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Practices get under way for men's basketball

Things were pretty normal for the opening night of practice for Division I men's basketball.
/ Source: The Associated Press

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.

—Connecticut's teams showed off their skills in front of their fans for the first time since the men brought home the program's third national championship and the women returned from their 12th Final Four.

They showed off their athleticism for more than 10,000 fans who came out to watch the school's annual "First Night" show.

Freshman guard Ryan Boatright, generously listed in the media guide at 6-feet-0, won the dunk contest. Niels Giffey topped freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis from the women's team in the 3-point contest, and there was dancing and contests for students, even appearances from alumni such as Ray Allen and the hero of last year's national title run, Kemba Walker.

—Vanderbilt hosted its first Midnight Madness session in six years. Vanderbilt went 23-11 last season but failed to get out of the first round of the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. Each of the starters and the top three reserves return. Among those coming back are John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli — all three passed on entering the NBA draft last spring.

—Butler stuck to its traditional opening-night schedule. Coach Brad Stevens closed practice, ditched the dunk contests and got down to coaching basketball earlier than most other teams.

Just 15 minutes after the official start to basketball season, the two-time national runners-up hit the court at Hinkle Fieldhouse without a fan in sight.

The Bulldogs never celebrated Midnight Madness when it was covered live on late-night television, and still don't open it up for fans even though the NCAA has agreed to let teams start working out earlier in the day.

—New Arkansas coach Mike Anderson received the loudest ovation inside Bud Walton Arena. He walked back onto the court he called home as an assistant coach for 17 seasons under former coach Nolan Richardson. Anderson was greeted with plenty of support from the estimated 5,000 who attended "Primetime at the Palace."

—North Carolina kicked off a season of high expectations in front of a packed arena of about 21,000 fans. The Tar Heels held their annual "Late Night with Roy" preseason event in the Smith Center, which included an intrasquad scrimmage as well as the players performing dances and skits in a night of fun before things get serious for a team expected to contend for the national championship.

All five starters are back from a team that won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title and got within a game of the Final Four.

—Memphis unveiled its team before an almost full house at the FedExForum.

Fans were waiting outside the arena when the doors opened 90 minutes before the start of Memphis Madness. The festivities included a dunk contest, a 3-point shooting display and a scrimmage.

Rapper Rick Ross was supposed to be the featured entertainment for the evening, but he had a medical problem on a flight from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Memphis, that forced him to miss the event.

—West Virginia's Mountaineer Madness had a season-opening scrimmage, slam-dunk contest and a special musical performance.

Deniz Kilicli, a native of Istanbul, Turkey, and an amateur guitarist who has performed around town, entertained the crowd by performing the university's adopted fight song, "Country Roads," with his teammates. He played electric guitar as the gold-and-blue clad Mountaineers joined the throng in John Denver's song.

—Duke opened practice with its "Countdown to Craziness," and one of the highlights was the intrasquad scrimmage that was the debut for freshmen Austin Rivers, Quinn Cook and Marshall Plumlee in front of the Cameron Crazies.

—The Syracuse team was already on the court when Orange coach Jim Boeheim gave the crowd of 20,000 in the Carrier Dome some great news.

He stepped to the center of the court bearing his name and declared "There's one more guy here." He pointed to the tunnel at the corner of the building and yelled the name they all were hoping to hear.

New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony jogged onto the court where he left his definitive mark during Syracuse's 2003 national championship season. It was all part of Syracuse's annual Midnight Madness.

—Hours after letting Kansas fans hear some bad news about the program, Jayhawks coach Bill Self made a lot of them smile.

On Friday afternoon, Self announced that the NCAA ruled freshmen Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor partial qualifiers and they won't eligible to play this season.

On Friday night, Self rode to the center of James Naismith Court on a specially made Kansas motorcycle to commemorate the 2008 national championship. He was even wearing a black leather jacket and black leather chaps. It wasn't his idea to wear the chaps.

"They told me I need to look like a biker for whatever reason," Self said. "I tried to do what they ask me to do."

McLemore and Traylor will be able to practice starting Dec. 16, and will be eligible for competition for the 2012-13 season. They can work out and lift on their own.

—Maryland Madness had several members of the 2002 national championship team, along with former head coach Gary Williams, on hand to mark the 40th anniversary of the first Midnight Madness. Steve Blake, Byron Mouton, Chris Wilcox and Mike Grinnon, along with current NBA star Greivis Vasquez and former NBA standout Steve Francis, participated in a star-studded alumni game.

This version of Maryland Madness had a different feel than the ones that preceded it. The first one, held in 1971 under coach Lefty Driesell, was little more than a one-mile run around the track at midnight by the players on the first official day of practice.

In recent years, the event revolved around Williams, the winningest coach in school history.

—St. John's coach Steve Lavin wasn't able to attend the school's tipoff event. He did send a message to the fans.

"Last week's surgery was a success. Now my return to coaching duties will be dictated by the healing process," Lavin said in a statement Friday night. "I'm under the expert care of Dr. Scardino at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and we are working closely to measure the daily progress being made during this vital recovery period."

Lavin is recuperating from prostate cancer surgery on Oct. 6.

"Naturally, I wish I was at Carnesecca Arena tonight to participate in the tip-off festivities with our team, and celebrate the start of the college basketball season with our loyal fans!" Lavin said.

—Arizona coach Sean Miller isn't a big proponent of celebrating the start of practice.

"Our red-blue game really has become midnight madness. Your midnight madness is just a show because at this point your guys don't know enough of what you do to even play. They're almost playing a glorified pickup game," he said. "I think it means more to them and all the things that happen in a midnight madness happen in the afternoon, at a sane time so if you want to go to bed at 10:00, you can. You don't have to be in McKale at 1:30 or 2 in the morning and then have to get back up as a college coach or player the next day. To me, it makes a lot more sense across the board."