For about 10 minutes Friday night, some of the best high school basketball talent in the country was gathered in a tunnel leading to the Rupp Arena floor.
While the Kentucky women’s team finished up its scrimmage, Stanley Johnson chatted with Trey Lyles, parents and coaches mingled and UK assistant coach Orlando Antigua kept a close watch on the court.
After Coach Matthew Mitchell and the women’s team filed off the floor, Antigua gave the signal. With James Blackmon Jr. leading the way, John Calipari’s recruits walked out of the tunnel, onto the court and down one sideline to their seats near the Big Blue Madness stage.
The Rupp crowd went wild.
Johnson, Lyles and Blackmon sat right next to UK commitments Karl Towns Jr. and Tyler Ulis as Calipari gave his latest “state of the program” address. The UK coach name dropped such recent alumni as John Wall and Anthony Davis — both were in the building — spoke of the program’s title run in 2012 and fixated on the long reach of “Big Blue Nation.”
It was officially the tip-off to the 2013-14 season, but it was oh-so obviously a pitch aimed at the recruits sitting just a few feet to his right.
“We don’t just play college basketball,” Calipari said. “We are college basketball.”
Once Calipari left the stage, the players danced and then played while the fans cheered.
When it was over, Johnson, Blackmon, Lyles, Ulis and Towns — in that order — left their courtside seats to head back to the locker room. Antigua was waiting at the end of the row with a handshake for every one of them.