Illuminated by floodlights, streetlights and the multi-colored glow of police lights, Jaydon Sanders and Cory Vaughn stood opposite Memorial Coliseum and prepared for a new adventure together as best friends.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, the young-adult duo of Sanders and Vaughn were set to take part in the return of UK basketball’s Big Blue Madness ticket campout, the first held since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sanders and Vaughn have been roommates in Lexington for two years and best friends for about four years, but they don’t share the same level of past campout experience.
“I’m the rookie, he’s the vet,” Vaughn explained prior to the 5 a.m. rush to secure a campout spot. “He brought me out. This is my first year, but just trying to get some tickets.”
Sanders is from Louisville, but his family is based in Somerset and he moved there during his high school years.
His UK fandom, like that of so many, can be traced to his upbringing.
“(My family) all grew up UK fans, blue bloods, that’s all they do. That’s all they talked about was UK sports and my dad raised me a Kentucky fan,” Sanders explained. “It’s all we talk about really is Kentucky basketball. My whole family is into it. Me and my cousins are into it.”
Sanders said when his cousin was in college he began participating in the Big Blue Madness campout and invited Sanders along one year, and it’s become a staple of Sanders’ life ever since.
It’s 5 a.m.
The 2022 Big Blue Madness ticket campout outside Memorial Coliseum has begun.
After several reminders to conduct themselves in a proper manner, campers have been released to pitch their tents. pic.twitter.com/xqYYB8QPD1
— Cameron Drummond (@cdrummond97) October 1, 2022
While Saturday’s campout marked the return of the event after a multi-year absence, there was a noticeably subdued atmosphere surrounding it.
Part of this was by design.
As 5 a.m. approached and about 150 campers began to eagerly position themselves to find a spot to claim, on-site University of Kentucky police staffers began to slowly inch the group across Avenue of Champions across from Memorial Coliseum.
By the time 5 a.m. came and a countdown was completed over a loudspeaker, campers only had to dash approximately 11 feet to get to the nearest marked spot.
“This year, it’s not like it was those past couple of years,” Sanders said, explaining how the line of people stretched shoulder-to-shoulder down Avenue of Champions the first year he camped out.
Saturday’s initial setup process largely occurred without incident.
There were several reminders over a loudspeaker for campers to respect each other and not cause problems while claiming a spot, and aside from a couple of accusations of people tripping others, the 5 a.m. setup process went smoothly.
By 5:45 a.m., there were about 95 air mattresses and tents in position in the designated areas around Memorial Coliseum.
By Noon, once a big screen was moved into position to broadcast the UK - Ole Miss football game to campout participants, the number of tents had grown to more than 100.
A few hours later, after Kentucky had suffered a crushing road defeat to Ole Miss, the number of tents in the campout was around 115.
The last time the campout occurred in 2019, an estimated 300 tents were pitched on the sliver of campus around Memorial Coliseum before UK started turning people away due to maximum capacity.
But while the campout may not have the same chaotic energy it once held, Sanders still views it as an important tradition to continue.
“I’ve just had so many stories to tell (Vaughn) about it and all the stuff that happens, all the adrenaline,” Sanders said.
Keys to campout success
Sanders and Vaughn shared what they think the most important items are for campout success.
Sanders — the experienced campout participant — listed beef jerky, Monster Zero Sugar energy drinks (in the white can), a tent and plenty of rest the day before as crucial elements.
Vaughn — the first-time camper — cited hydration and stretching among the things he did to get ready for Saturday’s early wake-up call.
The duo said they didn’t have any particular plans to help pass the time while waiting to receive their control cards on Saturday night, but Vaughn did bring a tennis ball to play with.
History of Big Blue Madness and the campout
Big Blue Madness was first held in 1982 under former UK coach Joe B. Hall and was initially known as Midnight Special and later Midnight Madness.
The early years of the event attracted significant interest inside Memorial Coliseum, from more than 10,000 fans attending the event in 1983 to the arena being filled with fans in 1991 after just 45 minutes.
The campout tradition began later, though.
According to UK, 1993 was the first year that UK basketball fans began camping out for Big Blue Madness tickets. Famed UK fan Wally Clark camped out for 38 days for the 1996 event.
— Kentucky Men’s Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) September 30, 2016
The location of Big Blue Madness shifted from Memorial Coliseum to Rupp Arena in 2005, when more than 23,000 fans attended the event to set an NCAA record.
Saturday marked the return of an in-person campout for Big Blue Madness tickets after two years without the event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, Big Blue Madness was an entirely virtual event held inside Memorial Coliseum.
Last year, Big Blue Madness was an in-person event held inside Rupp Arena, but there was no campout and tickets were only distributed online for the preseason event.
One of the biggest driving forces behind the return of the campout — and an increased focus on Big Blue Madness itself — has been Kentucky head coach John Calipari.
In July, Calipari tweeted that it was “unacceptable to not have a campout” when announcing that the campout would return this year.
Calipari further explained his desire to return Big Blue Madness to marquee-event status during a summertime appearance on BBN Tonight.
Past memorable Big Blue Madness moments from the Calipari era have included John Wall’s 2009 introduction and appearances from music star Drake.
— Kentucky Men’s Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) October 10, 2019
The campout itself has offered more personal opportunities for fans to interact with UK players, even if one-on-one games between UK fans and players is a thing of the past.
“You’ve got to be talking about Madness for a month or we didn’t do our job,” Calipari said, stressing the need for showcase events like Big Blue Madness to strike a chord with potential future UK players. “When they come to campus, you’ve got to have that buzz. ... We’ve got to have Madness where everybody is talking about it for a month after it ends. That’s not happened the last three years or so. So we’ve got to get that back.”
On Sunday morning, Kentucky announced tickets were sold out for this year’s Big Blue Madness.
This sentiment is particularly true in 2022.
Kentucky is expected to have four key recruits in the class of 2023 on campus for Big Blue Madness on Oct. 14.
Two of them — Justin Edwards and Reed Sheppard — have already committed to the Wildcats.
Two others — prized recruits and high school teammates Aaron Bradshaw and DJ Wagner — are uncommitted. Both players have already taken official visits to UK, and Wagner was at last year’s Big Blue Madness.
Bradshaw’s Kentucky visit for Big Blue Madness will come one month before he’s set to announce his post-high school playing decision on Nov. 16.
The top contenders for Bradshaw are the NBA’s G-League Ignite team, Kentucky and Louisville.
Watch the 2022 Big Blue Madness campout live
The UK Sports Network aired live video stream coverage of the Big Blue Madness campout from 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
There was also a watch party for Saturday’s Kentucky at Ole Miss football game for Big Blue Madness campers, and campers received free admission to the 4 p.m. UK volleyball match Saturday inside Memorial Coliseum against Alabama.
UK defeated Alabama in that match, 3-1, in front of nearly 2,000 fans.
Big Blue Madness and beyond
Big Blue Madness will take place at 7 p.m. on Oct. 14 inside Rupp Arena and will feature introductions of both the men’s and women’s basketball teams, practice drills, videos and more.
Kentucky will then play its Blue-White Scrimmage at 6 p.m. on Oct. 22 at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville. All ticket revenue from the game will go to Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.
The Wildcats will then play two exhibition games (details not yet announced) before the regular-season opener against Howard at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 7 at Rupp Arena.