Kentucky basketball charity game featuring former Cats raises big money

jtipton@herald-leader.comSeptember 15, 2012 

After playing in both charity games, former Kentucky star Tony Delk left Rupp Arena Saturday afternoon with a purpose.

"I'm going to the hotel and going to bed," he said after logging 75 minutes. "I'm tired."

At 38, Delk was one of the older players to participate in the exhibitions, which UK Coach John Calipari staged as part of a fund-raiser. Calipari said that the event and an auction held at his home the night before raised about $350,000 for charity.

An announced crowd of 10,173 — which made a relatively muted Rupp Arena less than half-filled — watched former UK players and selected participants from Calipari's Fantasy Camp try to defy time and gravity. Results were mixed.

For example, Jeff Sheppard, the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player when UK won the 1998 national championship, had a ready reply when asked what happened when he couldn't quite get a breakaway dunk over the rim.

"Fourteen years happened," he said with a smile.

Of course, flickering basketball prowess was not the purpose.

The charity distribution included $110,000 for tornado relief in West Liberty, $60,000 to provide service dogs for wounded veterans, $50,000 for Calipari's effort to improve financial literacy in Kentucky and $25,000 to the Lexington/Fayette County chapter of the Urban League. Calipari immediately set a goal of $1 million for a similar event next year.

Largely understated was the aim to embrace former UK players.

Oliver Simmons, who transferred to Florida State in the middle of his sophomore season in the mid-1990s, acknowledged his surprise at being invited to participate. He expressed gratitude to Calipari and UK fans for welcoming his return.

"I didn't know how I'd be accepted," he said before the games. "This meant the world to me."

Expressing regret for a transfer he attributed to youthful impulse, Simmons echoed Calipari's stated objective to separate Kentucky from the college basketball pack.

"When I walked on (UK's) campus Friday, I must have signed 30 autographs," he said. "I could walk on Florida State's campus two days and not sign one autograph."

Delk made seven of nine three-point shots and scored a game-high 23 points in the first exhibition: a 103-43 victory by Kentucky's 1996 national championship team over the Fantasy campers. After scoring only two points (with 12 assists) in the second game, he sounded more moved by Calipari's effort to reunite former UK players than his noticeable fitness (he jogs two miles a day) or still-accurate shooting touch.

"He's done a great job bringing us all back," Delk said of Calipari, "and making us one big family."

Fan Linda Sarrett of Oldham County said she came for the chance to celebrate Kentucky basketball.

"Cal gets it," she said. "He knows what's important here in Kentucky basketball: history."

To explain why the so-called Big Blue Nation did not turn out in, well, big numbers for the game, several fans cited UK's home football game Saturday evening against Western Kentucky.

"A lot of people are tailgating," Sarrett said.

Added Brad Grider, a Nashville native who turned 24 Saturday: "Might be football. That's actually the season going on."

Gary Mathis of Scottsville said UK's reliance on social media to spread the word about the exhibitions did not reach the widest possible audience.

The second half of the doubleheader, which featured former UK players in a light-hearted pickup game, saw DeMarcus Cousins make five three-pointers and score 42 points. "He finally admitted he was holding me back," Cousins said of Calipari in a bit of jocularity.

Anthony Davis, whose introduction generated perhaps the loudest cheer of the afternoon, added 40 points to help Cousins lead the White team to a 121-93 victory over the Blue team.

"The fans don't change," Cousins said when asked about playing again in Rupp Arena. "They always show the same love."

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

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