’96 national champs thrill Fantasy participants, Rupp crowd

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Sixteen years later, the 1996 national champions are still blowing out opponents.

OK, so the competition wasn’t quite what it was in 1996 and the setting was a bit more relaxed, but players from the 1996 national championship showed they’ve still got a little talent in those aging bones and muscles.

Playing in the John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience before the UK Alumni Charity Game at Rupp Arena on Saturday, the 1996 team crushed the Fantasy Experience All-Stars 103-43 in an exhibition game.

The 1996 team consisted of Antoine Walker, Tony Delk, Wayne Turner, Anthony Epps, Derek Anderson, Walter McCarty, Jeff Sheppard, Jared Prickett and Oliver Simmons.

The game was undoubtedly entertaining, almost comical at times, but the 1996 players didn’t take it easy on the Fantasy Experience campers, all of whom were 35 and older. The team that won by an average margin of 22 points per game en route to the 1996 national championship stormed out to an early double-digit lead, even pressing in the early stages of the game.

Delk rained 3s, McCarty dunked and Anderson looked (nearly) as smooth as ever. Sure, there was some cherry picking and a little showboating, but the 1996 team was, at times, out to prove they could still ball.

“The ’96 team was trying to prove they were better than this year’s team without a doubt,” John Calipari said. “They were pressing, shooting 3s. It was incredible.”

Delk led the way with 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including 7 of 9 from 3-point range. McCarty chipped in with 19 points.

Ever since the 2012 Wildcats won the national title, the great debate has been who is better: the 1996 team or the 2012 squad? While we’ll never know the answer to that question, there’s little doubt that the ’96 guys have aged just a bit. They certainly don’t have the vertical they used to.

Other than the 6-foot-10 McCarty, the 1996 guys had trouble dunking the ball, providing the crowd with some hilarious, memorable moments, none better than Sheppard’s highlight attempt. Sheppard tried a one-hand tomahawk slam only to fall inches short and get rejected at the rim. Sheppard was all smiles afterwards as he high-fived press row running down the court.

Turner was the only other guy who could throw down a dunk, but he just barely got it over the rim.

No player looked to have more fun than Anderson, who at one point hung on the rim and goal-tended a 3-point shot.

Simmons, who played sparingly on the 1996 team and later transferred, played like he was out to prove he belonged. At one point he caught the ball in the lane and tried to dunk on one of the Fantasy Experience participants only to bulldoze the 50-plus-year-old man and fall on top of him.

After the game, the 1996 players huddled at half court and took a picture with Coach Cal. Several of them were slated to play in the alumni game.