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NBA Stars, Former Wildcats Impressed by UK's Current Crop of Freshmen

This article appears courtesy of KY Forward and is written by Jon Hale. KY Forward's coverage of UK Athletics is sponsored by Republic Bank.

The focus of Monday’s UK men’s basketball alumni game may have been former Wildcats, but there was plenty of talk after the festivities about the new faces on the UK roster.

“I love basketball, so I’ve watched the circuit all throughout the year and watched high school basketball, and I think they’ve got a great group of guys,” said Washington Wizards point guardJohn Wall. “The main thing is, Coach Cal does a great job of getting talented players to play together. If they all accept their roles, they’ll be pretty good.”

“They’ve got a lot of talent, and I think as Coach Cal gets in the gym with them and works with them and they start to mold tighter and build together and grow together, there is going to be a lot of competition throughout the gym,” said Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Knight. “I think it’s going to really pay off.”

Monday’s alumni charity game saw 10 former Wildcats on current NBA rosters and a host of other former UK standouts come together to raise more than $1 million for charity.

While the former Cats put on their show, many of the players that will suit up for UK for the first time this fall watched from the sideline.

At one point while addressing the crowd, Calipari delivered a message to those players from the UK pros.

“I want our current players to know (the pros) don’t want to go through another season like we just went through last year,” he said.

Wall thinks the NIT season can be a learning experience for the program.

“Those guys still did a great job of going out there and competing like they had Kentucky across their chest, but it was a tough year,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve got to go through tough times to last long. I think they’ll be all right. They’ll put everything back right back on the map and do what they’re supposed to do.”

Calipari frequently says one of the primary goals his young teams must achieve is the initial bonding process and developing a brotherhood that involves “shared sacrifice.

For Knight, that family atmosphere is one of the primary attractions to returning to UK for events like the alumni game, especially after spending two seasons in the NBA.

“Here at Kentucky, guys want to win and they want a chance to play at the next level. It doesn’t take a lot to get people to play hard and get on the same page, because everybody is motivated pretty much by the same thing,” he said. “At the NBA level, when a guy is making $60 million, there is only so much you can tell him to motivate him.”

The newest Cats will soon be inducted into that UK fraternity, a bond that doesn’t end after college, the pros said.

“A lot of coaches, once you are done playing for them, you don’t hear from them,” Knight said. “It’s not the same with Cal. I not only hear from Cal, I hear from coach (Rod) Strickland, Kenny Payne and coach (John) Robic. I hear from all those guys all the time. It’s really a family when you come here. It’s not you play for us, you leave and we’re done with you. We always stay in contact and always keep in touch.”

Photo: Anthony Davis and Eric Bledsoe/Jon Hale