Fans in Rupp Arena got their first extended look at what the 2018-19 Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball team will look like during Big Blue Madness on Friday night.
Head coach John Calipari has loaded up his roster once again. The Wildcats had the second-ranked recruiting class this season, per 247Sports, and their total of four 5-star commitments is tied with Duke for the most in the nation.
That group of standout freshmen includes EJ Montgomery, Ashton Hagans, Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley. Calipari also added Stanford transfer Reid Travis to the mix with returning players such as P.J. Washington, Nick Richards and Quade Green.
Calipari kicked off the festivities by delivering a speech that laid out his expectations for the upcoming season, via Kentucky Basketball on Twitter:
"I'm excited about this team because every one of the guys have goals and aspirations beyond Kentucky. They're driven and wired to earn their opportunity and they all have a burning desire to win and be the best team in the country.
"Each team and each player sacrificed and worried less about numbers and more about efficiency. They all sacrificed, yet they all gained. It took other teams a while to establish that culture. I'm proud to say this team has it today."
After the pageantry, the players took the court for the first three-point shooting contest in Big Blue Madness history.
Long-range shooting was a problem for last year's Kentucky squad, which finished tied for 134th in the nation with a 35.7 percent success rate.
Quickley and Tyler Herro figure to lead these Wildcats to a big improvement in that area after their scores of 21 and 19 in the first round led them to meet in the finals. Their head-to-head showdown was a wonder to behold, with Quickley narrowly pulling out the win.
The Athletic's Kyle Tucker noted Quickley should be getting more attention for his shooting prowess:
Ben Roberts of the Lexington Herald-Leader provided some stats to support Tucker's argument:
The evening's main event was a slam-dunk contest that Washington dominated. The sophomore star brought down the house by jumping over Green:
Not to be outdone, Johnson kept Green in front of the rim for his attempt and added another body to the mix for good measure:
Johnson tried to close the gap on Washington with his final dunk:
It wound up being too late for Johnson to make up the scoring deficit, with the Kentucky fans giving Washington the win with 3,668 total votes.
The Wildcats did technically take the court for what was supposed to be a 10-minute scrimmage, but Calipari even recognized no one was interested in it:
It's hard to blame Calipari for wanting to end the night on a high note. There is no point risking any sort of injury—especially after Richards and Johnson collided in midair while trying to slam an alley-oop pass—with the season approaching in early November.
Expectations are always high for Kentucky, and this season will be no different. NCAA.com's Andy Katz has the Wildcats ranked as the nation's best team in his preseason prognostication.
Calipari has a perfect mix of returning talent and incoming stars with a world of potential. Getting them to jell will determine how far these Wildcats go, but their skills were impressive during Big Blue Madness.