Welcome to Kentucky: Freshmen soak up Madness experience

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Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kyle Wiltjer watched from the stands a year ago as the 2010 freshman class soaked up its first Big Blue Madness experience as freshmen.

On Friday, it was their turn in the spotlight.

Tipping off the season under national championship expectations, Kentucky took the floor for the first time at Rupp Arena for Big Blue Madness. As a sold-out crowd watched their every move, the Kentucky players – and their coach – didn’t disappoint.

“That was crazy,” Teague said. “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”

Teague and the rest of the freshman class quickly learned Friday that it’s one thing experiencing Big Blue Madness as a fan; it’s another when you’re the life of the party. Even for the nation’s most heralded talent, there were some butterflies as they took the court.

“I was nervous at first, seeing 24,000 people out there,” said Anthony Davis, who is widely regarded as the top freshman in the nation. “I didn’t know what to do. My first shot, I missed an easy layup.”

He’d bounce back just fine.

Showcasing his freakishly long and athletic game, Davis wowed the crowd with towering, one-hand windmill dunks. Kidd-Gilchrist displayed his toughness and ability to finish, Teague demonstrated the “pit bull” mentality John Calipari has talked so much about, and Wiltjer showed his old-school game (not to mention some old-school dance moves).

And that was just the freshmen.

In an offensively charged – and defensively limited – 20-minute scrimmage, Terrence Jones and Darius Miller dominated, showing just why this year’s blend of returners and freshmen might be special.

“We’ve all been playing together for a while now, so I’m not really surprised by what we can do,” Wiltjer said. “We all work hard, so that’s why we’re making shots.”

Before the scrimmage, Calipari delivered a 12-minute State of the Union-like address. He outlined his goals for the program – it’s still players first – reflected on their achievements and detailed “The Kentucky Effect.”

“Tonight we feel the Kentucky Effect in full force as we once again redefine college basketball,” Calipari said to a thunderous applause. “Our potential is limitless. We do more than move the needle. We are the needle.”

(Read Calipari’s speech here)

Kentucky honored past players during its annual, season-opening spectacle. John Wall, Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins, Jodie Meeks, DeAndre Liggins, Josh Harrellson, Brandon Knight, Tayshaun Prince, Nazr Mohammed, Walter McCarty and Wayne Turner were all in attendance.

UK also unfurled its 14th Final Four banner following Calipari’s speech.

But fitting in with Calipari’s players-first theme, Big Blue Madness was about the players – particularly the freshmen – having fun.

“Seeing all the fans on the court coming out really gets you excited for the season,” Wiltjer said.

After Friday night and beginning with two full-length practices Saturday, it’s business from this point forward.

“I expect it to be a grind,” Wiltjer said. “We’re looking forward to it because we have high expectations this season and you can’t get somewhere unless you work hard.”