Journeyman Nana Papa Yaw Mensah-Bonsu has had more basketball homes than he's got names. "Pops," as he's known, is with his fifth NBA team, the Washington Wizards. At various times, he's also played for teams based in six foreign countries (Spain, Italy, Israel, Turkey, Russia and France).
He thought he'd seen it all. Then he got a look at the University of Kentucky's still shiny-new $3 million locker room prior to the Wizards' pre-season game against New Orleans in Rupp Arena on Saturday night.
When he saw a Washington Post reporter waiting for pre-game interviews in the hallway outside the UK locker room, Mensah-Bonsu felt compelled to marvel at what lay beyond the double set of glass doors.
"Seeing this and going back to DC?" he said before slumping his shoulders for effect. "I've got to go back to college."
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The Pelicans, who actually used UK's locker room, were also impressed. "When I walked in here, I was speechless, really," reserve guard Brian Roberts said in the circular area housing the wooden lockers. "This is world class."
Of course, the Wizards-Pelicans game was not intended to showcase UK's locker room, which was expanded to 6,000 square feet last year. It was a where-are-they-now look at former UK stars John Wall (Wizards) and Anthony Davis (Pelicans), plus a third celebrated former Cat, Darius Miller (Pelicans).
Davis provided a flashback to his UK championship season of 2011-12. With the Pelicans ahead by two points inside the final 20 seconds, he blocked Bradley Beal's driving shot to help his team win 93-89.
"It was fun," Davis said of the return. "It was real fun. The crowd was awesome."
Davis, who had 16 points and two blocks, objected to the notion that the block made him think of the game-saving rejection he had against North Carolina's John Henson at the other end of the Rupp Arena court two seasons ago.
"It was this game," he said. "You can't think of college."
Pelicans Coach Monty Williams spoke highly of Davis' diligence and desire to improve.
"His ability to allow himself to be coached and also keep his edge and that hunger to be a great player, if he keeps that, he's going to be as good as he wants to be," Williams said. "I have no issues with Anthony at all. I pray to God I can coach him for as long as he can play."
Williams noted how Davis can impact a NBA game without scoring, something UK fans recall from the 2012 national championship game.
"Only 10 people in the league can have that kind of effect," the Pelicans' coach said. "And he's doing it at 20 years old."
Competitive priorities aside, the game had a homecoming undercurrent.
"It's been really nice for me," Miller said of the return. "All the Kentucky fans have shown me a great amount of love throughout my whole career. I appreciate it."
Miller got so much love on this visit that Roberts noted how it led to good-natured teasing. "We've been joking, he's kind of mayor around here," Roberts said.
Miller did not play because of a stress fracture in his left foot.
In contrast to UK's raucous Big Blue Madness 24 hours earlier, a Wizards-Pelicans game featured polite competition interrupted whenever Davis or Wall did anything. Even a made free throw by Davis rated a cheer.
During the formal announcement of starting lineups, the announced crowd of 14,980 cheered loudest for Davis. The second-loudest cheers were for Wall, whose weekend in Lexington included Big Blue Madness.
"I'm just excited to be back here and let my teammates enjoy some of the experience of Midnight Madness last night," he said before the game, "and see how the Big Blue Nation fans are. I think (the Wizard teammates) were very excited and surprised by how things went."
It was not lost on Wall that this marked his first loss in Rupp Arena or that he would be an NBA rookie had he stayed in college four seasons.
"It would be exciting if I could have stayed four years," he said. "But I'm happy where I am and my situation. You get chills coming back here knowing this is where you played and how the fans treat you and give you a lot of support."
That support now goes to such freshman stars as Julius Randle and the Harrison twins. The former Cats advised the current Cats to sacrifice individual ambition for the benefit of the team. If they do that, they, too, can take bows at an NBA exhibition game someday.
"Last year was a down season," Wall said of a UK season that ended with a first-round NIT loss. "It's something you have to deal with. But this year, it's back to the top."
Pelicans 93, Wizards 89
WASHINGTON (89) — Ariza 1-6 0-0 3, Booker 0-1 2-2 2, Nene 2-5 6-8 10, Wall 5-11 6-6 16, Beal 12-19 3-4 30, Webster 3-12 0-0 9, Harrington 5-9 3-5 13, Seraphin 0-2 3-4 3, Maynor 1-3 0-0 3, Temple 0-2 0-0 0, Vesely 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 29-71 23-29 89.
NEW ORLEANS (93) — Aminu 1-2 0-0 2, Davis 6-10 4-4 16, Stiemsma 1-3 0-0 2, Holiday 7-18 5-6 19, Gordon 6-11 1-1 16, Smith 2-4 3-6 7, Anderson 3-12 0-0 7, Rivers 1-4 0-0 2, Roberts 2-8 2-2 7, Morrow 5-10 3-3 15, Thomas 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 34-82 18-22 93.
Washington 26 22 24 17—89
New Orleans 25 27 14 27—93
Three-point goals—Washington 8-21 (Beal 3-5, Webster 3-7, Ariza 1-2, Maynor 1-3, Temple 0-1, Wall 0-1, Harrington 0-2), New Orleans 7-22 (Gordon 3-6, Morrow 2-4, Roberts 1-3, Anderson 1-5, Holiday 0-2, Rivers 0-2). Fouled out—None. Rebounds—Washington 50 (Seraphin 9), New Orleans 50 (Smith 9). Assists—Washington 23 (Wall 11), New Orleans 20 (Holiday 8). Total fouls—Washington 19, New Orleans 25. Technicals—Washington defensive three-second. A—14,980 (23,000).