LEXINGTON – What was billed as a battle of UK’s 2010 Elite Eight and 2012 national championship teams failed to materialize Monday night, but the 19,255 fans that showed up at Rupp Arena for a UK alumni game didn’t seem to mind.
The crowd was enthusiastic throughout as seven former Wildcats beat five former Wildcats, 111-95, in a game that raised more than $1 million for a slew of outstanding charities.
The 2010 vs. 2012 angle fell apart largely because two of John Calipari’s 2010 stars, Demarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, elected not to play due to ongoing contract talks with their respective NBA teams.
Cousins is working on a new deal with the Sacramento Kings, while Bledsoe is with a new team, the Phoenix Suns.
To their credit, Cousins apologized to the fans before Monday’s tip, saying he and Bledsoe look forward to playing in another such game next year.
There was still plenty of former Wildcat star power on the court, however, led by John Wall who scored 40 points and added 10 assists and 10 rebounds for the winning White team.
DeAndre Liggins and Patrick Patterson added 20 points each for the winners, with Josh Harrellson 11, Perry Stevenson and Ramon Harris 10 each. Jared Prickett played just six minutes and did not score.
Brandon Knight led the Blue team with 30 points, seven assists and four rebounds. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 26 points and 14 rebounds; Terrence Jones 22 points and five rebounds, Anthony Davis 12 points and 10 rebounds and Randolph Morris five points and eight boards.
Knight and Wall met with the media afterward and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to come back to Rupp for the event.
Knight was traded in the offseason from the Detroit Pistons to the Milwaukee Bucks, while Wall signed a rich deal with the Washington Wizards after this past season.
You get the feeling talking to both that nothing beats an experience like Monday’s.
“The main thing was to give support back to the community,” Wall said. “It was fun being back in Kentucky and being on that court again, and all for a great cause.”
Wall said Kentucky basketball is a brotherhood shared by the players and the UK fan base.
“This is a basketball state, so it’s not surprising to me,” Wall said when asked about 19,000-plus people showing up for an event like this, out of season. “When you put something together like this, and it’s a great group of guys coming back, it’s all like a brotherhood.
“Coach Cal and the University of Kentucky do a great job getting everybody organized and putting this together, so we’re happy to come back and have fun and put on a little show for the fans.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything else from Kentucky fans,” Knight said. “It just shows the appreciation here, and how much the fans are behind the players. I think that’s why we take the time out of our schedules to come back and play things like this.”
Knight said there’s no comparable experience in the NBA, though his point of view may be skewed by the fact the Pistons lost big in his two years there and Milwaukee doesn’t look to be a promised land, either.
“Nothing against Detroit, but there’s nothing like this atmosphere,” Knight said of Rupp Arena. “You don’t get that in many pro teams. The fans here are a lot better than a lot of pro teams. When you come to Rupp, you know you are going to get the best.”
Knight said it’s not as easy to motivate players at the pro level as it is at a college power like Kentucky.
“The tough thing about that (NBA) is just trying to get everybody on the same page,” Knight said. “Here at Kentucky, guys want to win and want a chance to play at the next level. So it doesn’t take a lot to get guys to play hard and get on the same page, because everybody’s motivated by pretty much the same thing.
“At the NBA level, when a guy makes $60 million, there’s only so much you can tell him to motivate him. It’s tough getting guys on the same page, that all want to win, and all want what’s best for the team.”
THE CAUSE: The charity breakdown for Monday’s game looks like this:
$200,000 to Street Ministries; $100,000 each to EverFi and Starkey Hearing Foundation; $50,000 apiece to 4 Paws for Ability; City House; Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky; Hope for the Warriors; Hope Center; Kentucky Army National Guard memorial; Red Cross for the Bluegrass; Samaritan’s Feet; Team Focus; Lexington Chapter of the Urban League and Kids 2 Camp; $25,000 to UK Healthcare; $20,000 to the Louisville Zoo, and $10,000 for Save The Children.