The No. 1 ranked college basketball team in America returns to the Bahamas, this time to face meaningful competition in a regular season game.
The University of Kentucky Wildcats will face the Arizona State Sun Devils tonight at 7pm at the Atlantis Resort’s Imperial Arena in the Atlantis Showcase.
Wildcats head coach John Calipari said his team has thoroughly enjoyed the experience in the Bahamas thus far and look forward to a return trip in the summer of 2018.
“The setup is great and its all self contained. It’s a two-hour flight from our campus and we’re in another world.
We did this in the summer. I want to do it, not this coming summer, but the next summer I want to do it again. We want to get three FIBA teams to come in and play us. This time I think we’ll get even better FIBA teams because the word will be out about what it is.” He said, “I’d love to play down here every year. Let’s get an opponent, come down here and play and make it an annual thing that we can do, not every four years. Every year. The Atlantis has been so cooperative with us and it’s a win-win. They know that we can travel, they know TV is following us so it’s great for us and for them.”
The Wildcats hosted the Big Blue Bahamas Tour in August 2014 when the team competed against the Puerto Rican national team reserves, the Dominican national team and French Club Champagne Chalons-Reims at the Kendal Isaacs Gymnasium.
Calipari said the trips not only benefit his teams but serve a dual purpose by engaging the traveling Kentucky fanbase – Big Blue Nation. Hundreds of fans filled the Imperial Arena as the team hosted open practice.
“To see the fans down here and to have them sit through a practice like that is special. To be able to have them each take a picture with a team, those fans to make an effort to be here and be with us for a few days is good.” Calipari said, “We have a bunch of guys in a great frame of mind about playing for each other, being about them teammate than themselves yet being responsible for that challenge and developing the habits they need to win. Again for the fans, who can take a picture with our team, except these fans who came out for this trip. They’ve never been in a practice, now they know. We get to travel, which is good for them. But not at the expense of playing three games back-to-back-to-back against teams, we’re just not ready to do that yet.”
The undefeated Wildcats (6-0) will face the (4-2) Sun Devils in the 3,800-seat Imperial Ballroom at the Atlantis Resort just on the heels of last week’s Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
Kentucky leads the all-time series between the schools 3-0.
Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley said the team has a business mindset despite the backdrop of a vacation-like environment.
“It’s been great. For me It’s been difficult for me because I’m not on vacation. I might act like it for an hour with the guys down by the pool to relax and just get away because we put the work, and now we’ll just watch film,” he said, “It’s a magnificent place to host a game and an event. It’s a great life experience for our players to walk around, go by the beach see the park and slides that are here it’s a great experience for our guys.”
Hurley had has his own battles with the Wildcats during his playing days as a member of the Duke Blue Devils and was on the court for “The Shot” which saw the Duke advance to the 1992 Final Four with a 104-103 win over UK.
Wildcats senior guard, Mychal Mulder, said the team has taken advantage of the bonding experience the trip has provided.
“It’s exciting, it’s a great experience that a lot of us have never had. Some of our guys have never been out of the country so I think it’s a positive thing for our team, we’ve had a lot of team bonding and a lot of cool experiences overall,” he said, “They [Atlantis] have it setup nice for us. The lighting is really good, the court is really good, I was impressed when I walked in and saw everything.”
The Wildcats will have the services of sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe, who returns to the starting lineup after sitting out the last two games with an injury.
Briscoe had an MRI on Friday which reveled only a deep gluteal bruise.
“He’s fine,” Calipari said, “He was ridiculous yesterday. He really was. Then I was saying, ‘How in the world could you not play in the game and then the next day practice like you just did? (But) after he knew what it was, after the MRI, he’s fine. All right, now that I know what it is, let’s go play.”