On the heels of his Hall of Fame induction on Friday night, Kentucky coach John Calipari made his way back to Lexington to partake in another big-time production.
It was the UNC-UK alumni game, held at Rupp Arena, and yes — on the first NFL Sunday of the season — this was the biggest sporting event in Kentucky. Fans (more than 23,000 of them) predictably packed the joint to watch a game that couldn’t even qualify as an exhibition.
But their presence helped a lot of people in need.
More than $1.1 million was raised at the event, and with ensuing auction items from the game and Kentucky’s annual basketball fantasy camp, it’s anticipated the forthcoming memorabilia sold will push the charity total above $1.5 million. Astounding, but that’s the power of Kentucky and UNC’s fanbases. A $200,000 donation was also made in Dean Smith’s honor and put toward the Naismith Hall of Fame Legacy Fund. UNC also saw a $50,000 donation to the University of North Carolina Children’s Hospital.
When you’ve got such power programs doing things like this, the benefits are massive. People and organizations in real need are being saved because of it. More than a dozen charities received donations because of the UNC-UK alumni game.
Former Wildcats DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Terrence Jones — in addition to recent Wildcats from last season’s team, who are now in the NBA, such as Willie Cauley-Stein and the Harrison twins — played against some of UNC’s former players in a game that ended 122-115, Wildcats. Carolina offered up Harrison Barnes, Jerry Stackhouse, Shammond Williams and James Michael McAdoo, among others.
Former Cat Anthony Davis, who in July signed the richest deal in NBA history, merely opted to coach UK’s alumni team on Sunday.
Cousins took advantage of an opportunity he never gets with the Kings: the green light to take 3s. He sank five of them.
“Even though we’re gone, we still support the team,” Cousins told UK Athletics. “We still love seeing the guys play. We love seeing the younger guys play. I’m a fan of them as well, so having a chance to play with them is an incredible experience.”
Calipari’s 2015 has been a remarkable one, even if it didn’t include a national title. This past weekend, in particular, will be one of the most memorable he’ll ever have. From the Hall of Fame, celebrating with hundreds of friends and family in Springfield, Mass., to being cheered on by thousands in Lexington.