Anthony Davis, John Wall and Darius Miller aren’t so far into their NBA careers that they’ve forgotten their college days as Kentucky standouts.
Recalling those fond memories was easy after Saturday night’s preseason game at Rupp Arena that served as a homecoming for the trio of former Wildcats. Davis and Miller, members of Kentucky’s 2012 NCAA championship team, returned with the New Orleans Pelicans to face a Washington Wizards squad featuring Wall, who led the 2009-10 Wildcats team within a game of the Final Four.
And in fitting fashion for a top-notch shot blocker, Davis rejected Bradley Beal’s late drive attempt to preserve the Pelicans’ 93-89 victory before 14,980 fans. He finished with 16 points, four rebounds and two blocks.
”It was fun, really fun just to get that win,” Davis said. ”The crowd was awesome, both teams were awesome. It was a great battle and I hope everybody enjoyed themselves.”
Davis and Wall eagerly anticipated playing before the Wildcats faithful for the first time as professionals. Miller didn’t play because of a stress fracture in his left foot, but he echoed their sentiments.
The NBA exhibition game was Rupp’s first since 2000.
Davis and Wall drew the loudest cheers in Saturday’s introductions, and Kentucky native Miller got a rousing ovation when he was recognized during timeouts. The reception for Davis and Miller was expected, considering Wildcats fans still have fresh memories of the dominant team that won Kentucky’s eighth national championship two years ago led by the 6-foot-10 Davis, a consensus first team All-American selection and national player of the year.
The two Wildcats were part of a school-record six players that were drafted in 2012, Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist going 1-2 overall.
Fan reaction upon returning reminded Miller of how special it was playing for the Wildcats and at Rupp.
”It’s been really nice for me,” said Miller, who went 46th overall to the Pelicans (then Hornets) in 2012. ”They’ve shown me a great amount of love throughout my whole career and I really appreciate it. Just coming back and getting to spend time with them and see everybody has been great.”
Wall got an electric welcome as well. The guard led coach John Calipari’s first Kentucky squad within a game of reaching the Final Four before the following squad broke through the next season.
Wall left after one season and went on to become the first Wildcat drafted No. 1 overall, leading five Kentucky selections in the first round, including DeMarcus Cousins. Memories of his Wildcat career make him wonder what could have been had he stayed for four years, but returning reminded him of how great his brief stay was.
”You get chills coming back here, knowing this is where you played and how the fans treat you and give you a lot of support,” Wall said.