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Herding Cats: Former and current players unite!

One thing the Big Blue Nation does, for all its griping/infighting, is keep supporting its own. Despite ill feelings about transfers, flunk outs and early exits, the average Kentucky fan is more attuned to where former players are than most fans around the country.

Former swingman Kelenna Azubuike is trying to make the NBA with the Houston Rockets. Still a long shot, Azubuike has worked hard on his deficiencies while continuing to showcase his awesome athletic potential. AK won't have any guarantees about making the final roster, but he's ever-improving, and he plays defense. Those should help him make a case, anyway.

As Scott Padgett, the once and future Rocket noted about the value of former UK players involved with Houston:

"A lot of the guys from Kentucky over the years are guys who work hard and play well in systems ... That's something that maybe you look at as a coach and you say, 'This guy's played in a system before, let's see if he can flourish in this one."

Padgett was signed for training camp by Houston after spending last year in New Jersey as a shooter off the bench. Just think about the fact that Scott Padgett -- who was ineligible in the title year of 1996 due to grades -- is shooting for his 7th season in the NBA. Not bad for a skinny kid from Louisville, eh?

The versatile Padgett joins two other former Wildcats at training camp in Azubuike and power forward Chuck Hayes, whose contract was renewed after he helped spark the Rockets the final month or so of last season.

Houston has also in the last year signed or been involved with former Kentucky players Derek Anderson, Keith Bogans and Gerald Fitch. Anderson and Fitch were traded for each other (Fitch from Miami to Houston, Anderson vice versa), while Bogans moved on to Orlando as the veteran presence in JJ Reddick's spot for the Magic. Bogans has carved out a niche as a defensive standout and three-point threat, and he'd be wise to continue that path, since guys with skill and heart are always needed on winning teams, and several -- guys like Bruce Bowen, Robert Horry and Darrell Armstrong -- have made long careers of being the 'glue.'

One guy who looked for a while like he needed no niche to survive was Ron Mercer, 1997 first-team All-American. Mercer, who never really found his groove after a few good scoring seasons with Chicago and Denver, looks to be forced to retire due to injuries. Mercer had loads of talent, b ut was often said to be a clubhouse problem. We never saw it, but it deep-sixed his stardom for sure.

But while former Cats fare well at the next level, UK fans -- and the national media -- turn their focus to the Widlcats at hand. The first of many "they're under the radar" articles has appeared, this one courtesy of Wildcats antagonist Mike DeCourcey at the Sporting News, who posits that the Cats are better than most are expecting. Good thing they have Mike D there to back them up, huh?