The very scenario has been played out countless times in the imaginations of Kentucky fans: a team made up of players from throughout John Calipari’s tenure in Lexington suiting up together.
DeMarcus Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein sharing the frontcourt. Eric Bledsoe throwing alley-oops to Terrence Jones. All against a team wearing Caroline blue.
It was too much fun to do as much good as it did.
“Incredible,” Cousins said. “Always fun to play in front of these fans.”
A team of 10 former Wildcats now playing in the NBA coached by Anthony Davis defeated a team of former North Carolina Tar Heels in Sunday’s annual Alumni Charity Game, 122-115. A crowd of 23,154 filled Rupp Arena for the game, cheering an array of dunks and, more often, 3-pointers.
“It’s always a great feeling being here,” Jones said. “It’s always going to be the same love and just the same amazing feeling every time I’m coming in here. Just great memories.”
Cousins was the star in his return to Rupp. The 2009-10 Cat rained in 3s between occasional forays in the paint, including one of his five treys from the edge of the midcourt UK.
“I thought I was shooting 2s,” Cousins joked.
He finished with 33 points, 18 rebounds and six assists, but enjoyed the experience even more.
“It was fun,” Cousins said. “Even though we’re gone, we still support the team. We still love seeing the guys play. We love seeing the younger guys play. I’m a fan of them as well, so having a chance to play with them is an incredible experience.”
Terrence Jones added 22 points and eight rebounds, but the numbers that really mattered were the dollar amounts raised for charity. Including matching funds, the Calipari Foundation is expected to donate more than $1.1 million on Sunday alone. Following the Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience auction, that number is expected to grow to more than $1.5 million.
“It was great,” Jones said. “Having all those guys together, just a whole bunch of good, hard-working dude, put together a great event for a great cause and have fun at the same time was amazing.”
The largest individual amount – $200,000 – went to the Naismith Hall of Fame Legacy Fund in Dean Smith’s name, a fitting tribute given the involvement of North Carolina players led by Harrison Barnes. Another $50,000 went to the UNC Children’s Hospital.
“Did you ever think you’d cheer for the North Carolina Tar Heels?” Calipari asked the crowd.
Charities local and national were represented, including the Starkey Hearing Foundation and Samaritan’s Feet, which both received $100,000, the Urban League of Lexington-Fayette County and United Way of Central Kentucky.
Remaining charities benefited on Sunday were 4 Paws For Ability; Kids 2 Camp; St Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Equip, John Maxwell Group; Golden Door Scholars; CISE; Stand Up To Cancer; Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation; Louisville Zoo; Alltech Sustainable Haiti Project and Team Focus.
“All these guys, they come back to be with family, which is all of our fans and all that,” Calipari said. “They understand relationship. They want to be around each other. They know we look after them, and on top of it they raise a lot of money for a lot of good things. It’s a great thing to do.”