By Annie Dunbar
The ladies of the Big Blue Nation were out in full force Sunday night for John Calipari’s annual Women’s Clinic.
A record-breaking 651 women packed Memorial Coliseum and the Joe Craft Center for the clinic, which sold out in just two days and featured a line full of ladies lined up as early as noon, four hours before doors opened. The women were treated to an evening packed full of events hosted by UK coaches and players, including the first official public viewing of basketball practice.
Based on the applause from the crowd of women, they appeared to enjoy the lob dunks, James Young’s play and Marcus Lee’s athleticism the most during the two-hour workout. The most popular statement that buzzed around Memorial was: “I can’t wait for the season to start.”
Following practice, the women were divided into groups to attend three 15-minute presentations hosted by the coaching staff and players. One of the presentations was a Dribble Drive shooting drill that was led by assistant John Robic and Rod Strickland. For this drill, Robic and Strickland had ladies from the crowd participate.
One of those women who excitedly volunteered to help demonstrate the Dribble Drive was Rene Cornette, who was attending her first Women’s Clinic.
“It was just so overwhelming,” Cornette said. “I just kept standing there thinking this must be what it’s like when you actually get to play. It just meant a lot and I really, really enjoyed that.”
Jen Sigler was another Dribbe Drive participant who was repeatedly called out by Robic for messing up the drill. All in good fun, Robic took her phone and even sported her UK blue scarf for the drill.
“It was really fun (participating in the drills),” Sigler said. “I don’t know if any other teams give their players an opportunity to interact with them like that. I did it last year too, and it was a lot of fun.”
The second presentation was a layup drill conducted by assistant coaches Orlando Antigua and Kenny Payne. During this drill, the ladies had an opportunity to participate, but the most popular part of the session was the chance to ask Julius Randle, Jon Hood, Lee and Alex Poythress questions.
One attendee wanted Lee and Randle to talk about why they chose Kentucky. Their answers definitely got the women excited.
Lee’s response had everyone chatting about his personality. He said he decided to come to Kentucky because it’s a place where he can be challenged, but he ended his comments by teasing Payne.
“I got this dude yelling at me every two seconds,” Lee said while pointing to Payne. He said Payne even criticizes how he sleeps: “You’re sleeping wrong!”
Randle took a much more serious, straight-to-the-point approach in his answer.
“I chose Kentucky because I want to win a national championship,” Randle said.
Of course, that prompted a roar of cheers around Memorial Coliseum.
The final drill was a strength and conditioning presentation from Ray “Rock” Oliver, the coordinator of men’s basketball performance. One of the attendees, Carol Johnson, was chosen by Oliver to come down to the court for the exercise.
“I just stretched the rubber bands,” Johnson said laughing. “I just did what he told me to do.”
Following the presentations, the women finally had the opportunity to hear from Coach Cal himself. He discussed the ideas behind a players-first program and, of course, talked about the passion of Big Blue Nation.
“Here’s a group of kids who have talent and do share the ball and want to be coached, so I’m really looking forward to it,” Calipari said. “I’m looking forward to what we’re up against because it is us against the world. Everybody either wants to beat us or hope the other guy beats us. And that’s what we do. Every building is sold out. Not just our building but every building that we go into.”
He went on to ask the crowd if they had tickets for Big Blue Madness.
“They’re being scalped for $200,” Calipari said. “They’re free! They’re free tickets. That’s how crazy our people are. They were in tents and it rained. But that’s what it’s about here. Everybody knows that it isn’t for funsies, but at the end of the day we’re all about players first.”
Afterwards, Robic handed out awards for things like the most fashionable, the true blue award and longest distance award. The attendees heard stories ranging from women making sure their child had the initials “MKG” — paying homage, of course, to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — to a lady having her son’s birth induced early so he would be born before the 2012 national championship started.
The longest distance award went to a woman who came all the way from the United Kingdom, 3,900 miles from Lexington. Another participant won an award for registering within the first 10 seconds of the registration window opening.
Clearly, the ladies of the Big Blue Nation do not mess around when it comes to Kentucky basketball.
One hundred of the 651 women have attended the Women’s Clinic every year since Calipari took the Kentucky head basketball coaching job in 2009. Jennifer Thacker, who was one of those women, said Kentucky basketball means everything to her.
“We (my siblings) all three call each other on every commercial during the game,” Thacker said. “It’s a family thing.”
Towards the end of the clinic, Coach Cal announced that each participant would receive a piece of the 2012 national championship floor. All of the attendees were thrilled, but there was one more thing they were waiting on: an opportunity for a couple autographs.
“For us, making this an enjoyable day for you (is important) because at the end of the day this is about getting autographs, isn’t it?” Coach Cal joked.
It’s just part of the fun of the John Calipari Women’s Clinic.
Another John Calipari Women’s Clinic, another record.
A total of 612 women showed up at this year’s women’s clinic, which was held Wednesday at the Joe Craft Center. Women of all ages packed UK’s practice facility Wednesday evening for a chance to get autographs, mingle with the players and staff, and go through drills.
