As we prepare for the Legends Games to get started, there are some things worth thinking about ahead of the festivities. Here are four of the things I’ll be watching for when the fun gets started in Rupp Arena tomorrow night:
Who gets the second-biggest cheer?
After the debacle that was Joe B-Gate, we all know who will be getting the loudest cheer from the Rupp crowd, and the old coach’s ovation will be well-deserved. The real question that doesn’t matter will be who gets the next-biggest one and, really, it could go a lot of ways. Could it be John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, the favorite sons that are freshest in our memory? Or will it be Tayshaun Prince, who is the all-time favorite player for a chunk of the fanbase (including yours truly) that is in their 20’s? Keith Bogans hasn’t been to Rupp since his last season in 2003 (I think), and thus hasn’t received the proper love for what was a fantastic career. For Rajon Rondo, this will only be his second trip back to Rupp since leaving after his sophomore year, with the other one only to be present for the Bradley-Crawford senior day. Jodie Meeks hasn’t visited has only visited once since turning pro (not including class, that is), and was responsible for the most spectacular individual performance in a Kentucky uniform that most have us ever seen. And, while Nazr Mohammed may not have been a huge fan favorite, this is his first time visiting Rupp Arena since he was part of UK’s last championship team in 1998. I’m sure they’ll all get plenty of cheers and the fans can’t really go wrong, but it will at least be worth watching to see if any of the Legends get a little extra love from Big Blue Nation.
How do we treat the rivals?
Besides how the cheers for the former Cats break down, it’ll also be interesting to see how the crowd reacts to some of the not-so-favorites that will be stepping on the Rupp floor Monday night. Three of the Dominican players (Sosa, Garcia, and Horford) didn’t do much to endear themselves to UK fans over their time squaring off against the Cats. Whether it was Sosa’s effin buzzer beater, Garcia just being an evil Card or Horford’s Florida teams dominating Kentucky and then winning championships for two years, none of them are remembered too fondly in the Bluegrass. But now they aren’t playing for UK’s rivals…they’re playing for UK’s coach, and hopefully that means the Kentucky crowd will embrace them and make them feel at home. Although considering they’ll be deep in the heart of Big Blue Country, they might actually feel more at home with a hearty chorus of boos (jokingly, of course) when they’re introduced. After that, though, we should probably play nice.
The big time matchups
Of course, the crowd won’t be the only thing worth paying attention to, as there should be some pretty good basketball played Monday night, as well. There will be a ton of talent on the floor, and that should lead to some interesting battles. First and foremost, there will be a war in the post, as DeMarcus Cousins and Al Horford will undoubtedly go at it. Cousins plays for the Legends team, but it’s Horford who is the two-time NBA All-Star and the best player on the Dominican team. Neither of them will give up anything, and as far as one-on-one battles go that should be the best and most intense of the night. Beyond that, Jodie Meeks and Francisco Garcia should see some time against each other, which will be a matchup of NBA two-guards and a good Cat-Card showdown. There are also two pairs of NBA teammates going head to head, with Cousins and Garcia from Sacramento and Prince and Charlie Villanueva in Detroit, at least for now. If you toss in the battle Rondo and Wall will have to see who gets to cross up Edgar Sosa every time down the floor, there are story lines everywhere.
Who shows up?
One thing that was lost from the original plan for this game was the open invitation for former UK players to come back and be recognized. While that won’t officially be happening, I’m still wondering if any former Cats will decide to show up anyway. They can’t be announced or honored, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t make an appearance on their own. Obviously, I have no idea if this is going to happen, but if several former players ended up in attendance, that would be pretty cool. And if they walked up beside the court and called ‘next’ after the game? Well, that would be even better. Maybe that’s a stretch, though.
The best basketball event of the summer (at least in the Bluegrass) is just over 24 hours away, and I couldn’t be more excited. Actually, tomorrow on the way to Lexington I’ll probably be more excited. For now, though, I couldn’t be. Honest.