Dozens of media members were in attendance at this final press conference with the 2011-12 Kentucky basketball team. Local and national figures lined half court with cameras pointed at the five underclassmen along the baseline. Calipari and his crisp suit dotted the center. He praised the five players, and eased us into what we all knew was coming (not without momentarily causing everyone to collectively hold their breath with a cleverly timed pause before announcing that Kidd-Gilchrist and Teague would leaving as well): Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague are leaving school early to chase their dreams playing basketball in the NBA.
KSR College writers Ally Tucker and Tara Bilby, and I were there, and shared in the experience. Here are some notes of what the players had to say.
— The press conference was nationally televised, and Calipari started off with an opening statement. To summarize, he thanked everyone for coming out, and directed the focus to the program being “players first.” He went on to say, “When the season is over, it’s about moments like this… Making decisions about (the players) future.”
— Calipari said he was surprised all five players wanted to announce their intentions to enter the draft together. But he was met by the player’s unenthusiastic response about fishing out the term. But insisted they know they have an opportunity to come back to finish their degrees.
— Calipari also called out the critics for the one-and-done’s not connecting with the program or creating a bond with the coaches or players. He said “you’re crazy,” if you believe you can’t create a relationship in one or two years, and “these players are connected to our fans; they’re connected to this University, and they’ll come back.”
A few players were then available for individual interviews after the press conference
— Doron Lamb said he talked to him mom and dad every day to help him make his decision. The feedback for his decision came mostly for UK coaching staff. He said his contact with the NBA was limited, but he feels comfortable with his decision.
— Lamb also shared that he and his teammates, outside of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who needed more time to decide, knew shortly after winning the National Championship they were going to turn pro.
— Marquis Teague confirmed, saying “we knew a few days after the game — we talked to Coach Cal, our family, some of the players.”
— Teague also said “it means a lot” to be able to “continue the tradition” of Calipari point guards making it to the NBA. “Working with Coach Cal and getting better every day; I’m just happy I got this opportunity.” He went on to say, “This is my life-long dream, and to be able to do it with these guys it just makes it that much more special.
— Teague said he felt like he did enough to warrant his turning pro, “Leading this team — it was kind of like an NBA team.”
— When asked what he would miss most about playing for Kentucky, Teague responded easily with “Playing with these guys. Brotherhood.”
— Teague also dropped two interesting nuggets of information about the press conference in general. According to Teague, Terrence Jones was the one to first suggest that all of the guys announce their decision together. The other 4 quickly agreed. Teague also spilled that Calipari’s moment of misdirection was planned and that he informed them of the joke beforehand.
— Michael Kidd-Gilchrist appeared to be the most emotional from the outset. When given the microphone at the podium he almost seemed choked up. He very thoughtfully brought up Darius Miller and how he enjoyed playing with him so much as well.
— Kidd-Gilchrist provided the quote of the night, perhaps even the season, during his breakout interview. He was asked if he had made friends for life at Kentucky. He quickly responded that “I’ve got friends for eternity here.”
— Kidd-Gilchrist also revealed that his Mom wanted him to return to school. “She wanted me to come back– bad, bad. But I had to make that decision. It was my decision.” Kidd-Gilchrist admitted, along with confirmation from the other players, that he was the last to make his decision. He even jokingly apologized to the fans for proclaiming a month ago that he would be at Kentucky for all four years. Charming as ever, he even included the “media” in his list of things he would miss about Kentucky.
— Anthony Davis fooled no one, though he tried to convince the media that his decision was difficult as well. “I know a lot of people say it should’ve been an easy decision, but nah. I’m just going to miss this place. We all loved each other and had each other’s backs. And that’s the one thing I’m going to miss. I’ll always keep in touch with them. They’re my brothers for life.”
— Cough, apparently eternity Anthony, cough.
— Davis commented on Kidd-Gilchrist’s clear emotional reaction to the day, “You saw Michael getting emotional. That’s because of how close we are. That’s why we wanted to (announce) together.”
— Jones also weighed in on the excitement mixed with sadness surrounding the announcement today. “Seeing everybody getting ready to make that move is real difficult. We’ve spent so much time together having fun. Gonna be hard.”
— Looking forward to next season, Doron Lamb said “Coach Cal doesn’t have a problem recruiting. He can get anyone he wants. I think next year they’ll have a great team.”
— Coach Calipari said “We’re going to have a brand new team. But you know what? That’s the challenge in this — bringing them together.” He went on to say about next season, “We’ve got a good group coming in; we’ve got good players coming back.” But he made it clear that experience isn’t part of what’s returning, “Next year we’ve got one guy with any experience. Kyle Wiltjer, that’s it.”
— Calipari preached to the recruits, as he always does, “This is work here. This is hard. The hardest place they can go is here.”
— The players chipped in on the hard work required to play at Kentucky. Teague’s advice for the incoming freshmen, “If you come here, just be prepared to work hard.”
–Anthony Davis added, “It’s not just about 1-and-done. We really worked our butts off to get to this point.”
Even though the evening was ultimately about the decisions of all five players to enter their names into the NBA Draft, the night, like most with this Kentucky team, was spent talking glowingly about one another. The players spent more time talking about their love for one another, the Kentucky program, Coach Calipari and playing together than they did about their NBA future projections. The word brotherhood came up multiple times in each of the player interviews. This team was uniquely close and this evening’s press conference only proved it even further.
Ally Tucker and Tara Bilby contributed to this post.