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April 17, 2012All season, they had shared the ball and the spotlight, had bonded and called each other "brothers."
It was no surprise, then, that Kentucky's starting lineup would exit the way it had played. Together.
Freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague and sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb announced on Tuesday that they're headed to the NBA.
"Terrence (suggested a group announcement) first, but then we were all like, 'Yeah, that's a good idea; let's just do that,'" Teague said. "We've been doing this thing together the whole year. Let's finish that way."
Along with senior Darius Miller, the five players who declared their NBA intentions on Tuesday formed the core of Kentucky's eighth NCAA championship team. Though they won together and announced their NBA intentions that way, the decisions came separately.
Based on interviews with the players on Tuesday, Teague was the first to decide. He said he knew within "a few days" after UK's NCAA title game win against Kansas that he and his teammates likely would go pro. Lamb said he took about a week to decide.
Kidd-Gilchrist said he reached his decision at home last Thursday, while Davis insisted that he didn't set his in stone until Monday night, which is when Jones said he also made up his mind.
"A lot of people say it should have been an easy decision ," Davis said. "But I'm just going to miss this place. Won a national championship here. We all did a lot for this school, and I'm going to miss it."
Soon, all five can expect to be cashing NBA paychecks.
Davis is the presumptive No. 1 pick in June's draft. Kidd-Gilchrist and Jones also are expected to be high first-round picks. Teague and Lamb are projected as borderline first-round selections.
Ultimately, Calipari hopes that all five - in addition to Miller - can land in the first round of the NBA Draft. No school has ever produced six first-round selections in the same season. Kentucky had five in 2010.
Calipari opened Tuesday's remarks with a few words about each player, then pulled a fake-out on reporters - and the audience watching on TV and online - by saying, "Anthony, Doron and Terrence have decided to put their names in the NBA Draft" before pausing and adding, "and Michael and Marquis Teague have also decided to put their names in the NBA Draft."
"I'm trying to scare some coaches out there," Calipari joked. "That's all I was doing."
It's Calipari now who has a frightening task ahead - defending his first NCAA championship with a roster almost entirely rebuilt.
Sophomore-to-be Kyle Wiltjer is the only returning player who saw significant minutes this season. Junior Jon Hood will return after sitting out this season with a knee injury, and point guard Ryan Harrow will be eligible after sitting out this season following his transfer from N.C. State.
And Calipari has, for the fourth straight season, assembled the nation's top-ranked incoming recruiting class. Signees Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley and verbal commitment Nerlens Noel give the Wildcats a strong start for a new core of young players.
The trick for Calipari will be in molding a team that learns to play as his 2011-12 team did, with the same togetherness that these Cats displayed from the opening game until Tuesday's exit announcement.
"That's why we wanted to do (the announcement) together," Davis said. "We all love each other; one happy family. I think we're going to celebrate after this, I don't know. But I guarantee you we're going to find something to do together."