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Kentucky's Madness event draws 23,000

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - More than 23,000 fans filled Rupp Arena on Friday night for Kentucky's Big Blue Madness, the party that signals the start of college basketball practice.

The turnout by Kentucky fans meant the university set an attendance record for one these events. The previous record was held by North Carolina, which drew more than 21,700 fans to the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., in October 2003 for the Tar Heels' first practice under coach Roy Williams.

``If we would build a bigger building, we would get more people, and I think we would sell it out, even if it was 50,000,'' Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. ``We have a great audience, we have a great product and we have a great tradition here at Kentucky.''

That opinion was seconded by one of Smith's predecessors, Joe B. Hall, who proposed using an even larger venue - the Wildcats' football field.

``This is fantastic,'' Hall told the crowd. ``Next year, I suggest we go to Commonwealth Stadium.''

Since the inception of Big Blue Madness in 1982, it had been held in on-campus Memorial Coliseum, where the Wildcats played their home games during the tenure of legendary coach Adolph Rupp. That facility has about 8,700 seats, but its capacity now is limited to 5,600 because of ongoing construction of an adjacent practice facility.

The move to Rupp Arena - where Kentucky plays its home games - coincides with the 30th anniversary of the downtown facility.

Kentucky began distributing the free tickets for Big Blue Madness on Oct. 1, and about 20,000 tickets were claimed during the first 35 minutes of availability. It took a little more than 48 hours to distribute the rest of the tickets, athletic department spokesman Scott Stricklin said.

Kentucky has drawn as many as 24,459 fans to Rupp Arena for a game, but Stricklin said the university wanted to limit the number of tickets distributed to the arena's official capacity, which is 23,000.

``It really is madness,'' Kentucky women's coach Mickie DeMoss said. ``This is the standard everyone measures their opening practice by.''

A number of Division I programs held similar events, although they all had a head start. The NCAA passed a rule this year that allowed the festivities to get under way a few hours earlier than the traditional midnight start for the sake of fans.

Kentucky, which spends the vast majority of its men's basketball marketing budget on the event, included touches like a propane torch that shot fireballs 30 feet into the air during player introductions. The school also brought in Jon Mason, the public address announcer for the NBA's Detroit Pistons, to handle the introductions. (Former Kentucky standout Tayshaun Prince plays for the Pistons.)

Smith called it more of an ``opening ceremony'' than a practice but acknowledged a little bit of anxiousness. Asked if his new players were ready for the event, Smith quipped, ``I don't know if I'm ready.''

Stricklin said it hasn't been decided whether to keep the event at Rupp Arena, but ``it's being talked about. We'll probably do whatever the fans want. It's the ultimate fan event. You don't charge for tickets and there's not a whole lot accomplished other than showing the fans a good time.''

- Louisville, which reached the Final Four last season didn't have lights or pyrotechnics, for its first practice. The Cardinals held their first workout in Cardinal Arena, the team's 850-seat practice facility.

Coach Rick Pitino warned those in attendance that the event was a practice, not a show, and that he might use some words that might not be suitable for young children.

Tickets to the practice were $50 and proceeds went to the Derek Smith Fund. Smith, a member of Louisville's 1980 NCAA championship team, died in 1996.

- Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun was working right away as well since he'll be without a veteran backcourt because of off-court troubles.

``We've got an awful lot of stuff to cram in,'' Calhoun said although the 7,000 fans at Gampel Pavilion were still treated to a dunking contest and 3-point shootout.

- There were 10,000 people in Assembly Hall for Indiana's opening practice and Marco Killingsworth, now eligible after sitting a season after transferring from Auburn, got them going with a one-handed dunk during a scrimmage.

``I was saying to myself 'Was this the right decision I made?''' Killingsworth said of transferring. ``Now that I'm playing, I feel like this was the best thing I've done in my life.''

- Kansas fans came to see their Jayhawks and renovated Allen Fieldhouse in the 21st annual `'Late Night at the Phog.'' The players drew a standing ovation when they entered the court dressed in tuxedos and tennis shoes. They treated the fans to a step routine in which seniors Christian Moody and Jeff Hawkins took the microphones and led the team.

- Maryland had its usual alumni game, spotlights, laser beams, over-the-top introductions and scrimmage as part of a 2 1/2-hour program that delighted a packed house at the Comcast Center.

Terrapins coach Gary Williams sounded like his usual self, too.

``It's kind of a thank-you type of thing for our fans,'' he said. ``It's all about practice tomorrow. Tonight, it's just a good time for everybody.''

- Michigan State held ``A Spartan Salute,'' honoring who coach Tom Izzo called ``the nation's true heroes.''

``We wanted to honor all the people who keep us out of harm's way every day,'' Izzo said. ``That's why we recognized our military, the Army and Navy, the Red Cross and emergency medical technicians. They're the ones who deserve the applause.''

A near-capacity crowd of about 12,000 saw a remote feed from soldiers in Kuwait who returned the Spartans' thanks.

- Illinois unfurled a 2005 Final Four banner during its madness. More than 13,000 people filled Assembly Hall and saw highlights of last season when the Illini reached No. 1 and finished 37-2.Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

October 15, 2005 at 01:41 AM ET
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