UK celebrates Midnight Madness a week early

September, 9, 2008
Kentucky is the most unique school in college basketball. The Wildcat athletic department and basketball staff can count on fans showing up essentially whenever they tell them for an event.

That's why Kentucky is taking advantage of the NCAA rule allowing a team to practice two hours a week from Sept. 15 to the official start of practice on Oct. 17.

The move to shift the traditional "Midnight Madness" event from Oct. 17 to Oct. 10 is yet another example of using its unique ability to draw fans for Kentucky's advantage. The weekend of the 10th is a better recruiting weekend for the Wildcats. So expect Kentucky to bring in players for official and unofficial visits. Having the event on the 10th also allows second-year coach Billy Gillispie to focus on practice, and solely practice, when it officially begins the following weekend.

"It really is a better recruiting weekend for us," Gillispie said. "It has helped us in many ways. It's a home football weekend [vs. South Carolina on Oct. 11]. We may have recruits in on the 17th, too, but once practice starts you can best utilize as many practices as you need."

(Hint: that might mean more double-sessions that weekend as Gillispie is one of the harder working practice coaches.)

Gillispie said the Wildcats can use the time for a scrimmage since it's two hours to do whatever they want on the 10th. Kentucky officials expect the "Big Blue Madness," to be a seat-stuffer at Rupp Arena regardless of the date. Midnight Madness has become passé of late anyway with a number of schools dropping the traditional setup. North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky are three schools that tend to utilize the event every year. The NCAA does allow practice to start after 5 p.m. because it didn't want students to be out as late on a Friday night. Illinois is also doing a similar event, after a football game on Oct. 11 on the football field. The Illini originally tried to get this event to occur this weekend after the Louisiana-Lafayette football game on Sept. 13 in Champaign because of fear that the weather wouldn't be as warm on the Oct. 11th home game against Minnesota (it won't be as warm, you can book that). But the NCAA rejected Illinois holding the two-hour a week practice prior to Sept. 15, when everyone else can conduct the instruction.

National Association of Basketball Coaches' board member Phil Martelli of Saint Joseph's said that the NABC was going to look into the use of these practices earlier than the first official day on Oct. 17th. But that might be a tough sell as more and more high-majors attempt to take advantage of holding the events prior to the start of practice so they can maximize recruiting weekends and then utilize the first practice weekend to their advantage.

"Because of our fan support, we can do it at a time that is most beneficial for our program," Gillispie. "The fans will fill up Rupp Arena. It's a testament to the great fans we have here."

Final Nuggets

• Kentucky sophomore forward Patrick Patterson was cleared to play pickup basketball this week after offseason left ankle surgery. Patterson was a stud last season for the Wildcats averaging 16.4 points and 7.7 rebounds before his season ended early on Feb. 27. Patterson wasn't able to play in Kentucky's NCAA tournament lost to Marquette.

"The way Patrick is working right now I don't see why he can't [do what he did last season]," Gillispie said. "We've got more guys to lighten his minute load but his production will be extremely heavy. His minute load [35.7 minutes a game last season] won't be as demanding as it once was."

Gillispie said he really likes the effort put forth by the players this summer, especially in conditioning. He said they are ahead of last season at this point and are a closer team that "really cares about each other. I'm really excited about them."

• Shhh ... but Kentucky is privately really pleased with the potential of 6-foot-7 Darius Miller out of Mason County High in Kentucky and 6-6 Chicago native DeAndre Liggins out of Findlay College Prep in Nevada. Both are penciled in to be impact players this season but the Wildcats don't want too much hype on the pair.

• I would urge the NCAA and the NABC to do something to honor Don Haskins. The organizations should get together and at the very least make it mandatory that prior to tip-off of each team's opening game this season there should be some sort of moment of silence. Haskins was that important to the game, challenging the system by doing what was right and putting the best players on the floor regardless of skin color. Even though UTEP is now in Conference USA it would be a nice gesture if the WAC, a conference that the Miners helped build, honored him as well. They continue to do so with the Don Haskins Coach of the Year Award, but a patch on the uniforms would be a nice move this season as well.

• Richmond was aggressive in going after a men's and women's assistant coach for blatantly disregarding a text messaging ban in recruiting last year. According to the Richmond Times Dispatch, both coaches, assistant men's coach Carlin Hartman and women's assistant coach Chris Carroll have since resigned and as a result the Spiders probably won't get dinged too harshly by the NCAA.

Text messaging probably does go on -- but not with a school phone. While the rule is ludicrous it is still a rule and those that break it must pay the consequence. The NCAA is trying to be more aggressive in attacking any hint of impropriety in college basketball. But schools are the first line of defense and it was the Richmond compliance officer who found the indiscretion and reported it to the athletic director.


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