- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Update: This performance nearly didn't happen, as Ross suffered a seizure that was originally reported by TMZ. After a few hours of uncertainty, Ross is now saying he is fine, and Memphis coach Josh Pastner told CBS's Gary Parrish that the performance is still planned for this evening. Crisis averted, it would seem.
Rap stars booking gigs at Midnight Madness is not a new trend. Wale came to Georgetown last fall. 50 Cent has performed at Villanova. Drake, ever the coattail-riding fairweather fan (somebody needs to slap the dude after his shameful NBA2K12 arguments) performed at Kentucky last season.
Memphis is no different: In each of the past two seasons, local rapper Yo Gotti has performed at the school's Memphis Madness event. But the Tigers have upped the ante this year. Memphis coach Josh Pastner took the game to a whole 'nother level. How? By booking one of the most popular crossover rap acts of the last five years, one Mr. Rick Ross.
Yes, Ross will perform at Memphis Madness tonight, which is free of admission and open to the public. Die-hard Memphis hoops fans would have packed the FedEx Forum either way -- the event has sold out each of the past two seasons -- but this year demand for one of the 18,000 arena seats will be at an all-time high.
The biggest benefit of this move -- besides giving fans a treat for supporting the program, I suppose -- is, of course, recruiting. In September, after Pastner booked Ross, he told CBS's Gary Parrish exactly why:
"The benefit is that it gives you a little street cred," Pastner said. "The kids love it. It's a great recruiting tool."
"It's all about recruiting," Pastner said. "A young kid, even a freshman or sophomore, might come to see a practice, then see 19,000 people and Rick Ross. Those things stay in your mind. You say, 'I want to be on that floor someday. I want to play for the Tigers someday.'"
Though one can argue with the "street cred by osmosis" theory when it comes to the Teflon Don -- William Leonard Roberts II was outed as a former Florida corrections officer long ago, after all, and it's pretty obvious the dude has done maybe 10 percent of the things he raps about it, if that -- there's no question that Ross has remained insanely popular all the same. Probably because he's hilarious. (I would sample lyrics for you, but I'm pretty sure I can't find one I'm allowed to put on this site. Alas.)
Ross is, hands down, the biggest act to perform at a Midnight Madness event. He's the new gold standard.
In other words: Your move, Kentucky. Just don't bring Drake back. I think we've all heard Aubrey's unique mix of terrible lyrics and mediocre autotuned warbling enough for a while, haven't we?
Anyway, this is how far Midnight Madness has come. First and foremost, it's a recruiting showcase. Some teams will be running wind sprints and learning the motion offense tonight. Others will be watching Rick Ross perform live. Where would you rather be? Exactly.