The New Orleans Pelicans and the Sacramento Kings will play a preseason game at Rupp Arena Saturday night, the day after the Kentucky Wildcats open the 2015-16 college basketball season with Big Blue Madness.
It's part of what's been an amazing week in Lexington between Thursday's ESPN game between Kentucky and Auburn, followed by BBM Friday, and now an NBA game on Saturday with several former Cats in action.
Among them will be NBA All-Stars Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Davis, who is widely regarded as the NBA's next big superstar, signed a five-year, $145 million contract extension this summer to remain with the Pelicans. Cousins is the franchise centerpiece of the Kings and is now teaming up with former Cats Rajon Rondo and Willie Cauley-Stein.
Willie will be an NBA rookie this year, but he admits being with other former Cats helps with the adjustment to a new challenge.
"Sort of, but it’s kind of like – you know all the guys, you’ve watched them before, seen them play, so it’s not like you don’t know anybody," Cauley-Stein said Saturday. "And now we’ve been with each other so long that it’s like they’re your brothers."
Willie also said that Rondo and Cousins have done a good job helping him get acclimated to the NBA.
"Yeah, him and (Rajon) Rondo are doing a really good job of that," Willie said. "Just being vets, just telling you to find niches in the game or stuff that can help you on defense, help you on offense."
Willie and the rest of the former Cats were present for BBM Friday night, and they'll get a rare chance to play on the Rupp Arena court since their college careers ended. It still gives him chills being in attendance for the same event that solidified his decision to come to UK.
"I don’t know how you don’t come here if you see that," Cauley-Stein said. "That’s how I felt when I first stepped and went to Big Blue Madness. Every pro was here. John Wall was here. Rondo was here. All the dudes was back. Then I didn’t think I was coming here. And then I came here and was like, ‘Oh this is it Ma. I’m going to Kentucky. It’s just that live.’ "
Davis was also happy to be back in Lexington take in the atmosphere Friday night.
"It’s amazing<" Davis said. "Unbelievable feeling. I get a chance to show them what Kentucky basketball is all about and they love it. I get a chance to see old teammates that I played with, and to get to experience Big Blue Madness again is an amazing feeling. I’m excited to come back every year."
This will mark the first NBA exhibition in Rupp Arena since 2013, when John Wall's Washington Wizards took on Davis and the Pelicans. Davis has been back plenty of times since then, but he cherishes every chance he gets to come back to his old Kentucky home.
"It feels amazing, just brings back memories of when I played here," Davis said. "It just shows that I got much more power than Coach Cal here. But it’s just amazing to realize the fan base that Kentucky has behind you. Whether you’re in the league or you’re playing here, they’re going to still support you no matter what."
Life in the NBA is certainly easier for any former Wildcat knowing the amount of former Cats that are in the league.
"There are a lot of Kentucky guys in the league," Davis said. "Just to be back and see all these guys that I might not have had a chance to play with, but it’s that brotherhood no matter if you played with someone or not, you guys are always brothers to the death. It means a lot to put on for the Kentucky fans."
A big reason why there are so many former Cats in the league is because of the impact Big Blue Madness had on them as recruits.
"The whole experience. Big Blue Madness. No one does it better than Kentucky," Davis said. "Once you see that, it’s one of the things that made me commit. Getting a chance to watch these guys play, as a recruit, it opens your eyes to a lot of things."
The preseason game between the Kings and Pelicans will tip off tonight at 7 p.m. ET with no NT broadcast.