John Clay: Dominicans were more polished, but ex-Cats had fun

Ex-Cats give fans a show in loss

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 16, 2011 

So John Calipari can take yours and beat his.

Or what used to be his.

That may not have been what they were expecting Monday night in a sold-out Rupp Arena as the Calipari-coached Dominican Republic National Team beat several of Calipari's former players, plus a few significant other Kentucky alums, 106-88.

Last Friday, Dominican center Al Horford, the former Florida center and current Atlanta Hawks all-star, said he expected a "circus" atmosphere at Rupp for the August exhibition.

Instead, it was more like a rock concert atmosphere. The Kentucky Pros, which included John Wall, Rajon Rondo, Tayshaun Prince, DeMarcus Cousins, Keith Bogans, Nazr Mohammed, Eric Bledsoe and Jodie Meeks, were treated like rock stars, the crowd erupting to a cheer as they took the floor, just as if a band were taking the stage.

Only this all-star band had not played together for a while, if at all.

There were plenty of off notes, botched tunes and forgotten lyrics.

Instead, it was the former Louisville players who really rocked. Francisco Garcia scored a game-high 30 points. Edgar Sosa added 29 for the winners.

Still, despite the outcome, it was a treat to see the old band back together.

"It was like an NBA playoff atmosphere in here," said Calipari afterward of the crowd. "Del Harris (his assistant) turned to me and was like, 'What is this?' "

"It was emotional coming out there and hearing your name called," said Wall.

"Breathtaking," Rondo called it.

"It was the same Rupp, hasn't changed," Cousins said. "They cheer for us even when we lose."

Cousins finished with 28 points, 14 rebounds and an impromptu Dougie dance after the game was over. Meet the new Boogie, same as the old Boogie. That included some jawing with opponents and referees.

At one point, Cousins tossed Garcia like a rag doll nearly to the floor for a foul. Thing is Garcia and Cousins are teammates with the Sacramento Kings. They slapped palms afterward.

Jodie Meeks scored 17 points and hit three three-pointers. John Wall scored 15, but his shot has gained some rust in the current NBA lockout. Wall was 3-for-13 from the floor.

"This was a different crowd," said Joe B. Hall, who coached the Kentucky Pros. "These were the ones who don't have season tickets. I thought the crowd was outstanding."

Of course, the crowd wanted the Kentucky Pros to win.

"I may be hung in effigy tomorrow," joked Hall.

Not really, of course. Yes, the Kentucky Pros had the star power, and they were the crowd favorites. But the Dominicans had the main advantages — an offense to run and a couple of weeks to practice that offense and defense.

"People think because we're pros they expect us to be perfect out there," Wall said. "But you could tell we hadn't really adjusted to where everybody is (on the floor)."

"I think if we had gotten a little earlier notice we could have been in better shape and shown everybody what they know we can do," said Prince.

Plus, the Dominicans also had some star power of their own. Like Horford. During introductions, the former Florida star was booed heartily — as were Garcia and Sosa — so Horford gave them a brief Gator Chomp.

"It wasn't really planned," he said. "If they had cheered, I would have waved. But they remember me."

Then Horford went out and grabbed 17 rebounds.

"They played more as a team," said Cousins.

"I practiced with them," said Rondo of the Dominicans. "I told our guys that they (were good)."

It was a night to remember. How many times are you going to see Wall and Rondo in the same backcourt? Or Meeks and Prince shooting threes?

"We lost," Meeks said, "but we still had fun out there."

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com. Check out his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/johnclayhl. Follow him on twitter at @johnclayiv.

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