The Gregorian calendar said it was mid-August. But by the Ruppian method of keeping time, it was smack dab in the middle of a make-or-break basketball season.
The Cat-mosphere hung thick in the air in Rupp Arena on Monday night as the John Calipari-coached Dominican Republic National Team beat a group of University of Kentucky NBA veterans 106-88. For the Dominicans, it was a tuneup for an Olympic qualifying tournament later in the summer.
For the mostly blue-clad UK fans in attendance, it was important enough to lustily boo former villains playing for the Dominicans and scream objections to more than a few officiating decisions.
"We all think this is normal," Calipari said after his team won 106-88. "This is not normal."
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Calipari likened the environment to an NBA playoff game. John Wall, the No. 1 draft pick in the 2010 NBA draft, said he experienced "nothing close to Rupp's atmosphere in the NBA last year."
Perhaps joking, Calipari suggested that the loss by the former UK players would anger ever-partisan UK fans.
"There are going to be people mad tomorrow because we lost," he said.
To which former UK coach Joe B. Hall, an honorary coach of the former Cats, quipped, "I may be hung in effigy tomorrow."
Alumni game next?
Several of the former UK players endorsed the idea of repeating the experience annually in an alumni game. Wall, a native of Raleigh, N.C., noted that North Carolina plays such a game each off-season.
DeMarcus Cousins, who continued his Rupp Arena habit of feeling persecuted by non-calls, said he'd like to participate in future games.
"I'm down with it," he said before adding, "as long as we don't have the same refs."
The former UK players faced a decided disadvantage in terms of conditioning and practice preparation.
The Dominicans had been working out at UK since the beginning of the month. Many of the former UK players arrived in Lexington on Sunday. They did not install much of an offense and experimented freely during the game, Hall said. The former UK coach asked reporters to factor in that difference before criticizing the ex-Cats.
UK-U of L
When asked about the UK-U of L rivalry that infused the exhibition with passion, Calipari seemed taken aback.
"I don't know of any Louisville player I don't have a good relationship with," he said. "We battle. When it's over, it's over."
Later, Calipari sounded ambivalent about the series, saying, "I guess it's good for our state."
To which Hall nodded in the affirmative. "The crowd was awesome," he said.