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Ky. Hoops a Merchandise Paradise

October 16, 1998

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) _ In basketball-mad Kentucky, Midnight Madness is more than just another late-night layup drill. It’s Merchandise Madness as well.

So while Scott Padgett and Wayne Turner and the rest of the NCAA champion Wildcats prepare to launch some early-a.m. jump shots Saturday, Kentucky businesses are readying some launches of their own.

And this is more than the usual T-shirts, hats and oversized foam ``We’re No. 1″ fingers.

In Kentucky, ``it’s basketball, God and Mom,″ said Michael Johnathon, whose Lexington-based PoetMan Records is releasing a 39-track ``Kentucky Wildcat Basketball Experience″ compact disc in conjunction with Midnight Madness.

``It’s a cult religion,″ Johnathon said of Kentucky basketball. ``Where do you see this kind of passion for anything anymore?″

The UK Pep Band recorded songs for the disc that are interspersed with sound clips of Wildcat game highlights, former Kentucky Gov. A.B. ``Happy″ Chandler singing ``My Old Kentucky Home,″ and the farewell speech of longtime Wildcat broadcaster Cawood Ledford.

Proceeds from sales of the disc benefit the pep band, and Johnathon said PoetMan has received advance orders for more than 5,000 copies of the disc from all corners of North America.

Even the scholarly University Press of Kentucky is marking the debut of the 1998-99 edition of the Wildcats with publication of the second edition of ``The Winning Tradition: A History of Kentucky Wildcat Basketball,″ by retired Kentucky history professor Bert Nelli and his son, Steve.

Steve Nelli, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., and has an up-close view of that state’s heated college basketball rivalries.

``Other than the Kentucky Derby, there really are no diversions in Kentucky,″ he said. ``From one side of the state to the other, Kentucky basketball is probably uniquely universally adored.″

Father and son agreed that fan devotion to the Wildcats has intensified since the first edition of the book in 1984.

``Definitely, with Tubby Smith and with two national championships in three years, there’s a fever that I would guess you would have to go back to the Adolph Rupp days to equal,″ Steve Nelli said.

``Not even then,″ his father added.

The biggest product being promoted in conjunction with Midnight Madness, both in size and ambition, is the UK Basketball Museum. After years of planning and delays, developers hope to open the $5.5 million museum next door to Rupp Arena this winter.

Fans are expected to pack 10,000-seat Memorial Coliseum Friday evening to see Smith’s second Kentucky team take the floor at the stroke of midnight for a scrimmage dubbed ``The Main Event.″

Gone are some of the mainstays of last year’s ``Comeback ’Cats,″ who beat Utah 78-69 to win Kentucky’s seventh NCAA title.

Center Nazr Mohammed left for the NBA after his junior season and is to play for the Philadelphia 76ers once the lockout ends. Allen Edwards and Jeff Sheppard graduated, as did bench sparkplug Cameron Mills, who is a full-time evangelist.

Returning starters Padgett and Turner are joined by forward Heshimu Evans, center Jamaal Magloire, forward Myron Anthony and guard Saul Smith, the coach’s son.

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