Kentucky’s latest group of hot-shot recruits are expecting a love fest next season in Rupp Arena.
On the road? That’ll be a different story altogether.
John Calipari’s contention that the Cats are “Everybody’s Super Bowl” will probably be as true as ever in 2013-14, when he’ll once again welcome the best recruiting class to Lexington for a season he hopes ends with another national title in Cowboys Stadium, which hosted the actual Super Bowl in 2011.
UK’s next crop of McDonald’s All-Americans knows they’ll feel the love in Rupp, but they’re also more than ready to embrace the hate everywhere else.
“As long as it’s loud, I’m totally fine with it,” said UK signee Marcus Lee, a California native. “They can boo me all they want. I’m totally fine with it. In my high school, we weren’t as spirited. We had a big gym and we had a lot of people during the playoffs, but not as many during the regular season.
“I’ve never really been super hated like that. Being super hated is pretty exciting for me.”
Two Texas natives — Andrew and Aaron Harrison — are already used to the hate. Andrew, UK’s next point guard, said he and his brother are perceived as “arrogant” and “hotheads” on the court, which often stirs the crowd into a frenzy.
Like Lee, the Harrison twins don’t always play to packed gyms in a state where football is king. The UK signees faced fellow phenom Aaron Gordon in a made-for-TV game in Texas earlier this season that was played in a venue that was only half full.
But the Harrisons reputation as two of the best high school players in the country — and two of the fiercest competitors — precedes them.
And that reputation often breeds contempt.
“In Houston, they hate on us no matter who we play or where we are,” Andrew said. “We take that and we turn it around as motivation. It helps us play harder, actually.”
“We all know that there’s going to be a lot of hate, and a lot of lies told about us,” Aaron added. “It’s motivation.”
Lee says he’s already seeing the hate. The 6-foot-10 forward watched as many UK games as he could this past season, and he was active on Twitter during most of them. While he had several positive interactions with Kentucky fans, other teams’ supporters weren’t as amused.
Sometimes they’d send tweets or pictures his way, and the material usually wasn’t endearing.
Instead of engaging in a Twitter war with rival fans, Lee said he just laughed it off.
“I’ll take it and like it and retweet it, because it’ll probably be funny,” he said. “I’m able to laugh at myself.”
When it comes to dealing with the vitriol these young Cats are sure to see and hear in SEC arenas and around the country, laughter is probably the best response.
That said, soft-spoken 7-footer Dakari Johnson might look to another, more unorthodox source of inspiration when it comes to dealing with hateful fans.
“I’m looking forward to it. I want to embrace it,” he said. “I know a lot of people hate Marshall Henderson, but he just embraces it. He lives in the moment and he just does what he does. And we’re going to do what we do.”
Does that mean Johnson plans on approaching the frenzied Auburn student section, popping the front of his jersey and screaming at the Tigers fans, like Henderson did earlier this season?
Johnson leaned back and laughed heartily at the thought.
“That’s a little bit too much,” he conceded.