Former NBA coach Del Harris, he of the snow-white head of hair, is a basketball Zelig. He's seen and been seen at just about all the game can offer: from coaching junior high girls to guiding teams in the Olympics and the NBA Finals.
Monday night at Rupp Arena marked a first for Harris, who estimated that he's watched about 4,000 games in a coaching career that spans five decades. In all that heap of hoops, he'd never seen anything like the 2013 UK Alumni Charity Game. Kentucky fans filled a lot of Rupp's cavernous space on a Sept. 9 to watch ... what?
"To watch a bunch of guys they've loved as Wildcat players just (pause) fool around is amazing," Harris said.
Two stats explained the fooling around: the former players launched 57 three-point shots and took just 12 free throws. To put the fantasy in this finale of the John Calipari Fantasy Experience, the official boxscore showed that no Kentucky player was whistled for a foul. (Don't ask how that gibes with 12 free-throw attempts. We're talking fantasy here.)
At one point, Harris heard an assistant coach, Butch Carter, ask what the team should do.
Recalling the moment, Harris smiled and said he replied, "Nothing, really."
A big, noticeably enthusiastic crowd did not surprise John Wall, who led the "winning" Blue team with 40 points.
"It's the state of basketball," he said of Kentucky. "So it's not surprising to me."See photos of former Kentucky players at alumni game
Brandon Knight, who "lost" the duel of star point guards with 30 points, echoed the sentiment.
"I mean, I don't expect anything else from Kentucky fans," he said. "That's what you kind of expect. It just shows the appreciation that's here, the tradition and how much the fans are behind the players here. I think that's why we take the time out of our schedules now to come back and play in things like this, because we know we have a lot of support when we were here.
The game raised $1,005,000 for 17 charities. The breakdown was $50,000 for each of the following: 4 Paws for Ability, City House, Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, Hope for the Warriors, Hope House, Kentucky Army National Guard, Red Cross for the Bluegrass, Samaritan's Feet, Team Focus, the Lexington Chapter of the Urban League and Kids 2 Camp. There were $100,000 donations to EverFi and Starkey Hearing Foundation, another $200,000 to Street Ministries, $25,000 to UK Healthcare, $20,000 to the Louisville Zoo and $10,000 to Save the Children.
The inaugural event last year raised about $350,000.
While lacking in competitive zeal (only once did a player post up for a shot), the game had plenty of star power. Six former first-round draft picks in the Calipari era participated: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and Patrick Patterson as well as Wall and Knight.
All that star power figured to make an impression on the prospects in attendance. Those players were expected to be Jahlil Okafor, No. 1 prospect in Class of 2014, plus Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. Prospects from the Class of 2015 expected to attend included Charles Matthews, Derrick Jones and Luke Kennard.
Of the head-turning potential of the game, the array of Kentucky-to-the-NBA talent and the loving crowd, Knight said, "You've gotta think about it. There's that many NBA players the past couple years. There has to be something going on here where the guys know they're going to get better and they know they're going to have a chance to win a national championship. So I would think about why are so many guys going here and making it to the next level. And making it to the next level and being successful as well. So I would want to be a part of it."
That winning cat-mosphere caught the attention of Dino Gaudio, whose last game as Wake Forest coach was an NCAA Tournament loss to Kentucky. During a banquet to tip off the Fantasy Experience last weekend, he specifically asked to coach a camp team labeled "Kentucky."
"I wanted to change my luck," he said after his Kentucky team beat Minnesota for the camp championship earlier Monday evening.
After Gaudio's team won, the next game saw a group of former UK players beat a group of middle-aged and beyond campers. Before that game, Kenny "Sky" Walker cautioned fans not to expect any sky walking from a now 49-year-old UK icon.
"I'm a down-to-earth kind of guy, now," he said.
Surely, that was the only down-to-earth moment of the evening.