Sports - Kentucky

Feb 13, 2010 2:59 PM

Record Crowd At Rupp Rocks ESPN's Gameday

ESPN's "College Gameday" broadcast live from Rupp Arena Saturday in preparation for Kentucky's matchup with Tennessee later in the day.

A crowd of over 22,000 more than doubled the previous record crowd for the weekly program that travels to different college campuses around the country.

Here are quotes from members of ESPN's broadcast team and former Kentucky players.

Rece Davis

On how different ESPN Gameday was today than in the past ...
"We have never seen anything like it. We get asked all the time to rate the best crowd and who was the best crowd and all of that and every crowd is unique, but this place is so special. Their basketball tradition and history is ingrained so deeply that there is no place like it. There are other schools and wonderful places, but there is no place like Kentucky. To put that many people in the stands for our show is very gratifying for us. We realize that while they came out to see our show, the reason that they are there is because of Kentucky basketball. It is not just because of the show. We were happy to be a part of it and honored that they deemed our show worthy enough to come out and show that type of support for the Wildcat program. It was just sensational and when I retire, hopefully a long time from now, it will be one of the memories that I treasure, this crowd this morning."

On the fact that most of the people that were there for Gameday will not be there for the game and what they says about the fan base ...
"It is phenomenal and inexplicable really. You cannot really put your arms around that type of passion that is so deeply ingrained in the culture. There are very few things in American sport that are like Kentucky basketball. I would say that maybe Alabama football and maybe at one time Notre Dame football are a few. But it is not just that people are fans of it, but they feel connected to it. It is a part of them. They care. Sometimes people say that is not a good thing and I disagree. Passion for sports can motivate people to do things that they would not normally do. Sometimes it is contributing to the greater good like the Hoops for Haiti telethon. There are warm-hearted people all over the world, but what mobilized them was Kentucky basketball. It is a very special situation and unique."

On if he could hear himself out there with all the noise ...
"Thankfully, due to modern technology, we had these great stereo ear pieces that blocked out a little bit of the noise enough for me to hear them. The only time that I really couldn't hear was when we did the decibel meter bit with Erin and I could really not hear what she was saying. We had a very hard time coming back in my ear pieces. It was worth it. The one thing that we tried to do is we wanted the students to have fun, but we encourage them to watch the show and react and for that many people to do that and dial the noise down a little bit then bring it up at the right time (was great). We do not orchestrate it. We just want them to react to what they see. I think that shows their basketball savvy and their passion for Kentucky. Also, for their disdain of people that use to be at Kentucky and are not here anymore."

On Coach Cal and what he means to the fan base ...
"The governor is not strong enough, he could be emperor. I told him, not that he cares what I thinking, but after he got the Kentucky job I said, "You are perfect, perfect." I think that I have (an understanding for the passion of Kentucky basketball.) Not that anyone cares about my background, but grew up in Alabama and I went to Alabama and I understand Alabama football. I think because of that and by extension I understand Kentucky basketball. I have a good feeling of what it means to people and the type of personality that you have to have to embrace the scrutiny and the expectations of the job. John Calipari is perfect for that and it is showing on the court. It is showing by the things that are happening off the court and the passion that the fans are showing by packing the house for our show today. It is extraordinarily gratifying for us today and it was great to be a part of."

Digger Phelps

On what making history on Gameday today was like for him ...
"As a coach, obviously you get into situations and for those of you that are young enough when we use to play at Freedom Hall against Kentucky we could see that there is nobody more loyal to their basketball team then the Kentucky fans. When Cal made the decision to leave Memphis to come here, it was about anything but winning a national championship. That is what Kentucky is all about and the timing was right. To bring in three quality freshman to make the impact that they have (has been great). It is all Cal, I don't care what anybody says he did this at UMass with Marcus Camby and Co. and he did it at Memphis with Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose getting to the Final Four at Memphis and the frenzy there. He has now brought that to Kentucky but it has always been at Kentucky. The fans here have always been true blue.

"The experience factor for three freshmen, when you have a lineup where 60 percent of your team are freshmen then it is an issue. That is what we saw when they were No. 1 and went to South Carolina. It was a wakeup call for these guys. Go back to when Derrick Rose was a freshman at Memphis and at the end of the game against Kansas. That is when the freshman immaturity and lack of experience in those conditions come out. Yet, when you look at this team and what he is doing with them, can they achieve that and win a national title? It is there, but will the youth factor show up in March? It could be a free throw, a bad pass, the wrong shot at the wrong time of a key foul situation. Cal is a master at it and has done it before. From that standpoint, it is focus tonight against Tennessee and obviously it is a big rivalry game and the first time that these kids have faced Tennessee. When they go to Vanderbilt next weekend, which is a different game. I know because I coached there that because you can't coach your team. You are under the basket that is where your bench is. Will that be a factor like South Carolina was a factor? There is another experience for these guys to go through."

On what he thought of today's crowd ...
"It was amazing because three weeks ago we heard that there was going to be 24,000 people there on gameday and we are looking at each other. We were at K-State two weeks ago and they had the record with 8,100. For the Kentucky fans to show their loyalty and to be a part of Kentucky basketball (is great). Like Cal said, how many people don't have tickets for tonight's game and I bet 15,000 of the 23,000 don't have tickets to the game. This to them is so important because basketball is religion in this state. It always has been. There are no pro sports and Louisville has always been Louisville but not when it comes to the Big Blue. I experienced that, and this is a great story, in my first year at Norte Dame at the age of 29 when I got the job. I was 6-20 in my first year at Norte Dame and we lost to Indiana and dedicated Assembly Hall. I am at Freedom Hall and it is Adoph Rupp's last year and I am like, ‘Wow, I am going up against the legend.' We are down 31 during the game and end up losing by 18. That night at midnight I am with one of my assistant coaches and we are like, ‘Wow, it is only early January and this is happening to us.' I then get a call from Coach Rupp and he says, ‘Now Digger, you know that you lost to UCLA by 56 and a week before by 55 to Bob Knight and we had you down tonight 31 and we only beat you by 18. What is wrong with my team?' I said, ‘Coach Rupp, I am sorry that I let you down.'

"To see 24,000 or whatever showed up did not surprise me. I usually go out and work the crowd on one side because there are usually only 4,000 to get them all fired up and get the band fired up and organized and they responded. That is what unique about it. As I said to all of them, ‘You are making history. Not just for college gameday, but for college basketball. When would anybody see 24,000 people show up for a pep rally?' That is what this show is. It is a big pep rally to get everyone pumped up for tonight's game against Tennessee. The Kentucky fans made it happen."

Chuck Hayes

On what it was like to come back to Kentucky ...
"It feels good. This is my first time back since I left after my senior season and this place still gives me goosebumps. The fans and the love are great. It is a great place to be."

On what the state of Kentucky and these fans mean to him ...
"It is a second home. It is definitely my second home. I love the people here and they show the love to me back. It means a lot. This state and the university have taught me so much and I always feel welcome."

On his thoughts of this year's team ...
"They are great. They have some studs and they know how to play. They play well together and have fun while they are playing. They are just a really fun team to watch."


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