The College basketball season is officially here.
From North Carolina’s “Late Night With Roy” event to Kentucky’s “Big Blue Madness” that drew a packed crowd to Rupp Arena, Friday night featured a busy schedule of Midnight Madness-style events around the country that stand as the ceremonial kickoff to the 2016-17 season.
Similar events were slated for Michigan State, Arizona, Maryland, Iowa State and Connecticut among other schools.
Kansas was the first of the marquee programs to hold its event on Oct. 1, while others — including Duke, Syracuse, Indiana and Virginia — are scheduled to hold public scrimmages or similar events next weekend.
Coming off an appearance in the NCAA championship game, the Tar Heels held their “Late Night” event at the Smith Center, with Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams drawing a standing ovation as he walked onto the court ahead of player introductions for his 14th team at his alma mater.
The Tar Heels return a veteran team after losing to Villanova on Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer in the NCAA title game — a group that quickly commenced with a series of skills contests and dancing for fans before holding an intrasquad scrimmage to cap the night.
In Lexington, Kentucky, the Wildcats stepped out on the blue carpet and onto the court to offer the first look at John Calipari’s latest heralded freshman class. The school also unveiled a new scoreboard above center court and a newly designed playing court, part of renovations at Rupp Arena for its 40th anniversary.
Actors Steve Zahn and Josh Hopkins, along with former Kentucky standouts and NBA first-round draft picks John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins were also in attendance. Renowned boxing announcer Michael Buffer introduced the players with some of the newcomers displaying dance moves to the delight of those in attendance.
“Wow,” Calipari said. “You people are crazy. Look at this place. Only you, only here.”
The Midnight Madness tradition was based on teams holding open practices at the earliest opportunity on the first day the NCAA permitted teams to open practice. Rule changes in 2013 gave teams more flexibility on when they would start their practices, which also scattered the Midnight Madness type events — many now being held in family-friendly evening hours — across the calendar.
AP freelancer Keith Taylor in Lexington, Kentucky, contributed to this report.