"This is family," said Calipari, flanked by NBA stars John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein among approximately 70 former Wildcats at a sold-out Rupp Arena. "Not just words. Our former stars and our current players, the Big Blue Nation, make up one big family that will continue to be the gold standard of our sport.
"They understand this is the biggest stage in the game... This is where you make the impossible possible. We learn to chase our dreams together until they're all achieved. Our latest journey together begins tonight. This season, our 114th season, marks the next step for these players, all striving for team greatness as they chase their lifelong dreams. This, my friends, is what family is all about."
With an impressive group of five-star prospects seated only feet from Calipari off the stage, the message was loud and clear. If it wasn't, a "Welcome To The Family" video montage with advice from the UK alumni and highlights of recent Cats in the NBA helped drive home the point.
Among the expected Class of 2017 visitors were elite point guards Trae Young (No. 22) and Quade Green (No. 25), forwards Kevin Knox (No. 7) and P.J. Washington (No. 14) and center Nick Richards (No. 17). The guest list also included a big surprise in the form of No. 2 overall prospect Mohamed Bamba, a 6-foot-11 center, as well as a host of underclassmen.
Aside from that, it was your run-of-the-mill Madness. Huge crowd. Booming pyrotechnics. Hip-hop DJs. Endless smiles.
College basketball season is back.
The 2016-17 edition of the Cats went through a short session of drills, followed by a 10-minute scrimmage that pitted the UK veterans against their highly-touted freshman class. Buffer tipped off the action with a "Let's get ready for roundball!" bellow over the PA system.
The newcomers won the short scrimmage 25-21, highlighted by a series of monster dunks by big man Edrice "Bam" Adebayo. Sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe displayed much better perimeter shooting touch for the veterans, much to the delight of the crowd of 20,000-plus at Rupp.
Adebayo had 14 points for the blue squad, while Briscoe tossed in nine for the gray.