelry (shoutout to NIL!) And lots of sunglasses (assuming to protect their eyes from the camera flash? That fashion trend is ahead of my time). There was even a “360 selfie booth” that you might remember from that cringe-worthy Brian Kelly video. But it’s much cooler looking when a bunch of 18- and 19-year-olds do it as opposed to a crotchety old man.
Before the Madness provided plenty of entertainment
ZACK: Hours before Big Blue Madness even began, a special, less-promoted event was taking place not far from the Rupp Arena floor. Over in the convention center, half of the Kentucky MBB team spent roughly an hour signing autographs, taking pictures with fans, and interacting with the Big Blue Nation.
Jacob Toppin and Sahvir Wheeler were racing little kids through a giant inflatable obstacle course, Kareem Watkins was experiencing a virtual reality setup, and Brennan Canada was competing against fans in an inflatable version of “pop-a-shot”. Adou Thiero, Lance Ware, Grant Darybshire, and Walker Horn were also there walking and talking around while soaking in the good vibes.
There was even the return of a petting zoo, which was featured during last year’s Before the Madness, as well. A donkey was wearing a unicorn horn, so that was interesting too. There was alcohol, alpacas, and inflatables – what more do you need?
Kentucky Women’s Basketball knows how to have fun
GRANT: Kentucky WBB began the night on the Big Blue Carpet, showing off their fresh fits and fine jewelry. With smiles, the returning ‘Cats flaunted their 2022 SEC Championship rings, which they received this morning; not half-bad timing.
After their model moment, the players lit up the stage during team introductions. Over half the team busted down the dance floor to the cheers of Big Blue Nation. Kentucky natives Maddie Scherr and Blair Green paid homage to Kentucky legend John Wall.
Head coach Kyra Elzy couldn’t let her players steal all the fun. After she rappelled from the rafters last year, expectations were high for her entry di lei Friday night. The third-year head coach met expectations, and then some.
Elzy rode into Rupp Arena on the back of a motorcycle as if she was Evel Knievel. When she finally reached the stage, she wasn’t alone. A choir served as her personal jukebox di lei as she skipped into the spotlight.
The ‘Cats had a blast on the court too, competing in a 3-Point Contest and a scrimmage. The promising crew concluded the night with waves and smiles to the crowd. BBN can only hope they’ll have as much fun this season, as Kentucky WBB did at Big Blue Madness.
Welcome back, Kentucky Basketball alums
DREW: One of the highlights of the night was the recognition of all of the former Kentucky Basketball stars in attendance, including several of John Calipari’s current NBA players. UK’s NBA alums received their own grand introductions on the main stage in front of their old Madness entrance videos, beginning with Brandon Knight as the first to pop out from behind the curtain, followed by Tyler Ulis, Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo, Nick Richards, Bam Adebayo, and, finally, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist carrying his old Kentucky jersey.
Several other former players were also scattered throughout the building and we heard from many of the NBA players who couldn’t make it via video messages played on the big screen. Guys like Immanuel Quickley, Tyrese Maxey, Malik Monk, and Anthony Davis showed their support from afar and told Big Blue Nation they will be back to visit soon.
Did we see a new alternate jersey?
JACK: We have our home white and road blue jerseys, but did we get our first sneak peek of new alternates? Michael Kidd-Gilchrist showed off a uniform top we have not yet seen at Kentucky – a white jersey with blue trim and a new stripe look going down the sides.
All dressed up with a slightly curved school name and MKG’s No. 14.
Something new to show off at BBM 2022 or an old unused rendition dusted off for Kidd-Gilchrist’s return?
Where was the dancing?
JACK: Big Blue Madness player intros were back, but the dancing was not. The women’s team showed off some creative moves, but the men were a giant bowl of plain oatmeal. Kareem Watkins was the only player to actually dance while Grant Darbyshire busted out a quick couple moves – shoutout to the walk-ons. Jacob Toppin brought out a selfie stick and did a quick twirl, but that doesn’t really count.
Everyone else came out with a simple wave and walk down the handshake line. Polite and happy, sure, but no dancing.
Kids these days.
John Calipari drops the mic
ZACK: In lieu of his State of the Program speech that the Big Blue Nation has become reluctantly accustomed to over the years, Calipari decided to keep things short and sweet this time around. The Kentucky head coach was introduced by the reigning national player of the year, Oscar Tshiebwe (who was notably limping around on crutches), before addressing the crowd.
Calipari spoke of the many alums that came back to Lexington for Big Blue Madness, pointing to how Brandon Knight helped him reach his first Final Four at UK and how Michael Kidd-Gilchrist helped him win his first NCAA title. But before he could even dive into a lengthy speech, Calipari finished his brief appearance di lui by saying he REALLY likes this team and literally dropped the mic.
“I’m really liking this team, ”Calipari said. “So why don’t we stop talking and let’s go have some fun.”
Antonio Reeves continues to be a “maker”
DREW: You know the old saying: John Calipari doesn’t want shooters; he wants makers. Well, he found one in Antonio Reeves. Reeves’ exciting debut as a Wildcat began in the Bahamas where he hit 14 of 27 threes in four games for a 51.9 percent clip from outside, and whispers around early preseason practices say he has kept up his lights-out shooting since returning to Lexington.
On Friday night, the Illinois State transfer again showed off his outside shot by winning the Big Blue Madness 3-Point Contest over last year’s champion, CJ Fredrick, with 19 points in the single-round shootout. Fredrick and Jacob Toppin tied for second with 15 each.
The Reeves-Fredrick friendly battle for playing time will be a fun one to follow.
The place needed some energy
DREW: Billed as a sellout crowd, attendance was good but not completely full; and if I may speak freely, the energy was lacking around the building.
It’s hard to call out fans who actually showed up in downtown Lexington on a Friday night but something was off with the enthusiasm and it was mostly quiet all night long. Obviously, Madness needs some kind of a jolt moving forward to get some electricity back. I don’t know what that jolt is and it’s no easy problem to solve, but something must be done to get the fans more into the night.
That being said, the numbers were pretty strong after the usual slow and late entrance.
“We want DJ” (and other high-profile recruits)
JACK: Speaking of Wagner, the five-star guard was the event headliner among recruits, joining Kentucky’s other commitments in Bradshaw, Edwards and Sheppard, along with five-star junior Ian Jackson and in-state standout Travis Perry.
The other guys were important, sure, but there wasn’t a more important person in the building than DJ Wagner. The entire event was catered to the prized target, ranging from Camden’s entire team sitting front row – with DJ’s dad, Dajuan Wagner Sr. – to non-stop NBA talk and bringing back former Kentucky stars to make it clear Lexington is the place to be . Hell, even the money balls in the 3-point contest were NOCTA brand, Drake’s sub-label with Nike and a recent NIL partner with, you guessed it, DJ Wagner. We even got a “We want DJ!” chant from the student section upon his arrival of him.
John Calipari is looking for one final piece to close out his superclass in 2023, and tonight was a clear step in the right direction. It doesn’t hurt having his best friend and high school / grassroots teammate now on board.
DJ Wagner, come on down.