John Clay: UK players say they'll miss their 'family'

jclay@herald-leader.comApril 17, 2012 

John Calipari has a saying for this time of year.

If his best players want do what's best for the Kentucky coach's family, they will return to college for another season.

If his best players want to do what's best for their families, then they will declare themselves eligible for the NBA Draft.

So Tuesday night, 15 days after leading UK to its first national championship in 14 years, Kentucky's top five underclassmen surprised no one by doing what was best for themselves and their families, announcing they would leave school and make themselves eligible for the professional ranks.

And yet, for Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague, there was the tug of another family, their new family, their adopted family, a family whose ties were stronger and deeper than they could have ever predicted.

There was the family inside the Craft Center.

"These guys are my brothers," said Terrence Jones after the announcement. "That's the thing I'm going to miss, playing with my brothers."

And there was the bigger family outside the lines, the Big Blue Nation family.

"When I first came into here, people told me that the fans were crazy, but I didn't know they were going to be like this," Lamb said Tuesday. "It's been unbelievable since I've been here. I love the BBN."

Did that make the decision to leave that much harder?

"I'll miss the fans," said Teague, "but more than anything I'm going to miss playing with these guys. It's a brotherhood we created. It's hard to let that go."

That might sound hokey. That might sound corny. Yet with this team, in this season, it had the ring of truth Tuesday night.

This was a team that excelled in large part because of its unselfishness.

Because of its unselfishness, and its talent, and (of course) it's highest accomplishment, it took just one season to forge an everlasting bond with that fan base.

That's the thing that surprises players. They're nationally acclaimed high school stars. They're AAU hotshots. They are recruited by all the top programs in the country.

They come here to improve their games, showcase their talent, prepare themselves for the NBA and hopefully win a championship along the way.

But go talk to John Wall. Or DeMarcus Cousins. Or Brandon Knight. Or Josh Harrellson. They will tell you that once they arrive, they are almost taken aback by the passion and the support and the love of the BBN.

"They support you so much," said Teague. "You look into the crowd at an away game and it's full of Kentucky fans. We got more fans than the other team. It's like a home game. It just shows how much they love us and how much they support us."

That's something they don't forget.

When Davis said that despite what people thought it was a tough decision to leave, someone asked why?

"The fans," he said. "The school. To see what we did to win a national title, it would always be good to win another one. Just playing in college."

Fans being fans, and Kentucky basketball fans being Kentucky basketball fans, there is already talk of winning another title, with a different set of players.

"They'll have good players," said Lamb when asked about next season. "Coach Cal can get anybody he wants."

There have been a lot of great players — and coaches, for that matter — who have never won a national championship, however.

Even at a program now with eight banners, there have been a lot of great Kentucky players — many of whom played four years — who never won a championship.

These guys did.

So as they go and rightfully fulfill their NBA dreams, and new players come to UK to take their place, that's how they will be remembered, as champions.

How might they remember Kentucky?

There's another saying about family: Home is where you start from.

These "brothers" will call this place home.

John Clay: 859-231-3226. Blog: Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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