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By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s excited about seeing his former teammates as well as some of Kentucky’s most recent stars, but Walter McCarty has no illusions about his playing ability for Saturday’s all-star exhibition games at Rupp Arena.
“I haven’t touched a basketball in I don’t know how long,” said McCarty. “I am just there to have fun. I have accepted my days (as a player) are over. I am content.
“I am more excited about being back with all the guys. We have been fortunate in the last year or so to be together and meet up a lot. Getting the whole gang together just kind of takes you back. You tell stories about the old days and the good times we had and keep up with everybody is doing and how their families are.”
McCarty was a key player on UK’s 1996 national championship team. Players from that team will play a group of John Calipari Fantasy Camp players at noon Saturday. Then they’ll join current UK players in the NBA for a 2 p.m. game before heading to Commonwealth Stadium for a tailgate before watching the Cats play Western Kentucky.
“We are still so glad to be appreciated. We had a special season that not many teams experience. I think a lot of people now are starting to realize how good we were and that we really had something special,” McCarty, an Indiana native, said. “Cal has done a great job reaching out to guys. We have always loved Kentucky and were all proud to put on that uniform.
“Because we were (Rick) Pitino guys and he’s now coaching the other guys (Louisville), some people are scared to talk about us and not mix anything together. But people don’t understand that we love Coach P and Kentucky and love Cal, too. Kentucky means so much to all of us that wore the uniform and always will.”
McCarty said it was fun watching Kentucky’s 2012 national championship team play because it reminded him of his title team.
“Those guys this year reminded me of us and I am not talking about just talent,” McCarty said. “I am talking about just going out and being focused and caring only about the team and not get caught up in who is going pro or who scores the most points. They hugged each other on the court and you could see they were together. That’s what reminded me of our team. They played so much like our team.”
McCarty may have a better perspective on what Kentucky basketball means than anyone playing Saturday. He’s from Indiana, played at Kentucky and then coached at Louisville.
“I would not trade all that for anything in the world,” he laughed and said. “I am Kentucky at heart, but I respect Louisville so much. (Athletics director) Tom Jurich is great. As a staff member at Louisville, I became close friends with a lot of nice, genuine people. As a player at Kentucky, I did not get a chance to experience and understand that. Go to class, practice and hang out with the team. That’s all I did. As a coaching staff, I got to meet more people. It was a great experience for me. I got a chance to see what life is like on the other side.”
McCarty said the 1996 team members were “part of each other’s lives” and doing stuff together before Calipari reached out to them after his arrival in Kentucky.
“We understand what we mean to the university and what we have done. No way did we feel distanced or overshadowed. We know what we have done,” McCarty said. “But Cal is a great guy. I have known him for a while. He knows how to lead the university and what it takes for these kids to be at this school. A lot of parents who have these kids who are McDonald’s All-Americans were fans of the 96 team. The kids may not know us, but the parents know us. I think it is a smart move on his part to have us back. We are all family and it is about Kentucky. We want to do anything we can to help.”
McCarty said times have changed so much since his UK days.
“We really trusted coach P to handle everything for us. If coach P was not involved, we would not do it,” McCarty said. “With social media and marketing and the opportunity to make money and brand yourself like these kids can today, I don’t know how we would have handled it. There are so many more people involved now in trying to get a piece of the pie. But there’s nothing that compares to Kentucky basketball. I have been a lot of places and a lot of schools, but nothing compares to Kentucky and never will.”
McCarty, who played professional basketball for 10 years, has been pursuing a musical career.
“My first two albums were fun albums. I always have had a passion for music and just wanted to record albums,” McCarty said. “I wasn’t really trying to be an artist. I just wanted to do it. My new album that will be out soon is a little different. I would love to sell about 20,000 units in Kentucky when it comes out in November.”
But McCarty also has another job — he’s rejoined the Boston Celtics as a consultant.
“It will allows me to pursue a music career. I just moved back about a week ago to start work,” McCarty said. “I’ll be doing a lot of organizational work and working with the community and helping build their brand. I think I will be good at that, or hope I will be.”