Keith Bogans hasn't played in Rupp Arena since Senior Night, 2003. That long time gone weighed on his mind as he returned to Lexington to play with a group of former University of Kentucky players against a John Calipari-coached Dominican Republic national team.
"I never thought I'd play on that floor again," Bogans said Sunday night before entering a reception for the teams in a downtown Lexington restaurant. "I don't think it's about winning or losing. I think it's about coming back here, seeing the fans, feeling the excitement. That's what it's more about to me."
Some of the brightest lights to shine for UK in Rupp Arena in recent seasons made like Hollywood stars at a movie premier. They arrived on a red carpet — really more like a red throw rug covering about 10 feet of sidewalk — to pose for pictures and answer a few questions from reporters.
Tayshaun Prince. John Wall. Eric Bledsoe. DeMarcus Cousins. Nazr Mohammed. Jodie Meeks.
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(Rajon Rondo was a late arrival.)
More than one of the former UK stars spoke of the special feeling of playing again in Rupp Arena. Bogans put that feeling into words as he explained why he jumped at the chance to play against the Dominicans.
"All the guys who successfully made it and moved on in their careers," he said of his exclusive company. "To come back and be part of that group of guys is definitely something special."
When Bogans first heard about the game from UK spokesman DeWayne Peevy, he did not believe it could be true.
"I thought it was a joke," he said. "I immediately hung up the phone and called Tayshaun (who said) 'No, it's a game.' I called DeWayne back and said, 'Put me down.' "
During interviews Friday, players for the Dominican team noted how the exhibition will be a road game. The former UK players spoke of their expectation of a sellout crowd cheering them on.
"We might have a little shootaround," Prince said of the next-to-no game preparation for the former UK players. "We don't have any type of chemistry. Our backs are against the wall. Our crowd will help us out, and hopefully that will keep us in the ball game."
Just like a real game, the coaches spoke glowingly of the opposition.
Calipari noted a "really hard" game, in part, because the former UK players were taking the game seriously. They had three weeks to prepare, a period in which they asked Calipari to send the type of FIBA international balls that will be used, he said.
"It's not going to be an all-star game," Calipari said. "That 'back away and don't touch (an opponent driving to the basket).' They're trying to win. I know we're trying to win. They will try to win. It should be interesting."
The former UK players expect their competitive juices to flow.
"We haven't lost a game in Rupp," said Cousins, speaking of himself and former teammates Wall and Bledsoe. "And we want to keep it that way."
But while the Dominicans, who boast NBA firepower in Al Horford and Francisco Garcia, have been working out for two weeks, the former UK stars are in the middle of NBA off-seasons.
Bogans said knee surgery after last season left him in "probably not the greatest basketball shape."
Prince said he kept to his usual schedule of an extended off-season vacation. "I usually get going on the 15th of August," he said of when he resumes workouts. "Here we are."
When asked his level of conditioning, a slim and trim Cousins noted his recent vacation. "Before Vegas, I was good," he said before declining to say what adventures he had in Las Vegas. "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas," he said.