Photo slideshow: D2 defeats the Bluegrass Boys in The Basketball Tournament
University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari likes to say that the Wildcats are every team’s Super Bowl. Friday produced evidence that the gleam doesn’t dim when players move on from Lexington.
The Bluegrass Boys — a team featuring several former UK players — fell to D2, a team comprised of former Division II standouts, in the first round of The Basketball Tournament, 77-62, late Friday night at Frederick Douglass High School.
Marcus Lee, who scored 15 points for the Kentucky-based squad, expected some strong punches for as long as the Bluegrass Boys lasted in the 64-team event, which concludes with a $2 million winner-take-all championship game next month.
“That’s how it’s been our whole career,” Lee said. “You learn pretty quick, if you’ve got Bluegrass Boys on you, you’ve got Kentucky on you, they’re coming for your head because of who you are. No matter where we end up playing or what we’re doing. ... We can’t forget that we always have a target on our back, no matter what day it is.”
Lee said he could be playing pickup in any random location and still get extra attention because of his ties to UK. It’s even funnier to him because he didn’t actually finish his career with the Wildcats; Lee transferred to and graduated from California after three years at Kentucky.
That departure did not negatively affect his relationship with other former Wildcats and UK’s coaching staff. He called up UK assistant Kenny Payne before he left for Lexington this week to schedule a workout session.
“Immediately he’s like, ‘Yeah, whatever you need,’” Lee said. “They’re so open. The transfer doesn’t matter, you’re still a part of the Kentucky family no matter where you go. ... I went to another school, but you’re mostly remembered for going to Kentucky and that’s the great part about it. I love being in Kentucky, and I try to come back to Kentucky as much as possible just to give back to the community that gave so much to me. They made me into the person I am.”
Coming back to Kentucky is a more natural homecoming for Dominique Hawkins, a former Madison Central star who suited up Friday. He finished with seven points and two steals. Drew McDonald, a former Northern Kentucky University standout, led the Bluegrass Boys with 16 points and six rebounds. The other former Wildcats on the roster, Kevin Galloway and Ramon Harris, finished with seven and three points, respectively.
The Bluegrass Boys trailed by just three points at halftime but D2 pulled away in the third quarter and was able to fend off a late rally before advancing. Shaun Willett, a Division II All-American at Queens University last season, scored a game-high 19 points to lead the underdogs; D2 was the No. 7 seed in the Lexington Regional.
“They definitely came out and played very well,” Hawkins said. “They wanted to come out and make a name for themselves in this tournament, and they did that today. They came out and out-manned us, pretty much.”
D2 boasted less name recognition but made up for it with continuity; its players have prepared for this tournament since last September, before they even knew if they’d qualify. It showed; four of them finished in double-figure scoring.
“Some of those guys were McDonald’s All-Americans out of high school,” said D2 Coach Grant Leonard, who’s the associate head coach at Queens University, “but now these guys on our squad are actually All-Americans in college, and we’re proud of that. Our guys have worked really hard on their games and they’ve continued to take off in their games in college and in their pro careers, and we’re extremely proud to wear D2 on our chest.
“Our guys feel like they’ve taken their games to a level that’s higher than those guys.”
The Basketball Tournament
Lexington Regional schedule
At Frederick Douglass High School
▪ No. 3 Fort Wayne Champs 96, No. 6 Showtime 59
▪ No. 1 Loyalty is Love 107, No. 8 Hoopville Warriors 98
▪ No. 4 KBC 94, No. 5 Peoria All-Stars 82
▪ No. 7 D2 77, No. 2 Bluegrass Boys 62
4 p.m.: No. 1 Loyalty is Love vs. No. 4 KBC (ESPN2)
6 p.m.: No. 3 Fort Wayne Champs vs. No. 7 D2 (ESPN2)
2 p.m.: Championship game (ESPN)