More togetherness: Five Kentucky undergraduates to enter NBA Draft

jtipton@herald-leader.comApril 17, 2012 

Fittingly, the five University of Kentucky basketball players who officially declared their intention to enter the 2012 NBA Draft wore matching UK blue golf shirts. Sitting side by side at an announcement televised by ESPNU, they expressed similar sentiments: Making a lifelong dream come true, and feeling thankful for the support of families, coaches, UK fans and one another.

"We wanted to do it together like we did everything together," Terrence Jones said after he and four teammates made it official Tuesday. He, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague — UK's starting lineup in the national championship game victory over Kansas barely two weeks earlier — will ride into the college basketball sunset together.

UK Coach John Calipari credited the players with deciding on a joint, five-headed announcement.

Noting how he asked his assistants and then fans to write a theme about what made the 2011-12 team special (besides winning the national championship, of course), Calipari touched on the key ingredient for Kentucky: unity of purpose.

"There's something different about this group," he said in a soft voice after the formal news conference. "This is not normal."

Calipari spoke of the quintet of now former UK players as having a chance to contribute to future Kentucky teams as an example, if not as scorers, rebounders and defenders.

"If you give up some of your game, you're still going to benefit," he said. "Can you be about your teammates rather than yourself? That's the lesson (of the 2011-12 season). It can be done."

Kidd-Gilchrist breathed life into the prevailing theme by mentioning the possible draft pick not present: senior Darius Miller.

As if to accentuate how such togetherness was not inevitable, the announcement showed that the players were not clones. Each traveled a distinctive path to his touching, even if widely anticipated, farewell.

Jones and Lamb — the versatile forward and the laconic shooter — did not let their seniority get in the way.

Calipari saluted how the sophomore graybeards "respected and deferred at times to the young players,"

Even though UK has become synonymous with so-called one-and-done players, Jones and Lamb chose to return for sophomore seasons. When asked what made this year the time to leave, Jones noted the championship run.

"I'm happy with the way I can leave college," he said. "I'm happy that I can move on with the teammate I started with."

Teague faced the unenviable task of being next in Calipari's growing line of stellar point guards: Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall and Brandon Knight. In that company, to not enter the NBA Draft after a freshman season would be noticed.

"It means a lot to keep the tradition going," Teague said. "... I felt I did enough this year. I led this great team. It's like an NBA team."

Kidd-Gilchrist told reporters in February that he would return for a sophomore season. Disbelieving reporters laughed, a reaction validated by the joint announcement in the Craft Center practice court.

Calipari suggested Kidd-Gilchrist might have returned to Kentucky next season if a decision had to be made a month ago. If true, Kidd-Gilchrist sounded 100 percent committed to entering the NBA. Now.

Of his mother's possible reluctance to see her son leave Kentucky for the NBA, Kidd-Gilchrist said, "I had a heart-to-heart with her. I just told her I was going. ...

"It was my dream. I didn't want to wait any more. So I was gone."

Davis' departure became a foregone conclusion by mid-season. By then, he was well on the way to a record-breaking season. One of the greatest freshman seasons in college basketball history included a Southeastern Conference-record 186 blocks. Unbelievable as it seemed, he became the first Kentucky player to win various National Player of the Year awards.

Now, Davis became one of many so-called one-and-done players for Calipari.

Interestingly, Davis balked at what the one-and-done label might connote in terms of heralded high school stars being destined to depart after one college season.

"It's not just about one-and-done," he said. "We really worked our butts off to get to this point. It's not about coming in one year and trying to leave. We all felt we were ready."

The five, plus Miller, figure to take varying paths to the NBA. Calipari suggested all but Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist need to impress during workouts for NBA teams to improve their draft stock.

A mock draft by the Web site DraftExpress.com had Lamb and Miller taken in the second round. Chad Ford of ESPN also had Miller taken in the second round.

By contrast, Davis is a consensus choice as the first player selected in the June draft. If true, he'll join Wall as the only Kentucky players taken with the first pick of an NBA Draft.

When asked about the riches he's about to reap, Davis smiled and said, "Actually, I haven't thought of that. Yeah, that's right. I'm going to be rich."

In a sense, the joint announcement completed a riches-to-riches story. This past season enriched UK players and fans alike.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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