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Four freshmen trace genesis of Final Four season back to McDonald's game

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Marquis Teague and his three fellow freshmen have helped carry UK to the Final Four in New Orleans. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Marquis Teague and his three fellow freshmen have helped carry UK to the Final Four in New Orleans. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
NEW ORLEANS -- It has been almost exactly a year since Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer played in the McDonald's All-American Game on March 30, 2011.

The players that would combine to form John Calipari's third straight top-ranked recruiting class all knew one another from the AAU and high-school all-star circuits, but the event that annually features the nation's top seniors served as a transformative moment.

Even though the four wouldn't arrive in Lexington for more than two months, the work of building toward a berth in the Final Four in New Orleans began in Chicago. As the diverse group came together as one for the first time, the future Wildcats could already tell something special was in the making.

"That was the first time we got a chance to get around each other," Teague said. "We could tell we were going to be great teammates toward each other then. We were getting along and just had fun being around each other and it just carries on to this day."

All-star showcases like the McDonald's game often devolve into little more than dunking exhibitions, but looking back on the way each of the four played proves to be oddly predictive knowing how their first college season turned out.

Ironically, Kidd-Gilchrist, now known as the consummate team player, was split from his three future teammates on the East Team. In leading the East to a 111-96 victory, Kidd-Gilchrist would earn Most Valuable Player honors with 16 points and 12 rebounds, turning in the kind of performance UK fans have come to expect of the swingman in nearly every big game.

Meanwhile, Davis dazzled with 14 points, six rebounds and four blocks, merely teasing the player of the year form he has shown during his freshman campaign. Teague played floor general with nine points and five assists, and Wiltjer was an offensive spark off the bench with 11 points in just 15 minutes.

In interviews both before and after the game, the four - often talking together - made proclamations about what the future would hold at Kentucky, most famously in a "Smackdown" video produced by Draft Express. The calm confidence the young Wildcats have shown all season was on full display from the moment Davis introduced himself to viewers.

"Anthony Davis, going to Kentucky," Davis said. "Wildcats Final Four."

Davis' bold prediction would prove more than bluster.

The rest of the video would feature playful banter between various combinations of the future Cats and Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear, both Louisville signees, about which team would win the annual "Dream Game" between UK and U of L. If the week in Chicago was the first chance for Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Teague and Wiltjer to come together, the interaction with the two future Cardinals was a sort of initiation into the rivalry that consumes the Commonwealth.

"That was the first time talking to those guys about the game and things like that," Teague said. "You could already see what kind of battle it was going to be. Kentucky vs. Louisville is huge in the state of Kentucky."

Little did they know that the regular-season matchup they were trash-talking about would be rendered little more than a footnote by the first-ever Final Four showdown between the two schools.

Getting the upper hand in the back and forth with Behanan and Blackshear, whom the four UK freshman call friends, would be nice, but the Wildcats are more concerned with what defeating U of L will put them in position to do. Their first season in college has proven to be beyond even Davis's most daring prognostications from a year ago, but there is one ambition that is still outstanding.

"The season has been great so far," Davis said. "Coach Cal has told us, 'Win or lose, we have had an awesome season.' I love our team, we have accomplished so many goals and we still have one more goal to accomplish: winning a national title."

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