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Even with paths about to diverge, these Cats stayed together

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Anthony Davis, Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague announced their decisions to turn pro in a joint press conference on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Anthony Davis, Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague announced their decisions to turn pro in a joint press conference on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
From this point forward, everything is going to change for the underclassmen starters who led Kentucky to its eighth national championship.

After all five declared for the NBA Draft on Tuesday evening, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb will begin to go their separate ways. They will finish classes and spend time with one another in the coming weeks, but preparations for their professional futures now begin in earnest.

With things about to be so much different for a group that has been inseparable from the outset, it felt only right that they stand together one last time to announce to the world they were taking the next step toward their dreams.

"It just shows how together we are," Davis said. "We went through it together. We all came to Coach (John Calipari) and said, 'We all want to do this together. We're a team and this shows people how we did this together this year to win a national title. We should do this together.' "

Coach Cal, unaware of the plan to hold a joint announcement, was surprised to hear of it, but in hindsight, he probably shouldn't have been.

 "I didn't even know they wanted to do it together," Calipari said. "We say all the time, 'Be the teammate you want to play with.' This team has done that by showing up what they're doing today. They taught us a lot."

For a brief moment, the plot appeared to be in danger. With the press conference announced for 2 p.m. on Tuesday, it became clear one of the five would be unable to attend due to a snag in travel arrangements. Even so, they weren't about to be deterred. Schedules were rearranged and the event pushed back a few hours.

"It got backed up because one player couldn't be there at that time and we made it work," Jones said. "We all wanted to be there and just do it together like we've done everything else together."

Together was certainly the word of the evening, but it also marked the end of the all-for-one approach that carried the Cats to a title. With every in-season goal achieved as a team, it's now the time for players to make decisions for themselves.

"During the season, it's about our team," Calipari said. "You saw it in this year's team. They were about each other. It's about how we play together, how we share. When the season is over, it's about moments like this. It's about these young people getting with their families, getting information and making decisions about their future."

With that in mind, let's talk briefly about the decision each made:

Davis makes the logical choice

After a season of hearing Coach Cal preach the virtues the "easy play," Davis had an apparently easy decision in declaring for the draft.

College basketball's consensus player of the year is unanimously projected to be the top overall pick. In fact, Davis has been referred to as the biggest lock to be the No. 1 pick since LeBron James in 2003. That's decent company to keep.

On the face of things, the choice may have seemed an uncomplicated one, but leaving the school where he became a household name in just one season was something he didn't take lightly.

"I know a lot of people say it should've been an easy decision, but I'm just going to miss this place," Davis said.

Ultimately, Davis had to make the smart move, though the fact that he's on the cusp of reaching basketball's pinnacle hasn't sunk in quite yet.

"When we got done, Doron said, 'This isn't real, man,' " Davis said. "And in the hallway, I was talking to Twany (Beckham) and said, 'This isn't real.' We're actually going to the NBA. This is our dream since we was little watching Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, all those players. I can't wait to be them and now we're finally getting the opportunity."

What also hasn't sunk in is the reality that Davis is about to be a wealthy man.

"I actually haven't thought about that yet," Davis said. "I am going to be rich."

Coach Cal preaches financial responsibility to his players on a regular basis, a message Davis has absorbed.

"You got to know how to manage your money," Davis said. "You can't go out there and just buy anything. You can't trust a lot of people.

"The good thing is I like math, so I should be fine."

Kidd-Gilchrist grows up

The youngest Wildcat, Kidd-Gilchrist won't turn 19 for a few more months. No one ever questioned his game, his physical maturity or his readiness to compete on an NBA floor, but there were times when not even Kidd-Gilchrist was sure he'd be prepared for the next level so soon.

He has come into his own off the floor though. From the moment he stepped on campus, he recognized a need to improve in his interaction with the media, so he went to work. By the end of the year, Kidd-Gilchrist - who routinely asks the opinion of his interviewers - had everyone agreeing that he had gotten markedly better.

