LEXINGTON -- There’s an old saying that everything is bigger in Texas.
Well, that might be true for a lot of things. But I do know one thing that is bigger than the Lone Star State. That would be Kentucky basketball and it's opening event, Big Blue Madness.
No where else in America would you have 23,000 screaming Wildcat fans packed into an arena, Rupp Arena, for a scrimmage. A scrimmage called Big Blue Madness.
As Coach John Calipari puts it so eloquently, “You guys are crazy!”
Thanks coach for the compliment. Cat fans are crazy. Crazy about the coach, the teams, and the tradition!
Every Wildcat fan of any age should attend a Big Blue Madness. Unbelievable. There’s a palatable energy in the gym when you walk in 2.5 hours before the start. Crazy.
You want stars at a practice? Drake will be here. Crazy.
Recruits? The top recruits for the next 4 classes will be here. For a scrimmage. Crazy.
Cheerleaders? We have those, too. 22-time national champ cheerleaders. Crazy.
When I was playing and coaching, we had a similar event called Midnight Madness for our opening practice. We had a good crowd. Couple hundred was a good draw.
Rupp will have capacity 23,000 packed to the rafters. For a scrimmage. Crazy.
I wish I could be all things happy and Wildcat Blue, but I have some other things stuck in my craw (old mountain term). So here are some other thoughts.
--The NCAA should absolutely be ashamed of the handling of the North Carolina academic scandal. After months of investigation, all the governing body could conclude is because fake courses were offered to both athletes and non-athletes, there is no violation. Thus no sanctions to their athletic programs. In a word, ridiculous. The bottom line is right and wrong. And the NCAA blew it. Congrats. If the school was Louisville, would they get off scot free? I hazard a guess and say no. Very disappointing to say the least.
--Now on to sunnier things. The baseball playoffs have reached the league championship stage. In the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers face the Chicago Cubs and in the American League, the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros will hook up. I’m rooting for the Astros. I know what you’re thinking, “but coach Shack, aren’t you a Reds fan?” The answer is yes, without question. But my second team, if that is possible, is Houston. I go way back with them: Nolan Ryan, JR Richard, Mike Scott, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, heck even Joe Morgan! This crop of Astros is super talented and fun to watch. I’m thinking Astros and Dodgers in the World Series. Astros win in 6.
--It's make or break time in Knoxville for embattled football coach Butch Jones and his “champions of life” Vols (sorry, Tennessee friends, I couldn’t resist.) The Vols are facing a must-win situation with South Carolina. If UT loses this game and Alabama on the horizon, Jones may not be able to weather the storm.
--Oh, and the NBA is getting ready to tip off a new season. Lots of compelling storylines abound. The question is who the next super team will be? Going out on a limb here but I say Golden State and San Antonio make it to the West finals and Cleveland and Boston play for the East. The finals will be Golden State and Cleveland with the Warriors winning the championship in five games.
--And going back to the Houston Astros. It feels so funny seeing them play in the American League. They should be, in my mind, in the National League West like olden times with LA, Atlanta, Cincinnati, San Francisco, and San Diego.
Told you I had a lot in my craw.
And finally, I have really enjoyed my fellow writer Joe Cox’s predictions on the SEC games. And since imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, I am going to try my hand at it:
Mississippi State over BYU
Auburn over LSU
South Carolina over Tennessee
Georgia over Missouri
Texas A&M over Florida
Ole Miss over Vanderbilt
Alabama over Arkansas
Shane Shackleford is a retired teacher and coach residing in Speedwell, Tenn. You can contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook at Shane Shackleford, or Twitter @shack_daddy_1.
Photos by UK Athletics