Kentucky, Calipari Raise Stakes With Over-the-Top Midnight Madness

On Friday, Chris Littmann told you about Midnight Madness events across America, noting first and foremost that Kentucky would introduce mega-recruit John Wall and show off new coach John Calipari. The Wildcats did that, and then some: Big Blue Madness brought cheers and dunks to Rupp Arena, but also featured a popular rapper, a promise of a return to a "rightful place," and the ballyhooed debut from Wall.

Both ESPN and the AP made Calipari-is-not-just-a-coach comparisons, but Dana O'Neil's conceit of Cal as president works because, as she writes, "Calipari laid out his vision -- it did not include a health care reform package -- for his Wildcats, a plan for the program to become 'the gold standard not just in basketball but in all of college athletics,' to fevered applause." The talk of "vision" and "gold standards" is heady stuff, even for a program that considers an annual Final Four slot a birthright, because that same program hasn't won 20 regular season games or gotten to the Sweet Sixteen since the 2004-05 season, but this coach has the sort of charisma and message of change for Kentucky that helped that weird-eared guy from Chicago get elected.

Calipari must have a lot of faith in John Wall to be even dangling that sort of rhetoric in front of UK's rabid fans. These folks are, uh, passionate, to the point where I have no doubts they will tear him apart in an instant if this team looks more like the bumbling Billy Gillespie 'Cats than the overnight behemoth that was the logical product of a marriage of Calipari's coaching and the Big Blue brand.

If Cal's faith in Wall is well-founded, though, it's certainly not a lone vote of support.

One scribe tweeted that Wall "looks like nothing you've ever seen in blue and white." That's lofty praise for a guy who still has yet to live up to his own hype, much less the legacies of Jamal Mashburn and Antoine Walker. But Wall is being talked about as UK's answer to Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose, garnering Player of the Year talk before ever playing a game. Watch any of his YouTube highlight reels and it's hard not to assume Wall will dominate a down SEC.

This is the sort of talent that creates the sort of buzz that gets one of the hottest rappers in the nation, Drake, to descend for a glorified scrimmage. But if UK can haul in Wall, make Drake a fan, and make Kentucky the cool choice for recruits, the on-court stuff should be a breeze, right? Calipari's won everywhere he's gone in college, at least for a while, and these 'Cats honestly are too talented to not be putting Final Four banners up in Rupp in short order.

It's those other off-court problems that might derail this renaissance. The Big Blue faithful should only hope that Coach Cal makes good on his promises before everything comes crashing down. Again.

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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