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October 14, 2011

Calipari speech steals the show at Big Blue Madness

There were dunks and dances, three-point bombs and a banner. There were fans dazzled and a new edition of the Kentucky basketball team introduced.

But John Calipari stole the show at Big Blue Madness on Friday, with a 12-minute speech that was part curtain-raising rhetoric, part recruiting pitch and all Calipari.

"We do more than move the needle," Calipari said. "We are the needle. We are UK."

That sentiment played well to a packed Rupp Arena, and Calipari's time at center stage was filled with crowd-pleasing moments, none more so then the speech's final words.

"We talk about hanging banners," Calipari said. "So let's hang this one tonight as a symbol of what we've accomplished and the standard we hold ourselves to."

And with that, the 2011 NCAA Final Four banner unfurled in the Rupp Arena rafters.

It was a moment of reflecting back on a night that mostly focused on what's happening now and what's ahead.

Women's basketball coach Matthew Mitchell followed up last season's intros - when he taught fans how to "Dougie" - with a dance routine to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." Mitchell approximated a moonwalk, hit his Dougie again, then did the "John Wall Dance," much to the crowd's delight.

Mitchell's new-look team - the Wildcats lost leading scorer Victoria Dunlap -introduced some new faces, including Samarie Walker, a 6-foot-1 transfer from Connecticut. The Cats went through a speedy but sloppy 10-minute scrimmage.

The introduction of the men's team followed - players entered the stage from behind a giant video screen that slid open - and fans were in a frenzy for the introduction of freshmen Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kyle Wiltjer, as well as veteran Cats.

The crowd reached a fever pitch by the time Darius Miller wrapped the intros.

Miller made five three-pointers in the scrimmage that followed Calipari's speech. Davis scored 21 points and Doron Lamb added 20.

But for all the highlight-reel dunks and long three-pointers, the night belonged mostly to Calipari.

He centered his speech around the season's catchphrase, "The Kentucky Effect," and at times seemed to directly target the recruits in the crowd. UK's only commitment from the 2012 class, five-star Arkansas guard Archie Goodwin was scheduled to visit, as were four of Calipari's primary remaining targets in the senior class - five-star prospects Shabazz Muhammad and Alex Poythress and four-star centers DaJuan Coleman and Willie Cauley.

"We do more than recruit talent; we recruit character," Calipari told the crowd. "We want good people. Why have we recruited the No. 1 class in the country for three straight years? Because of results."

Calipari noted the program's NBA Draft success - several former Cats in the NBA, including DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo and John Wall - attended Madness and were introduced - and its academic achievements.

"Two years ago, our players broke a barrier when five were drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft," Calipari said. "It's never been done before, and it may never be done again - unless we do it here, of course."

In touting UK as a "players-first program," Calipari said the players drawn to it will provide the moments fans most want to see.

"(Recruits) love our facilities," Calipari said. "They love the SEC, the best league in college athletics. They love the aura of Kentucky. They love Rupp Arena. And they love you, the greatest fans in the world. But they are seeing that it's more than that.
They are seeing these young men in our program developing both on and off the court to go on to lead better lives.

"We talk about the Kentucky Effect. That is the Kentucky Effect - having high aspirations and standards in everything you do. The Kentucky Effect is about being the best in all areas. It's about pushing and promoting our players and putting them in the best position to reach their dreams. They will in turn help us create lifelong memories and help us lift banners that we all yearn for."

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