|Gillispie era begins at Kentucky with Big Blue Madness|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 12 October 2007 17:20|
``I'm not going to propose to anybody or anything,'' said Gillispie, a bachelor.
There was plenty of pomp and circumstance - and a vocal near-capacity crowd of 23,313 - to herald the arrival of a new coach in the home of college basketball's all-time winningest program.
The team bus pulled into Rupp Arena shortly after 10 p.m., and each player circled the court waving to the fans, as pyrotechnics behind both baskets illuminated their path.
Gillispie's entrance was even flashier. He stood at center court behind four white banners that extended to the rafters. Then came loud bursts of fireworks, and the banners dropped, revealing the new coach, waving and sporting a wide grin.
``I have such a sense of the tradition of basketball,'' Gillispie said. ``It's my life. I love it. I've heard about Rupp Arena and being Kentucky's basketball coach, but it can't feel any better than it feels right now.''
Gillispie replaced Tubby Smith as coach, and from his folksy news conferences to his recruiting coups, excitement is high in what could be the nation's most demanding fan base.
It was quite different for Smith at his new job at Minnesota on Friday night. A crowd of just a few thousand turned out to cheer on a Gophers team that is coming off a 9-22 season.
Still, when Smith was introduced, he was welcomed to thunderous applause and chants of ``Tubby! Tubby!''
Gillispie is already well known in Lexington, where the basketball coach is always the biggest celebrity. But this was the first time fans saw their new coach in a real basketball setting.
No newcomer truly becomes a Wildcat until he goes through Madness, center Jared Carter says.
``Whenever he's in Rupp Arena and it's packed, he hears the fireworks go off and all the fans cheer, he'll know he's officially Kentucky,'' Carter said.
Fans may know Gillispie, just not how to spell his name.
One entertaining Madness video featured guard Ramel Bradley quizzing people about the spelling. One student answered: ``G-y-l-l-s-p-y.''
M, a school better known for its football program.
Under Gillispie, the Aggies celebrated their ``Maroon Madness'' on the sidelines of Kyle Field in conjunction with Midnight Yell Practice - a pregame custom for home football games.
Gillispie inherits a young team loaded with guards, including lone seniors Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford.
``I've been used to doing things one way for three years, but it's a change for the better,'' Crawford said. ``He's definitely brought new ideas to the table, brought new life.''
The frontcourt could be more of an issue. The Wildcats will rely heavily on top freshman recruit Patrick Patterson and sophomore Perry Stevenson, a shot-blocking specialist last year who is trying to become a scoring presence.
Gillispie says he isn't worried about the height of his players- just their quickness and athletic ability. These Wildcats are in shape - an eight-day conditioning program assured that - but Gillispie says they're not nearly ready for prime time.
While Madness is always a great tool for recruiting - and Kentucky has invited several prospects to attend - Gillispie cringes about anyone drawing conclusions from Friday night's scrimmage.
``Hopefully it'll be the last time you see bad basketball,'' Gillispie said.
The players see a more serious side of Gillispie during practice. He jokes that he last cracked a smile in a practice four years ago.
Still, the returning players insist Big Blue Madness is contagious, and predicted even the business-minded coach wouldn't be able to resist enjoying it.
``After tonight he's going to be like, 'Oh wow, 24,000 people. This is crazy,''' sophomore guard Jodie Meeks said. ``I don't think he'll shy away from it. I think he'll experience it and love it.''
The tradition of starting practice with midnight festivities continued around the country Friday night.
At North Carolina, ``Late Night with Roy'' included players and coach Roy Williams dancing at midcourt. There was a taped presentation on the arena's video boards featuring junior guard Bobby Frasor spoofing Williams - complete with a gray wig and glasses while sitting at the coach's desk in his office - during a problem-riddled taping of Williams' recent Coca-Cola commercial. In it, Frasor's Williams struggles to stop spinning around his chair while stumbling over his lines.
At Indiana, an estimated 13,000 fans were in Assembly Hall to see Eric Gordon, the state's reigning Mr. Basketball, finally dressed in cream and crimson. There was music, videos and a rap performance from former Indiana football player Lance Bennett.
``This night is one of the grandest places to be at the start of the season,'' coach Kelvin Sampson told the crowd after his players were introduced. ``I can't tell you how excited we are to get started.''
At Maryland, the players were wearing rented cream-colored suits, red bow ties and top hats and were ushered onto the basketball court aboard a black 1960 Cadillac convertible. They did a choreographed dance routine, complete with walking canes, and not one was called for traveling.
Not to be outdone, coach Gary Williams emerged from the tunnel behind the wheel of a yellow Lamborghini. He literally drove the lane, stopping right under the basket.
``That's my ride. Well, I wish it was,'' he told the crowd estimated at 15,000.