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Alumni Game all about charity, UK family

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A busy three-day stretch in the world of Kentucky basketball came to an end Saturday afternoon, concluding with the inaugural UK Alumni Charity Basketball Game at Rupp Arena. What started with the John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience ended in a fantastic show of former Wildcats displaying their collective talents in Lexington once more.

Since taking over the Kentucky men's basketball program, Calipari has made it a point to invite former players back to feel included in the tradition they helped build during their time in Lexington. That sentiment was never more evident than this weekend.

As several former players returned to the University of Kentucky campus to help run the camp, several of them serving as coaches, at no time previous had there been more Wildcats, past and present, in one central place. From the days of the 1996 national championship team to the present, players from several eras were making connections and sharing stories about their heydays.

The relationships being fostered under Calipari are making former players feel like much more than alumni. Connections and relationships have turned Kentucky basketball into one giant family; and a very talented and successful one at that.

It used to be that way, once before. But with Calipari in command, he's gone out of his way to make sure that family atmosphere would be restored.

"What he's done a good job of is bringing everybody back and making us one big family," said Tony Delk, member of the 1996 championship team at Kentucky. "That's the most important thing at Kentucky and we got away from that at one point in time. Now he's brought everybody back and we're a family again."

Delk, along with several members of that championship team, participated in two games Saturday afternoon. The first paired the '96 champions up against several campers tabbed the "Calipari All-Stars." Hilarity and entertainment would ensue.

While several middle-aged men tried valiantly to play with the champs, most of the 1996 team looked to still have a little bit of magic left in the tank. Delk, Wayne Turner, Derek Anderson, Anthony Epps, Jeff Sheppard, Antoine Walker, Oliver Simmons and Jared Prickett were all in attendance and on the floor to help put on a show in their reunion.

With the All-Stars showing an inability to stop the champs, the great John Lucas, coach of the All-Star team, opted to empty the bench and throw 12 of his players on the floor to create a hectic game of 12-on-5. The Champs were unfazed. Delk, Walker, and the rest of the group continued to heave three pointers, and just as they did in their glory days, burying 17 in 34 attempts

The champs, as expected, buried the "All-Stars" by a final score of 103-43 as Delk led the way with 23 points and eight assists.

While the championship game of the camp played out, one by one more former Wildcats made their grand entrance into Rupp Arena to loud roars from the Rupp faithful. More family members were showing up for the reunion.

First DeMarcus Cousins. Then Anthony Davis. John Wall and many more to join in the festivities.  And while each was happy to see each other after many have gone their separate ways, the alumni game itself would prove just like in most families, brothers tend to be very competitive.

After each team was introduced to a crowd that sounded as loud as any typical Rupp Arena turnout, it was game time. While the defense left a lot to be desired, neither team held back offensively.

The White Team - coached by hip-hop sensation Drake - was led offensively by two former All-Americans in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Now NBAers, they showed off their many talents by torching the Blue Team coached by Wall. Cousins was hot right from the start, taking his game to the perimeter knocking down several 3-point shots consecutively. Meanwhile, Davis was putting up a big game of his own.

As each team went back and forth, trading 3 after 3 and dunk after dunk, the White Team built a sizable lead and cruised to a comfortable lead.

When the game - attended by 10,173 fans - reached the halfway point, Calipari took to the floor for the main focus of the entire event: charity.

Calipari's efforts raised upwards of $350,000, which was divided between the West Liberty recovery effort, 4 Paws For Ability, the Starkey Hearing Foundation, Everfi Financial Literacy, Samaritan's Feet and the Urban League of Lexington, among other causes. While the event was a huge success in that respect, Calipari in his typical up-the-ante way, announced to the crowd that he hopes to raise at least $1 million from next season's event.

He also took to the microphone to commend the 1996 championship for all of their help in making the event what it was and their participation. But he made sure to poll, more like prod, the crowd to see which championship team was their favorite, the '96 team, or the Calipari-led 2012 champions. Each squad received huge ovations, as the Big Blue Nation certainly appreciated each team's efforts.

As the event reached its final minutes with the game way out of hand, the competitive spirits remained. Darius Miller could be heard on the sideline telling his teammates to not allow Davis to reach 40 points. At the time, he sat at 36 for the game.

Chances at 40-point effort looked bleak until Davis drove left as the clock ticked down, drawing a foul on a 3-pointer as time expired. As many players and guests crowded the floor and stood around Davis at the foul line, Davis knocked down his final two shots to reach his final tally of 40 points. He joined Cousins as the other 40-point performer who had 42 points of his own.

While the 1996 and 2012 teams shared the glory of the event and debated the greatness of their respective teams, as these competitive "family members" often do, each player put in their two cents.  For Wall, a member of the 2010 Elite Eight squad, he feels like his team could compete with any of the others that came before and after.

"They got to beat the 2010 team first," said Wall of the '96 versus '12 debate. "Yeah, we can take 'em. We'll take on any challenge."

As the event came and went, as will these former Wildcats who seemed to genuinely love their time back in the Bluegrass. But as they go their separate ways once again, they know they always have a place that they can call home with their family waiting to welcome them.
 
"It's like a big family," said Miller. "We're all having a good time with each other. We had a blast. I hope everyone else did too."

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