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Do you do it after bumping into John Wall or Kenny “Sky” Walker out on Rupp Arena’s court?
Do you do it after watching Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist dance around and hug like brothers during Alumni Game introductions?
Or when you read the news reports about John Calipari’s fantasy basketball experience, where even retired NFL players (Jason Taylor) are stopping by?
Or when the lights turn down, and one of Drake’s rap songs comes bursting through the speakers, symbolizing the beginning excitement of a new game?
What about when actual Drake, and not just his music, appears at Rupp Arena, as he did for last year’s Alumni Game?
If you are a high-profile basketball recruit in this day and age, how do you say no to Kentucky and Coach Cal?
Tonight was the second annual installment of Kentucky’s Charity Alumni Game, in conjunction with Cal’s fantasy camp. But even more so than being an extra-intense family reunion, the Alumni Game is simply one of the best recruiting tools in modern basketball history.
With a roster that included Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight, John Wall, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Anthony Davis, Jarred Prickett, Antoine Walker and Patrick Patterson (with Demarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe “coaching,” due to contract negotiations preventing them from suiting up), Rupp was star-studded. NBA player after NBA player came through the tunnel for warmups, becoming Wildcats for at least one more night.
Marcus Lee, the current five-star freshman, was in particular awe as he watched his predecessors step out onto the court. With a huge smile on his face during warmups, it was obvious he could see his future in the eyes of these players. They had been in his shoes before, and with buzzwords like “contract negotiations” floating in the air, most of these alums had clearly “made it.”
More than anything, basketball recruits want to have those kinds of contract negotiations one day. They want to go to a place where their talent will be developed enough to make them into first-round draft picks. With most of Cal’s original “Draft Class” of Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe, Demarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton and John Wall present (Orton was missing), that kind of dream at Kentucky looks achievable for any recruit watching.
“I think we do it the right way,” John Wall said after the game. “Just having us guys come back and playing pickup – it’s great. They see what type of school this is and what we put together.”
But it is not as if players come to Lexington and then move onto their respective NBA city without connecting in the process. They come as a gaggle of five-star recruits and leave as brothers.
During photos, Cousins wrapped an arm around Bledsoe and went halfway in for the headlock. Davis was mobbed by his teammates after making not one, but two, buzzer-beating shots (one from halfcourt). This game could have just as easily been a bunch of high school buddies playing in a backyard.
“A great group of guys comes back,” Wall said. “It’s all just like a brotherhood. Cal and the University of Kentucky did a great job of getting everyone back.”
That kind of brotherhood and the seemingly carefree attitude of just having fun with the game are just as appealing to recruits as well. Most 17- and 18-year-olds are focused on their goals of being a pro athlete, without question. But nine times out of 10, they want to have fun while doing so. Coming to Lexington gives those guys a solid chance of achieving both.
Announced attendance was 19,255, more than many schools have at games that actually count. Fan support is something recruits look for in schools as well, and a reason why the relationship between Kentucky and its former players is so strong.
“It shows the appreciation and the tradition and how much the fans are behind the players here,” Knight said. “That’s why we take the time out of our schedules to come back and play in things like this. It means a lot to us.”
So the same question continues to grow in stature as the years go by: How do recruits during this era say no to Kentucky?