Calipari urges Kentucky fans to “turn the page”

Kentucky coach John Calipari raised his hand, calling for

silence from the 22,000 who packed Rupp Arena on Friday night for

Big Blue Madness.

He gave a brief rundown of his dizzying first season with the

Wildcats, when Kentucky won 35 games, the Southeastern Conference

championship and produced five first-round NBA draft picks.

Then, pausing as if to stress the point, Calipari delivered a

message.

”It’s time to turn the page,” he said. ”We must focus on this

team.”

Even if most of the focus during the team’s first practice of

the season – which was equal parts pep rally and sloppy scrimmage –

centered on who wasn’t on the court.

While fellow freshmen Brandon Knight, Stacey Poole, Terrence

Jones, Doron Lamb and Jarrod Polson ran up and down the court,

center Enes Kanter could only stand on the sideline.

The 6-foot-11 Kanter must sit out team activities while the NCAA

determines whether he lost his amateur status while playing for a

Turkish club team in 2008-09.

Kanter walked through pillars of smoke clad in a black hat

similar to the one sported by professional wrestler ”The

Undertaker,” one of Kanter’s role models.

He held his hands above his head as the crowd – some of whom

wore ”Free Enes” T-shirts – roared. Then, he walked to the

sidelines and watched as the newest batch of Wildcats went to

work.

Calipari has stressed it’s not fair to compare this year’s

recruiting class to the one he landed a year ago after leaving

Memphis for Kentucky.

That class featured John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe

and Daniel Orton, all of whom are now playing in the NBA.

Calipari said comparing any other class to last year’s isn’t

fair because ”you’ll come out on the short end.”

Maybe, but the departed stars paid homage via video message to

the campus. Wall even busted out his signature dance move, the one

that became a local YouTube sensation after he debuted it during

last year’s event.

Several Wildcats tried to follow in his footsteps, with mixed

results. Jones, Poole, Darius Miller and Josh Harrellson all busted

a move during their introduction.

All lacked the showmanship of Wall, but that might not be a bad

thing.

A year ago, Calipari turned his initial Big Blue Madness into a

rock concert complete with an appearance by rising hip-hop star

Drake.

There were no celebrity guest appearances this time, maybe

because Calipari knows he’s got his work cut out. The Wildcats must

replace their top four scorers and live up to the expectations of

one of the nation’s most exacting fan bases.

Calipari knows those expectations come with the territory. But

he pleaded for patience as the Wildcats try to find themselves.

”I love this team, but we have a long way to go and I cannot

wait to get started tomorrow to help these young men realize their

dreams,” he said.

Plenty of other schools had their own version of Midnight

Madness.

At Durham, N.C.: Duke unveiled its fourth and most recent

national championship banner during a ceremony as part of the

school’s ”Countdown to Craziness.” Talented freshman Kyrie Irving

soaked it in, calling the moment ”kind of motivating.”

At Indianapolis: Butler, which lost to Duke in the title game,

went under cover for their opening practice. Players and coaches

boarded a team bus in the afternoon and drove about 25 miles south

of Indianapolis to Franklin College. They moved into their

temporary housing and prepared for their first official workout

Friday night.

At Storrs, Conn.: Fans at ”First Night” were distracted

keeping tabs on what was going on in Indianapolis where coach Jim

Calhoun and other university officials met for 12 hours behind

closed doors with NCAA investigators, hoping to convince them that

the school has done enough to punish itself for recruiting

violations in the men’s basketball program. Associate head coach

George Blaney said it was more important for Calhoun to return in

time for the first real practice on Saturday.

At Morgantown, W.Va.: The Mountaineers, minus three players from

last season’s Final Four team, showed off their recruits and a

returning group of veterans in a scrimmage for fans. The

celebration was tempered somewhat by West Virginia’s announcement

that guard Casey Mitchell was suspended indefinitely for an

undisclosed violation of team rules. The 6-foot-4 senior averaged

3.7 points per game last season.

At Chapel Hill, N.C.: North Carolina wasted little time putting

its touted freshman class front and center in its annual ”Late

Night With Roy” event filled with skits and jokes to kick off a

new season. It was clear the Tar Heels were ready to turn the page

on last year’s miserable 17-loss season. There was practically no

mention of last season and only a brief montage of highlights from

last year shortly before the team’s 20-minute intrasquad

scrimmage.

At College Park, Md.: The Terrapins informally launched a new

season at Maryland Madness, an annual extravaganza designed to

introduce the team to its fans. Six new players made their debut at

Comcast Center, but the focus was on coach Gary Williams, now in

his 22nd season at his alma mater. After the players were

introduced, Williams was depicted on the video board flying a

fighter jet. The focus then shifted to the court. Williams walked

through the tunnel of the arena amid smoke and the sound of

guitars. He was dressed as a pilot, wore sunglasses and carried a

helmet.

At Manhattan, Kan.: The Wildcats officially launched their

season with things they have never had since the formation of the

Big 12. The crowd of about 7,000 at Bramlage Coliseum for ”Madness

in Manhattan” were looking at the preseason conference favorite

and cheering senior guard Jacob Pullen, the preseason pick in the

coaches’ poll for Big 12 player of the year.

At Stanford, Calif.: The Cardinal kicked off the 2010-11

campaign with a full practice in the Arrillaga Gymnasium because

the women’s volleyball match between No. 2 Stanford and No. 7

Washington took place in Maples Pavilion.

At New York: Steve Lavin, taking over St. John’s after seven

years as an analyst for ESPN, opened practice at Carnesecca Arena

by introducing former Purdue coach Gene Keady as his special

assistant/adviser. Lavin’s first job was as a graduate assistant

with the Boilermakers in 1980.