Separated by a season or three in college, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins nonetheless share unusual skills for such big men and a sense of fraternity.
All three attended the University of Kentucky — albeit at different times — and on at least one occasion have returned to Lexington in summer to play pickup games on the same floor.
“They’re fun, they’re a lot of fun when you get to go against the best of the best in the league,” Towns said. “That’s why we’re here in the NBA, because we love playing the best, the most elite competition in the world. To be able to go there and step into one gym against each other is pretty cool.”
Towns recalls multiple occasions the three have played together in summer. Davis remembers only one, during Towns’ lone collegiate season on his way to being the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft.
“Three players make a name for themselves in the NBA, some great games,” Davis said. “Everybody has gotten better, myself, DeMarcus and Karl all have gotten better since then. I can only imagine how it’d be now.”
It’s a brotherhood. No matter if you were the star player to the last player on the bench, there’s a journey you have to go through and it’s the same journey. No one will understand unless you’re a player there.
Davis will start for the Western Conference at next Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans, his adopted hometown. Cousins will come off the bench for the West as one of its seven reserves. Towns will play in Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge, awaiting the day soon when he joins them in Sunday’s marquee game.
They never played on the same Kentucky team — Cousins left in 2010, Davis played one season in 2011-12 and Towns one season in 2014-15 — but they consider themselves united in a way, cut from the same swath of Kentucky-blue cloth.
“It’s a brotherhood,” Towns said. “No matter if you were the star player to the last player on the bench, there’s a journey you have to go through and it’s the same journey. No one will understand unless you’re a player there.”
All three have been tempered by the crucible that is Kentucky basketball, forged by a fanatical spectator base and Coach John Calipari’s demanding expectations.
“Cal preaches family, so you just stick with that for the rest of your career no matter where you are,” said Davis, a No. 1 overall pick himself. “When you see guys who played at Kentucky, you already have that connection with them even when you don’t know them.”
All three are just the latest in a history that goes back generations.
“I’ve talked to alums from the 1980s and you both feel like you have the same story,” Towns said. “The fan base is absolutely wild, the lifestyle is like being a rock star and the trials and tribulations are second to none. It’s amazing the experience you have being a Kentucky Wildcat. No one institution will give you that.”
They also possess shooting, passing and playmaking not found in big men, and, as odds would have it, all from the same university.
Cal preaches family, so you just stick with that for the rest of your career no matter where you are. When you see guys who played at Kentucky, you already have that connection with them even when you don’t know them.
“Every list you put together of the most talented five or six big guys in this league, all three of those guys are going to be on it,” New Orleans Coach Alvin Gentry said. “I would imagine those would be some pretty good pickups games and if you mix in some other alums, you could have a pretty good NBA game.”
Thibodeau was asked if Calipari has developed three uniquely skilled big men or has been able to recruit the best of the best.
“The answer is probably both,” Thibodeau said. “He has gotten great players and they sort of have that tradition now. When you look at Cousins, Davis and of course Karl, that’s a lot of talent.”