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Presence of NBA stars around Lexington offers valuable experience for current Cats

Judging from NBA players twitter accounts, Lexington is becoming the center of basketball action during the league’s lockout.


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On Sept. 13, two-time NBA MVP and current Miami Heat All-Star Lebron James tweeted he was in Lexington playing a pickup game with the current UK men’s basketball team as well as UK NBA alums Rajon Rondo, Eric Bledsoe and DeMarcus Cousins.


On Monday, former UK standout Nazr Mohammed tweeted he was working out at UK with Oklahoma City Thunder teammates Kevin Durant, Nick Collison, Cole Aldrich, Reggie Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha, Craig Winder and James Harden.


For the current UK players, the chance to be around so many NBA players in invaluable, players said during a preseason interview session.


“You get to challenge yourself against some of the best players in the world,” said UK freshman point guard Marquis Teague. “They teach you a lot.”


“Having NBA guys in our pickup games just makes things so much more competitive,” said UK freshman forward Kyle Wiltjer. “When we get around college guys it’s going to feel easy. Playing against that kind of competition really helps.”


While the addition of All-Stars like James and Durant to the UK workout environment is a new phenomenon, UK head coach John Calipari has made a point of reaching out to former UK players currently in the NBA since he came to Lexington. In August a group of NBA players with UK ties played the Calipari-coached Dominican Republic National Team in an exhibition at Rupp Arena.


“We need to get more involved with formers players, I don’t think there is any question about that,” Calipari said before that game, which was not affiliated with the university.


Former UK stars including Rondo, Cousins, Bledsoe, Mohammed, John Wall, Tayshaun Prince, Keith Bogans, Jodie Meeks, Brandon Knight, Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins have spent time in Lexington since the beginning of summer.


The current Wildcats have used pickup sessions with those players to better themselves.


“Those guys have been in college, they’ve been through everything we’re trying to go through,” said UK junior point guard Twany Beckham. “Talking to them after you play and them giving you advice is always helpful.”


“They can teach us stuff while we’re playing,” said sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow. “They’ll tell us to go hard and what we did wrong and they’ll congratulate us when we do something right. It’s great having NBA players coming in here all the time.”


The return of UK stars now in the NBA to Lexington shows the family atmosphere around the program, several players said.


“It just goes to show that this program is special,” said sophomore forward Terrence Jones. “You just love being here. You always are a Wildcat, no matter how many years you went here or played here. You are always going to have the same support and love.”


“When new guys come in, they come back and get close to the new guys,” said senior guard Darius Miller. “We all just keep talking, we all are good friends. We’re just like brothers honestly.”


And why is Lexington becoming the center of the basketball world?


For Teague, the answer is simple: “Coach Cal.”


“He’s bringing in all the talent, all the top players,” Teague said. “They are winning lot, this is where everybody wants to be.”


Photos from UK Pros vs. Dominican Republic National Team game by Mark Boxley.

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