Some ladies lined up more than an hour before registration started at 4 p.m. The event didn’t even start until 6 p.m.
With Basketball Hall of Fame member Nancy Lieberman serving as the special guest, Coach Cal talked to the crowd about this year’s team, how he runs his program and even his philosophy on recruiting. After the women had a chance to take pictures with the players and staff and go through a number of on-court drills, they got a sneak peek at the recruiting video Calipari and his staff show prospects during in-home visits.
There was one catch to watch the video: They weren’t allowed to tell their husbands.
After the video, the women were treated with the annual fashion show, which was highlighted by some dancing from freshmen Nerlens Noel and Archie Goodwin. To cap the night, the staff handed out awards to lucky participants.
By Eric Lindsey
Approximately 550 mothers, daughters, grandmothers and sisters got the first official introduction to the 2011-12 Kentucky basketball team at the 2011 Coach Calipari Women’s Clinic on Sunday at the Memorial Coliseum/Joe Craft Center complex.
Hosting a record turnout, Calipari and his staff treated the women with an introduction to the team, guided them through drills with hands-on instruction, gave out prizes and let them watch an hour of practice.
“As usual, only at Kentucky,” Calipari said. “Only at Kentucky would 550 or more women show up for a clinic and want to be put through drills and want to see us practice and want to learn about the Dribble Drive so they can critique me throughout the year. This is the largest women’s clinic in the world. It will be in the Guinness Book of World Records next year.”
The Kentucky staff interacted with women from all over the country. Coach Cal said he met ladies from Tennessee, Indiana, Iowa and North Carolina. Some women drove 12 hours just to attend the clinic.
“They’re all here,” Calipari said. “It’s what makes Kentucky so unique. There is no place else that you can do something to this level. The biggest thing is I wanted them to all have fun, to enjoy themselves.”
And enjoy themselves they did.
“I got to meet everybody,” said Mary Frolich of Crestwood, Ky. “I love it. I think (UK) should do this every year.”
Before the clinic began, during registration, players and coaches were available for autographs and pictures. There were so many autograph seekers that maneuvering through the Joe Craft Center basement was nearly impossible.
“I’m the biggest fan of Coach Cal and the players,” said Leigh Ann Williams, who made a three-plus hour drive from Flatgap, Ky., to attend the clinic. “It’s awesome to see that they’re normal people, the same as we are. They’re real down to earth.”
Coach Cal, with a line that went across the Memorial Coliseum concourse and out the door, signed hundreds upon hundreds of autographs.
“They have the mother, the grandmother, the daughter taking pictures together,” Calipari said. “They’re all here. It’s what makes Kentucky so unique. There is no place else that you can do something to this level.”
Once the clinic officially began, assistant coach John Robic, Calipari and special guest Josh Hopkins – from the hit ABC show “Cougar Town” – spoke to the crowd for about 15 minutes. Calipari thanked the fans for attending and outlined his goals and expectations for the season. He even called out a fan for pinching his behind.
When Hopkins took the microphone, he marveled at the job Calipari has done and said Coach Cal has been the perfect ambassador for the university.
“He’s such a forward thinker,” Hopkins said. “The way he blends the community and basketball, he’s inspirational to me. He should maybe run for office.”
For Hopkins, who helped push the popularity of the John Wall Dance when he did a rendition of it on his show, the experience was a dream come true. He’s a Lexington native and self-described diehard Kentucky fan.
“It’s not a bad deal for me,” Hopkins said. “I come in here and I get to see all the players and watch them practice with 550 women. That’s not a bad gig at all. It’s a blessing and it’s fun.”
Although he’s s star in the minds of the 550 women in attendance, the clinic was just as big of a thrill for him as it was for them. He said he tried to sneak away a couple of times to get his own pictures with players.
“To feel like I’m getting an inside look at the backstage at the University of Kentucky basketball team, I love it,” Hopkins said. “Any inside info I can get, just watching the players shoot, I love it.”
Hopkins helped FOX’s Jennifer Palumbo emcee the player introductions before the women split up into three groups for hands-on instruction and a Q and A sesssion with the players and staff.
“I got pulled out and made a fool of myself but I had fun,” Williams said. “I don’t remember the exact play, but I could tell you how to do it and I could demonstrate it.”
In addition to a free meal and autographs, many of the women walked away with prizes in hand, thanks to Cane’s, Pieratt’s, the Dribble Driveway Kit, H 2, Fayette Heating & Air, the K Fund, the University of Kentucky Bookstore, Kennedy Bookstore, Rafferty’s, Fan Outfitters, Tropical Smoothie and Jimmy John’s.
Coach Cal ended the clinic by running his team through a typical one-hour practice.
Asked what her favorite part of the clinic was, Frolich, a first-time Women’s Clinic attendee, had a difficult time choosing just one thing.
“My favorite part is Kentucky basketball,” Frolich said. “I live, eat and breathe Kentucky basketball.”