Having coped with the often unwelcome attention showered on Kentucky basketball players, he doesn't see the bright lights of the NBA as an issue.

"I got a lot better at it I think," Kidd-Gilchrist. "I think I'm ready for anything to come my way now."

Although he's ready for what's next, that doesn't mean leaving behind where he is now is easy. When talking about moving on from all the relationships he's cultivated in Lexington, Kidd-Gilchrist couldn't help but get emotional.

"I got friends for eternity here I think, just everybody here," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "That's why it's so hard."

Jones got what he came back for

Nearly a year ago, Jones thrilled the Big Blue Nation and transformed UK into an early title favorite by spurning his first round status in the 2011 draft and returning to school for his sophomore season.

He came back with the stated goal of improving his game, bettering his draft stock and winning a national championship. On all three fronts: mission accomplished.

The result was a year he won't forget.

"It's special, real special, being a part of something special like this with all these great players," Jones said. "The staff that we had, just being part of something like that is something I'll never forget."

Even though this year's draft class is deeper than last, Jones finds himself in likely lottery position (he's the No. 8 prospect according to ESPN and No. 11 according to Draft Express). He clearly made the right decision to return last May, and he believes he's making the right call again.

"(It's hard) just because of how much love I have for the school and the staff here and just how much of a great opportunity it is to play at Kentucky, but I felt I was ready to make that next move, and hopefully it will be the best one," Jones said.

Teague's perseverance pays off

Things weren't always easy for Teague at UK. He arrived on campus already bearing the burden of his superstar predecessors at point guard, and was picked apart from tipoff of the season opener.

Experts were more likely to say that Lamb needed to take over at the point than that Teague would be in position to be a first-round pick, but that's exactly where he is after shining during SEC play and especially UK's tournament run.

In fact, Teague's brilliance in the Final Four led in part to Coach Cal doing something he's never done before.

"I have never watched the last game of our season in all of my 20 years of coaching; until this year, I have already watched this one," Calipari said. "Let me tell you something, we won those last two games in a large part because of how Marquis Teague played."

Teague isn't far removed from his early-season struggles, so he remembers well that his teammates and coaches never wavered in their belief he was the man to lead this team.

"I want to thank the coaching staff, the assistants through this rough season," Teague said. "I know it was tough, but we made it through. I want to thank my teammates just for sticking with me when times were rough. We just stuck together as a family. I want to thank Coach Cal for giving me the opportunity to be the point guard for this great school."

Now, Teague is thought to be a near lock to be picked in the first round, but he's not letting his bright future detract from the sense of gratitude for the fans that stayed by his side from the moment he announced his commitment two years ago.

"You know I just want to thank Big Blue Nation," Teague said. "You all supported us every game and we fought it out for y'all."

Lamb looks to his mother for guidance once more

As teens approach adulthood as UK's five underclassmen are doing, they often sing a familiar refrain of, 'I wish I had listened to my parents.' Lamb, however, isn't, and it's not because his parents had bad advice.

In fact, Lamb has listened to his mother, Brigitte Grant, all along. It was her who helped him decide where he would attend his final two years of high school and her who directed him to UK.

"My mom always makes choices for me. Every time she makes a choice for me, it always comes out good," Lamb said. "She wanted me to go to Oak Hill and that came out good. She wanted me to come here and it turned out good."

After how well those two decisions turned out, it made sense that Lamb should heed her counsel when making the decision to return for his sophomore season and now opt to turn pro.

"She's the one that told me to come back (last year) and she's the one that told me to leave (this year)," Lamb said. "She thought it was the best for my family and myself. She just thought I'm ready for the next level. I had a great time here. It went to the Final Four and won the national championship, so she knows there's nothing better than that."

Her wisdom, though, was accompanied by one mandate.

"She told me I've got to finish school though," Lamb said.

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