NEW ORLEANS — To help make an appeal for Kentucky players to concentrate on the task at hand, Coach John Calipari called upon Billy Hunter.
Hunter, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, noted the value of unity when he spoke to the UK team Wednesday night, Calipari said.
"Telling the kids 'you together, collectively have a chance to do something special,' " the UK coach told reporters Thursday.
It was the eve of Kentucky's first game in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, but presumably Calipari meant winning the Final Four here in three weeks or so. As he did on Monday, Calipari dismissed the SEC Tournament as an irrelevance. "It doesn't prove anything," he said.
Hunter apparently told UK's players to set aside any thoughts of entering this year's NBA Draft.
"Just do your thing," Calipari said. "... Don't worry about anything else. There's time to worry."
UK athletics bought a billboard near the New Orleans Arena and Mercedes-Benz Superdome, spokesman DeWayne Peevy said. The billboard has the picture of Anthony Davis, his arms stretched out to full wingspan, that adorned a poster given to fans at one of the final home games.
Peevy said the billboard could meet two objectives:
■ Promote Davis' candidacy for national player of the year. "Like a Heisman campaign," Peevy said.
■ Give the many UK fans here a thrill.
How long will the billboard be in place?
"We'll see," Peevy said with a knowing tone.
Of course, the Final Four is in the Superdome this year.
The billboard is on South Claiborne Avenue off the Pontchartrain Expressway overpass. That's on the west side of the Superdome.
News of an investigation into possible point-shaving by an Auburn player hit close to home for Calipari. One of his protégés, Tony Barbee, is Auburn's coach.
"I don't think there can be anything more disappointing," Calipari said. "If true, it's ugly and not a very bright future for (a player) you care about."
Barbee did not mention the investigation when he had dinner with Calipari on Wednesday night, the UK coach said.
LSU freshman point guard Anthony Hickey, the Hopkinsville native and Kentucky high school Mr. Basketball last season, gets a second game against UK.
"We're going to take advantage of it," he said. "... We're going to adjust."
Kentucky won 74-50 at LSU on Jan. 28.
"Don't be timid because they're No. 1," said Hickey, who noted how Georgia stunned fans in 2008 by winning four games and the SEC Tournament.
But, Hickey expressed respect for UK.
"They have great talent over there," he said, "and Coach Cal knows how to use it."
Hickey got his geography confused.
"We've got the No. 1 team coming back," he said, "and it's in our backyard this time."
Huh. The first game was in Baton Rouge. Presumably, that was LSU's front yard.
Kentucky fans are expected to far outnumber LSU fans.
"Kind of nutty," Calipari said of UK fans flocking here. "... We've got to play. We've got to play as well as we can."
With potentially three games in three days. Calipari accepted a reporter's notion that UK may look to substitute more.
"Hopefully, guys will sub themselves," he said, "so I don't have to make those decisions."
As noted earlier in the week, Calipari said he's had the Cats practice with a front line of Davis at center, and Kyle Wiltjer and Terrence Jones at forward.
"I feel comfortable" with that lineup, Calipari said.
UK will wear special warm-ups Friday to create awareness of the relief effort for victims of last week's deadly tornadoes.
Anyone wishing to donate to a relief fund, dubbed "Kentucky Cares," can text pledges to the Red Cross to 90999, visit www.redcross.org, go to Central Bank locations or mail a check to the Red Cross, 1450 Newtown Pike, Lexington, Ky. 40511.
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com