With the possible exception of the Phoenix Suns, no NBA team has had a stronger connection to Kentucky in recent seasons than the Sacramento Kings.
Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere played for the Kings last season. So did DeMarcus Cousins until a late-season trade to the New Orleans Pelicans. Rajon Rondo played for the Kings in 2015-16.
This Kentucky-Kings connection might strengthen next season, what with five UK players draft eligible and Sacramento holding three of the top 34 picks: Nos. 5, 10 and 34.
Amid speculation about the Kings picking a Kentucky player in the June 22 NBA Draft, The Sacramento Bee compiled a roundup of recent comments about several ex-Cats.
Here are highlights:
▪ Andrew Sharp of SI.com wrote that De’Aaron Fox was the best guard in the draft other than Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz.
“And he may have the chance to be as good as either one,” Sharp wrote. “Of everyone outside Fultz, Fox is probably the safest bet to be very, very good. His defense will be relentless, and on offense he’s got John Wall-speed coupled with a Mike Conley floater.”
▪ In a bit of a head scratcher, Matt Lombardo of NJ.com suggested the Kings might look to another UK player to be their point guard of the future. “Point guard remains the Sacramento Kings’ biggest need heading into the NBA Draft,” he wrote, “and Vlade Divac fills that void with Kentucky’s Malik Monk.”
▪ Sam Vecenie of The Sporting News envisioned an effective backcourt combination for the Kings that includes Fox. “He’d be a strong fit next to Buddy Hield,” Vecenie wrote, “as the former Oklahoma star could provide the necessary floor spacing next to Fox as he works out his shot and gets stronger.”
▪ Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times suggested finding a point guard could wait. “Yes, the Kings have a shooting guard in Buddy Hield,” he wrote. “But this organization is so unpredictable. Still, a team like the Kings can never have enough shooting, and Monk can shoot.”
Here’s how ESPN’s analyst, Chad Ford, projected UK players being first-round picks in the June 22 NBA Draft:
The three-to-eight range for Malik Monk, and three-to-seven for De’Aaron Fox.
As for Bam Adebayo, Ford said, “Bam is still hard to get a total read on, 18-to-25, 17-to-25. Something like that.”
Witness to history
As part of last year’s 50th anniversary of the Kentucky-Texas Western 1966 NCAA Tournament final, Frank Deford recalled covering the game for Sports Illustrated.
Ever the professional, Deford began by remembering how the game lacked competitive drama, thus no compelling storyline.
“It was a very dull game, I remember that,” he said. “Texas Western got ahead, and just sort of stayed ahead the whole game. It was a very run-of-the-mill game. It was very hard to write anything about it.”
That changed over the years, of course. The game took on historical and social significance because Texas Western became the first team with an all-black starting lineup to win the national championship.
Unwittingly, all-white Kentucky found itself representing the wrong-headed status quo.
Deford, who died last Sunday, observed a flashpoint of this history. The night before UK played Texas Western, Kentucky Coach Adolph Rupp invited Deford to come to the UK locker room at halftime of the championship game. Rupp set one condition: If Kentucky lost the game, everything Deford saw and heard in the halftime locker room would be off the record.
Standing in the back of the locker room, Deford said he heard Rupp use a slur when referring to Texas Western big man David Lattin. “The word he used was coon,” Deford said.
As agreed upon, Deford did not use anything from the UK locker room in his story. After Rupp died a decade later, Deford wrote about the UK coach’s use of the slur.
“A couple guys on the Kentucky team said they don’t remember that at all,” Deford said. “I wish I’d kept my notepad. I didn’t.
“It struck me so. It was so striking, so powerful. In my mind, I know he said it. I think he said it twice as a matter of fact. They said he didn’t say it, and I don’t want to get into an argument with the guys on the Kentucky team. My sense was he probably used words like that all the time, and so it didn’t hit them in the same way it hit me. But I don’t know.”
‘Not a fluke’
Do-everything wing Sindarius Thornwell saw South Carolina’s Final Four run this year as validation of his play and his teammates’ play.
“It’s one thing to do it against South Carolina State,” he said at the NBA Combine. “It’s another thing when you do it against Duke.”
In the second-round victory over Duke, Thornwell led the Gamecocks with 24 points and five assists. He also had six rebounds.
“People saw what I did all season was not a fluke,” he said.
Thornwell led he SEC in scoring (21.4 ppg), while also averaging 7.1 rebounds and making 39.2 percent of his three-point shots.
For what it’s worth, mock drafts suggest NBA types remain unconvinced. In its latest projections, NBADraft.net has Thornwell taken with the 38th pick. DraftExpress.com has him taken with the 56th pick.
Former UK player Derek Willis and fiancée Keely Potts have set their wedding day. They plan to marry on Aug. 4, 2018, in Elizabethtown, where Potts has extended family.
Of course, Willis proposed at mid-court on Senior Night Feb. 28.
We never talk
Jamal Brewley, who works at Quest Multisport in Chicago (the site of the NBA Combine), considers himself a rabid Kentucky basketball fan. His rooting for UK is a choice, not predestined by being from Kentucky or influenced by those around him.
Brewley grew up in the Virgin Islands, and has lived in Chicago the last 32 years.
Of his interest in Kentucky, Brewley said, “My wife knows not to bother me during a Kentucky game.”
Former UK player Dale Brown will hold a camp on Friday and Saturday at Calvary Baptist Church in Lexington.
The camp is for boys and girls ages 6 through 16. The entry fee is $60.
For more information, call 404-998-2412 or go to the Dale Brown’s Sports Academy Foundation’s website at bit.ly/2so9W9Q.
To former Mississippi State player Dontae’ Jones, who made 12 of 18 shots and scored 28 points in a victory over Kentucky in the 1996 SEC Tournament finals. He turned 42 on Friday. … To referee John Hampton. He turned 49 on Friday. … To former Florida forward Al Horford. He turned 31 on Saturday. … To former UK assistant coach Barry “Slice” Rohrssen. He turns 57 on Tuesday.