I’m in love again. Like a perfectly restored finish on a classic car, Rupp Arena’s latest makeover has my heart a fluttering. The new overhead scoreboard, ribbon boards and freshly blue painted air ducts have put the much-needed Big Blue shine back into the home of our glorious and proud program. There’s an immediate “wow factor” now when you walk through the doors. It’s brighter, classier and definitely more inviting than before. It’s not quite the YUM Center yet, but our beloved venue should never be compared to its haughty little brother down the road anyway. Rupp Arena remains the elegant grande dame of basketball palaces—the upper deck bleachers and championship banners still oozing tradition while finally being escorted into this new millennium.
Like many others, rather than focusing on the on-court action, I found myself staring up at the new jumbotron for much of the evening as UK overwhelmed Asbury 156-63 in the final exhibition game of the season. The high definition screens and state-of-the-art speakers perfectly magnified the movements of players and fans alike. Oversized replays of De’Aaron Fox streaking down the lane for 2 of his game high 25 points or of a Malik Monk monster jam were interspersed with close-up camera shots of unsuspecting fans, fawning babies and a fabulous rendition of the national anthem by Jill Campbell. Who misses Big Bertha anymore when everyone’s watching for the Kiss Cam?
Just like a remodeled Rupp Arena, this Kentucky basketball team is generating much excitement and anticipation with its abundance of youth and glamour. It’s a bit sleeker and sexier than the model that flamed out to the dreaded Hoosiers in the cornfields of Iowa last year. The 156 points scored by the Wildcats was easily an arena record eclipsing the old mark by a mere 29 points. For the second straight game, UK forged out a balanced scoring attack with multiple players in double figures and a boatload of assists. During the post-game interview session, I asked Coach John Calipari whether this balance was more a function of game flow or was it more a reflection of the unselfish attitude of his players. As expected, he didn’t really answer the question and used the opportunity to expound on how his team needs to post the ball more.
Nevertheless, a focus on teamwork bodes well for Kentucky’s championship hopes this season. When players are this talented, it’s often the intangible factors that will determine whether we’re hoisting another banner or crying in our beers in March. A rising tide floats all boats and I’m hoping team chemistry and unselfish play will propel this year’s version of the Cats to their 9th national title.
The road to The Final Four officially begins Friday as an up-and-coming Stephen F. Austin team comes rolling into Rupp. The second ranked Wildcats should have no problem dispatching the Lumberjacks from Nacogdoches. However, it’s vitally important for UK to get off to a good start because a solid performance out of the gate should instill some much-needed confidence for a young team facing a challenging pre-conference schedule. Cal’s teams take time to gel, so I’m warning everybody beforehand to be patient. Regardless of what happens on opening night, I’ll let you know how it all unfolds.
This blog posting was originally submitted as a UK Basketball Column for Nolan Group Media publications.