LEXINGTON – Purely from a selfish perspective as a University of Kentucky basketball fan, Tuesday’s press conference to announce the departure to the NBA Draft of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague was sad.
In the case of the freshmen, Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and Teague, it was like seeing a puppy you’d had for six months removed from your home to go live with neighbors down the street.
Sure, you’ll see them again, but...
For the sophomores, Jones and Lamb, make it 18 months.
This was such a fun Kentucky team to watch, and the reasons went far beyond the fact that this season’s Wildcats won the school’s eighth national championship.
It was Anthony Davis blocking that shot on the baseline at the end of the North Carolina game. It was the consistent passion displayed by Kidd-Gilchrist. It was Kidd-Gilchrist with the ball in transition, with three defenders to beat, and seeing him do it. Over and over. And then watching Kidd-Gilchrist laugh, not to belittle the opponent, but just to show how much he loves basketball and loves his teammates at Kentucky...loves the fans...loves life.
Earlier Tuesday, before that night’s press conference by Coach John Calipari and the five departing Wildcats, I met a man who was telling me he was having hard time putting his finger on why this Kentucky team was so much fun to watch.
And it was the wonder of Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist that came to the forefront of my mind.
I would submit that Kentucky’s 1996 national champs were better than this year’s team because of superior depth. But Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist would give these Wildcats a fighting chance against that UK team or any other bunch that’s played college basketball. Ever.
And it was rewarding to see the physical and emotional maturation of both Jones and Lamb as well. Both those guys could have easily resented the impact of Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist, but both Jones and Lamb appeared to embrace their younger teammates.
On lesser teams, Jones and Lamb both could have been first-team All Americans. Again. What can you say? They are remarkable players and remarkable people.
I would suggest that the biggest question mark about who would leave early was Teague. And I don’t know how seriously Teague considered staying at UK one more season.
But I do know Marquis Teague wasn’t going to let his teammates leave him behind.
And it should certainly be noted that while senior Darius Miller was not at the press conference Tuesday – there was no decision to be made for him, of course – Miller may also join the Cats above in the NBA this coming season. And we all hope so. Miller is arguably the nicest guy of the bunch.
Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Teague, Lamb and Jones all said the right things Tuesday. They all said they loved their experiences here at UK, however brief that may have been. All of them said they love their teammates, love Calipari and love the passion of the fans.
But one anecdote and one sentiment jumped out at me Tuesday.
The anecdote involved Davis watching and listening to his mother and father debate the immediate future of their 6-foot-11 son.
“My mom and dad were arguing, so I was sitting back laughing,” Anthony Davis said. “I thought it was crazy. I never thought it would get to this point. My mom wanted me to stay in school (good old mom!). My dad said, ‘All right, let’s stop here...are you serious? Did you not see what he just did in college?’”
And then there was a sentiment offered by Jones that speaks for all of us – the Kentucky players and the fans:
“It is happy, sad and excited,” Jones said when asked of his emotions. “I am feeling it all. I am still excited about reaching my dreams and going down that road. But it is hard at the same time.”
“We try to teach servant leadership here to every player,” Calipari said. “This (group press conference) was introduced to me as an idea from this team. They came to me and said they wanted to do this together. We tell them all the time to be the teammate they want to play with. This team has done that by showing what they are doing today.
“They taught us a lot.”