Last night was the first game in the two game series between the former UK players, now in the NBA, and the Dominican Republic National Team coached by current UK coach, John Calipari. So this UK fan hitched a ride and prepped himself for an evening on press row.
From the moment I got in town you could feel a buzz in the air. Rupp Arena was surrounded by a sea of blue flowing in through every door and I was just waiting for some security guard to tell me that my name wasn't on whatever list they had been provided. Luckily this did not happen and I made my way to my seat.
The night started sort of just like you would think it would whether you were a UK fan or UofL fan. They announced the Dominican team first and as soon as they got to Edgar Sosa, former UofL player, the arena erupted into one of the loudest boos I had ever heard. The same with former Card Franciso Garcia who took the opportunity to throw the famous "L" up with his fingers. The final Dominican to suffer the wrath of the crowd was former Florida Gator Al Horford who made the "Florida Gator Chomp" motion with his arms, which caused the crowd to boo even louder. The main thing that you should know, whether Cat or Card fan, was that this all almost seemed like playful jabbing. All three players were laughing as if they were enjoying the chance to rib their old nemesis one more time, and even some of us on press row were chuckling at the back and forth between them and the fans, it was far from vindictive from either side and this is coming from a UK fan. Former UofL coach Denny Crum received a very nice ovation from the crowd and there were no boos to be heard. Joe B. Hall received a huge ovation and so did Coach Calipari. I can't even begin to describe the spectacle that the former UK players received during intros; so here is video.
The game was pretty hard fought and you could see that both sides really wanted to win. The Dominican team obviously played better "team" ball since they have been around each other longer and you could see that the UK pros were relying more on their talent than team work since they really had no substantial practice time together. The competition on the court was real, players were banging, there were some harder than expected fouls, and there was some playful trash talk going on. Both sides wanted the victory, but you could see that there was a mutual respect there and it seemed more like two groups of good friends playing a hotly contested pickup game.
Garcia and Sosa carried the Dominican team with 30 and 29 (though Sosa got some after he technically would have fouled out - he had 9 fouls but got to keep playing because it was an exhibition) points respectively and Garcia, particularly in the first half, was deadly from three point range seemingly knocking down every one he took. The Dominicans ended up shooting 47% from field goal range and 43% from 3pt range for the game compared to 37% and 37% for the former Cats. Horford was a beast for the National Team as well totaling 12 points and 17 rebounds. Demarcus Cousins led the way for the Pros with 28 points and 14 rebounds. It was a quiet game for him though, and I was a bit surprised by his totals. On the court he was as demonstrative as ever and questioning calls, talking trash, and playing hard. The only other Pros in double figures were Jodie Meeks with 17, John Wall with 15, and Nazr Mohammad with 11. Local legend Rajon Rondo did have 7 assists and 7 rebounds for the Pros though, showing off his all around game.
All in all it was a good night and an entertaining game. I'm including some pictures I took during warm ups and some video of the Calipari and Joe B Hall post game press conference. I'll be back in the YUM Center tonight for the rematch and will be LIVE tweeting again from the Louisville.com feed (@louisvillecom). So follow along and join in on the conversation, I'd like to have some folks to talk to tonight.
Photos and video courtesy: Jason Lyvers