- Associated Press - Saturday, October 15, 2011

Things were pretty normal for the opening night of practice for Division I men’s basketball.

Most of Friday night’s events were called some form of madness, from Big Blue to Mountaineer to First Night. Most of them ended well before the midnight part of many of their names.

There were also some coaches who let the fans know things were going to be serious this season.

Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun didn’t promise a repeat of last season’s national championship _ the Huskies’ third in a span of 13 years _ but he didn’t discourage any thoughts of it.


Calhoun said he believes his team may be more talented than the one that beat Butler in April.

Kentucky made it to the Final Four as well last season, but the Wildcats lost to Connecticut in the semifinals.

Coach John Calipari made it clear what this season’s goal is by saying it’s time to turn the page from anticipation to preparation.

“Tonight we begin to write the next chapter,” Calipari said. “Tonight we feel the Kentucky effect in full force as we once again redefine college basketball. … We see no plateaus. We see no stopping points. Let’s persist beyond what it is, and let’s try to create what was never before imagined. We do more than move the needle. We are the needle. We are UK.”

Vanderbilt isn’t usually mentioned as a national contender. But the Commodores have all five starters back this year.

“More than ever before we are going to be the hunted rather than the hunter,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “We expect to get everyone’s best shot. We look forward to getting everyone’s best shot. We are excited about perhaps being a program that can have that said about them. Quite honestly, we have never been that program before. That has always been Kentucky or Florida or somebody else in the (Southeastern Conference). Maybe, we have a chance to be that program now.”

Stallings sent the crowd of 3,500 at Memorial Gymnasium into pandemonium when he made a half-court shot from behind his back _ on the first try.

Some of the highlights of the start of practice:

_This was the seventh time Big Blue Madness was held at Rupp Arena, and Kentucky opened the doors at 6 p.m. with fans filling 20,000-plus seats quickly. Students in the section behind one basket held up a very large banner reading “KENTUCKY BASKETBALL NEVER STOPS” before the festivities started.

Kentucky kicked it off with a video highlighting the hundreds of students who camped out in tents for tickets to attend Big Blue Madness. As freshman Anthony Davis said in the video, “They just want to see us win a championship this year.”

The Wildcats came down white staircases bookending a large video screen on the stage at one end of Rupp, and the fans stayed on their feet.

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