LEXINGTON, Ky. — This is what Quade Green wanted, the big spotlight, the big time. He wanted Tim Barker, a Kentucky fan since '66 who had made the Blue-White scrimmage the week before and was at Rupp Arena early for this exhibition against a Division III school, sitting in the upper deck bleachers.
"Never miss a game," Barker said before Green's first Rupp appearance against outside competition. He meant on television or live. Barker drove 82 miles down from Hebron in northern Kentucky to see these new guys again.
Green, the freshman point guard from Philadelphia, Neumann-Goretti High, wanted to play in front of Alan Patterson, who made the 70-mile drive up from Casey County with his cousin's husband and already had seen enough of Green pregame to say, "He's going to be a nice little point guard."
The view is different now for Green. He's not at 10th and Moore anymore. Past a baseline at Neumann-Goretti there's a wall and a door into the hallway. At Rupp? Villanova fans know this place once hosted a Final Four. Baseline seating goes up 33 rows. Then you hit the upper deck, 20 more rows of bleachers. The cheap seats were more full than the expensive seats at this exhibition game against Thomas More College maybe because some regulars knew they had access to the meaningful games ahead. (Attendance was 19,736, in a place that fits 23,500).
Green was one of five freshman UK starters, all dreaming of being one-and-done. Wildcats fans already have brushed up on his game. Seems like they all had watched the McDonald's All-American and the Jordan Brand Classic and the HoopHall Classic, the ones Green had played in.
Green shoots better than they expected — that seemed to be the prevailing opinion in the upper deck. If they could have been there earlier before the doors opened, they would have seen the 6-footer wander out and immediately start knocking down shots, 10 straight from the right wing, 8 of 11 from up top, 13 of 15 from the left wing.
The game began and Green quickly hit a couple of catch-and-shoot threes. Asked later about whether he has been shooting well in practice, Quade said, "Oh yeah. I've been shooting well all the time. That's one of my key traits."
Green came to Kentucky to be coached by John Calipari. Cal has quickly obliged. He got on Green a couple of times about passes he wanted made that weren't being made, even if the alternative seemed fine. What was Calipari emphasizing there about Green's passing?
"Give it up,'' Calipari said, not waiting for the end of the question to start in on what he's looking for from Green. "Give it up early so you can get it back, so we can have you shoot. One of the best shooters, so why would you hold, hold, hold, hold, hold, hold, throw it. You never get that one back."
Kentucky's coach, who has been around a couple of blocks, didn't point out that getting the ball to the Wildcats' fleet of star big men should be a primary goal. Green got the message — he didn't need the part about getting it back.
"In high school, I used to dribble the ball a lot," Green said later, pointing out that he had Dhamir Cosby Roundtree, now at Villanova, to throw it to, and Neumann-Goretti certainly had good younger players, and he was with Mo Bamba one summer on a travel team, but nothing like this collection now in Lexington.
"I'm playing with more better players than I ever dreamed about," Green said. "Even at camp, I didn't have this many people on my team. Get the ball out of my hands fast and get them more touches, that's all I'm thinking."
Quade also has consultants like he'd never dreamed of, mentioning the regular contact with former UK guards such as "Aaron and Andrew …"
… That's the Harrison twins.
"Tyler, Isaiah …"
Green does give the John who helps him out by text a last name, since it's Wall.
He already is learning the difference between a spotlight and a fishbowl. In his hometown, he could wear a Kentucky sweatshirt walking down the street and if he was away from basketball most people would probably assume he was just a big UK fan. Here, everybody seems to know all about him before he's played an official game. Twitter lit up with opinions right after the Blue-White game. The closest hometown comparison for a UK point guard could be an Eagles quarterback, or at least a first-round draft choice.
"I'm very aware all of my actions have repercussions," Green said of the attention.
Gets a little crazy?
"People show up at our dorm just to sign pictures," Green said.
All the time?
"Often — every day," he said.
An exhibition game against a Division III school still meant the Storm Chaser van from Lex 18 was in the parking lot almost three hours before tip-off, crew setting up for a live shot in a corner of the court. Miss Kentucky USA was warming up to host the in-house video on the big screen.
At halftime, James Smith, who had driven 100 miles up from Knox County near the Tennessee border with his nephew, said of Green: "He's going to be a good one, I believe."
Afterward, there were as many reporters as some NCAA tournament games attract.
"I look good?" Green joked, mimicking like he was smoothing his hair as cameras turned on for his post-game interview.
This is what he wanted. Time to play ball.