When word leaked that some of the 1996 national championship members would take the same court as some of the 2012 national title team players in Saturday’s UK Alumni Charity Game, it sparked a debate over which team was superior.
DeMarcus Cousins had something to say about that.
As if to say don’t forget about the 2010 team, Cousins led the White Team to an easy 121-93 victory over the Blue Team, which had no match for Cousins and Anthony Davis. Cousins, who played surprisingly hard for an all-star game, showcased he had more than just a power game as he stole passes, dribbled past defenders and sunk 5-of-10 shots from 3-point range.
The Sacramento King finished with a game-high 42 points and 15 rebounds.
“I wasn’t really trying to show too much,” Cousins said as he laughed with reporters. “Got to keep it for the season. You know, scouting reports.”
He showed that while both the 2012 and 1996 teams won national championships, the 2010 was every bit as good.
“They’ve got to beat the 2010 team first,” said John Wall, Cousins’ 2010 teammate and the coach of the Blue Team. “We could take ‘em. We’ll take on any challenge.”
Of course, Cousins’ low-post teammate may have something to say about that as well. Thanks to some late-game free throws and equally efficient touch from long range (4 for 7 from behind the 3-point line), Davis, now with the New Orleans Hornets, finished with 40 points.
“We knew who the better team was,” Davis said. “Clearly the White.”
But what about the different years?
Calipari weighed in with his opinion during one of the game’s timeouts. After thanking the 1996 national team for playing in both the John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience game and UK Alumni Charity Game, he grabbed the microphone to playfully state his case.
“I still don’t think you’re better than this year’s team,” Calipari said to ’96 guys as the 10,173 fans at Rupp Arena laughed with him.
Jeff Sheppard, a key member of the 1996 team, leaped from the Blue Team bench to try to take the microphone from Calipari, but Coach Cal had a better idea: a vote by applause. Calipari and Sheppard urged the crowd on for their respective teams, but the ovations were too close to call.
“It’s pretty close,” Calipari said, before quickly dropping the microphone and sarcastically saying “yeah right.”
It was that kind of afternoon for everyone involved in Saturday’s alumni game. No matter what year the players were from, they all smiled, laughed and praised Calipari for forming a game that reconnected generations of Kentucky basketball players in front of the Big Blue Nation.
“What he’s done a great job of is bringing everybody back and making us one big family,” said Tony Delk a ’96 member who dropped 23 points in the earlier Fantasy Experience all-star game. “That’s the most important thing that Kentucky has got. They’d gotten away from it at one point in time, but now he’s brought everybody back and we’re family again.”
Said Cousins: “It feels great. It’s always fun to come back here. Fans never change. Still the same love. Nothing’s changed.”
The game also raised $350,000 for seven different organizations, including the West Liberty Recovery Fund, 4 Paws for Ability, the Starkey Hearing Foundation, EverFi Financial Literacy, Samaritan’s Feet, the Urban League of Lexington and the V Foundation.
Calipari said he hopes to raise $1 million at next year’s alumni game.
Among the players that played were Cousins, Davis, Delk, Sheppard, Darius Miller, Wayne Turner, Nazr Mohammed, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Derek Anderson, Randolph Morris, Perry Stevenson, Antonie Walker, Jared Prickett and Walter McCarty.
The White Team had a huge size advantage with Cousins, Davis, Walkter, Prickett and McCarty. At one point, Kidd-Gilchrist had to guard his former teammate Davis while Turner matched up against the much-bigger Walker.
The guard-oriented Blue Team tried to overcome the White’s size with 32 points from Kidd-Gilchrist, 20 from both Anderson and Turner, and 17 from Miller, but Cousins and Davis were two locomotives playing too big and too hard to get in the way of.
“(Coach Cal) finally admitted he was holding me back,” Cousins said. “I’m glad to hear that.”
Always the competitor, Wall took blame for his team’s loss.
“They came out and embarrassed us today,” Wall said. “My coaching debut was pitiful.”
Opposite of Wall was hip-hop mogul Drake, a friend of Calipari’s who has become a fixture at UK events since Calipari asked him to be a guest coach at his first Big Blue Madness in 2009. After the game, hugging Cousins and Davis on the Rupp Arena floor, Drake credited Calipari and Kentucky with motivating him to go back to school and get his high school degree.
“Kentucky has given me a real home,” said Drake, who served as the unofficial “Y” during one of the timeouts. “I actually dropped out of high school, which I don’t if a lot of people know that, but I dropped out of high school. I never really got like a great school experience. When Coach Cal asked me to come here for the first Midnight Madness, it just really gave me a sense of school, a sense of love, a sense of belonging to something. That’s why I feel like I belong in the UK family and that’s why I’m graduating high school this month. I’m definitely inspired by UK.”
The legends that were in attendance like Joe B. Hall, Adolph Rupp’s son, Herky, and Mike Pratt, can relate to that family feeling.
For a man that’s instituted an open-door policy and welcomed everyone back since taking the head coaching job, this weekend was a formal invitation from Calipari for the players to come home, fortify old bonds and share stories from their heydays.
“To all the guys that came back, you are always welcome here,” Calipari said.
On a weekend where UK Athletics inducted six new members to its Hall of Fame, this week was a fitting opportunity to connect the past with the present, which Calipari did perfectly when he honored legend Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones by bringing him to midcourt and having him pose with Davis. Both held out their respective Olympic gold medals for the crowd to see. Jones’ medal was from the 1948 Olympic games.
No matter what year the players were from and what credentials they brought to Rupp Arena on Saturday, there was no debating they are all connected by a tradition unlike any other.
“It’s like a big family,” said Miller. “We’re all having a good time with each other. We had a blast. I hope everyone else did too.”