Unlike the scene at Rupp Arena’s Big Blue Madness on Friday night, Drake did not assume a spot in a layup line. There was no sellout crowd. And hardly any barriers existed to prevent fan and player interaction at LSU’s Bayou Madness in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
It’s what David and Nicholas Emmick, a father and son from Bowling Green, Kentucky, are accustomed to in their basketball-crazy home state. But the duo, proudly displaying royal blue Kentucky regalia, said the more intimate, relaxed environment provided a scene not often created in Lexington.
“We can get close to the players,” David said, almost incredulously. “(Kentucky) has so much security. At the pep rally, we could get close to the (LSU) players. We couldn’t get this personal experience at Kentucky.”
The Emmicks looked on as the Tigers and Lady Tigers participated in a skills challenge and LSU students took the court for prize money. Then LSU big men treated them and the estimated 2,000 others in attendance to a dunk contest, eventually won by sophomore forward Jordan Mickey after a one-handed jam from the free-throw line.
Both coaches — Johnny Jones of the men and Nikki Caldwell-Fargas of the women — grabbed the microphone to guide their teams through 10-minute scrimmages. Caldwell-Fargas was candid with the crowd.
“We want to push all day,” she said after a missed shot. “Misses, turnovers. We want to have a great transition game.”
When senior guard DaShawn Harden drove the lane and missed a layup through contact, Harden asked where the whistle was.
“Who fouled you?” Caldwell-Fargas asked. “Air?”
Harden watched as her teammates were pitted against their male counterparts in a 3-point shootout midway through the event — the winner subject to a challenge from LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander.
Alexander, notorious for his basketball knowledge and propensity to shoot around with the Tigers and Lady Tigers, agreed to the event two months ago at Caldwell-Fargas’ urging.
“And when it came time,” Alexander joked, “I actually had to do it.”
When his wife asked before the contest whom Alexander thought he’d be pitted against, he correctly predicted Tigers junior Keith Hornsby, who outlasted Lady Tigers freshman Jenna Deemer.
Alexander had a scouting report.
“He’s got a hitch at the top of it,” he said of Hornsby’s shot. “If you shoot enough shots, it doesn’t matter how your shots look. It’s if you’re comfortable with it.”
Hornsby edged Alexander 14-13 — a result Alexander joked was probably for the best. Alexander worried that if he had won the contest, fans would worry about the team and stop buying season tickets.
As it stands, though, Alexander expressed optimism about both teams and issued a prediction about Caldwell-Fargas’ and Jones’ teams’ prospects.
“If we start off strong this year,” he said, “this place will be packed.”