Two players on the Dominican Republic team — Edgar Sosa and Francisco Garcia — played for the University of Louisville. That makes training at the University of Kentucky and speaking highly of Coach John Calipari an oddity.
"It's a little weird," said Sosa, who noted that when he played for U of L he made it a point never to come to Lexington (other than when the Cardinals played at UK).
"Most definitely," he said of avoiding Lexington. "While you're at Louisville, you know you don't want to come to Lexington. ... There were certain places in Louisville you don't want to go to (because of UK fans). It's all in fun."
Former Florida standout Al Horford said he's had to remind Gator Nation that his participation with the Dominican Republic team should not be interpreted as a defection to UK.
Never miss a local story.
"It's nothing personal," said Horford, who noted how former Florida teammates Taurean Green and Joakim Noah teased him about being at UK this month.
When asked about Monday's exhibition in Rupp Arena, Horford said, "It's going to be a circus, man. I know it's going to be a road game (for the Dominicans). Big Blue is going to show out."
Sosa and Garcia spoke of how much they've enjoyed playing for Calipari with the Dominican team.
"I'm not going to lie," Sosa said. "I love playing for Coach Cal.
"Watching Coach Cal's point guards on TV is not the same thing as actually playing for him. The point guard position, you have so much freedom and opportunity to create for yourself."
Sosa, who has apparently adapted well to the dribble-drive offense, acknowledged that some U of L fans might object to a positive statement about a UK coach. But fans who "understand the game" will accept the notion, he said.
Added Garcia: "I have a very good relationship with Coach (Rick) Pitino. The truth is the truth."
Garcia said he appreciated Calipari's candor.
"He tells you what it is," he said. "He doesn't mind if you're a NBA player. He tells you exactly how he feels."
Meanwhile, the UK-U of L rivalry hangs in the air.
Garcia said he had been recognized by UK fans while in Lexington for the training camp. Those fans ask, "How do you feel? It's better than Louisville, right?" Garcia said with a smile.
In noting that Monday's exhibition game in Rupp Arena is a sellout and Tuesday's game in Louisville had sold more than 13,000 tickets, John Calipari suggested the University of Kentucky consider using the off-season to raise money.
"After seeing this turnout, the powers that be ought to be talking about it," Calipari said Friday.
Calipari noted that North Carolina is among schools that use off-season games to raise money for charities and scholarships.
In addition to fund-raising, such games can also make former players feel a closer kinship with the program, Calipari said.
Proceeds help Dominicans
Calipari said the exhibition games will help the Dominican Republic fund its basketball program.
The Dominicans owe a debt to the governing body of international basketball, plus they need help paying player insurance that won't be covered by the NBA because of that league's labor dispute. Proceeds can also help defray costs associated with the training camp in Lexington.
The revenues generated will not come close to paying the expenses, Calipari said. "But at least they know we're trying to help them."
Two players for the Sacramento Kings — Garcia and DeMarcus Cousins — will be on opposing teams in the exhibitions. Garcia will play for the Dominican Republic national team. Cousins will play for a team made up of former UK players.
"I'm going to be talking to him the whole game," Garcia said.
When asked what he might say to Cousins, Garcia said, "He's still my 'rook.' I'll see what kind of shape he's in. He says he's been working out. If I don't see (evidence of the workouts), I'm going to let him know."