LEXINGTON — Former Kentucky standout Tayshaun Prince is not the kind of person to be critical or take verbal shots at others. Still, Prince couldn’t help but express his appreciation for the way current UK coach John Calipari has treated former players that made it clear former Cats had not always felt nearly as comfortable coming back to UK as they do now.
“It is a great feeling. That’s one thing we (former players) talk about now. We have a coach here now who really appreciates not just the players he has here now, but the players who have gone,” said Prince during the John Calipari Pro Camp last week at UK. “He always stays in contact with us during the season and throws in a text here and there to see how we are doing and let’s us know things going on in the summer. Things that he is planning and trying to do to get guys to come in.
That’s obvious by the upcoming exhibition game against the Dominican Republic national team Calipari is coaching. Former UK stars John Wall, Rajon Rondo,¿Nazr Mohammed, Keith Bogans, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Jodie Meeks and Prince, all current NBA players.
There’s even a chance Rondo, Wall and Bledsoe could enroll in fall classes at UK¿if the NBA lockout continues as it seems it undoubtedly will. If they do, they will be around for UK’s current players — and talented freshmen class — to learn from and might even qualify as student-assistant coaches like Enes Kanter did last yer.
“When I was here at UK¿playing basketball, there were some guys rolling in. There were a few guys here and there, but not like this,” Prince, now an unrestricted free agent after playing with Detroit for nine years, said. “I think Calipari is trying to do something special where there is more than just a couple of guys. Hopefully by getting the word out there it will be different than when I was in college.”
Prince smiles when thinking about the sometimes warm practices he had in Memorial Coliseum with no air conditioning compared to the new Joe Craft Center where both the men’s and women’s basketball teams have their own gym available whenever it is needed.
“The whole thing is just unbelievable. The good thing is that coach Calipari and his whole staff have done a great job of just staying in contact with the former players here,” Prince said. “He always opens the door for us to come here and work out. It just goes to show you all the hard work guys have put in before us made all this happen. The facilities are getting better and better. We have top-notch guys come here and play basketball. This is impressive.
“There will be some guys coming in mid to late August or early September. Guys are going to roll in and try to get some workouts in. I think one thing special about UK¿is the number of guys rolling in here in the summer now. You have a lot of guys that come back here. Nazr (Mohammed) comes back a lot. Keith Bogans comes back. Chuck Hayes comes back. Rondo. You have a lot of guys that come back and not forget where they came from because they know they are welcomed here.”
Prince says another plus for coming back is players can learn from UK staff member Rod Strickland, a former NBA standout.
“What’s good as well is that we have a guy here in Rod Strickland who has been in the league a long time and knows what it is all about. Guys can roll in and get some workouts and knowledge with him as well. I¿think it is very good,” Prince said.
That could also help Brandon Knight, who returned here from Florida to also work a day of the camp. He led UK¿to the Final Four his freshman season before opting to leave for the NBA where he was picked eighth by the Detroit Pistons.
“I don’t know much about what is going on (with the NBA), but just trying to make sure I¿am ready,” Knight said. “I am home right now but I¿plan on coming in and working out here. Even though I¿just left, I still feel like I¿am part of the family. I¿am part of UK¿and that’s the way it should be.”
He’s right. Players should be welcomed back with open arms, something UK¿at times has struggled to do. Even today, many football players especially feel they have been neglected, a wrong football coach Joker Phillips is trying to remedy much like Calipari has with the former UK¿basketball standouts.
Knight said he feels a little funny being considered an “ex-Cat” since he only left a few months ago.
“It is kind of surreal.¿I just left and feel like I am still part of the team. I still feel like Coach is my coach and these guys are my teammates. It is kind of funny being back and saying I¿used to play at UK. I still feel like I should be at the University of Kentucky,” Knight said.
Prince says he feels “blessed” to have only played with one NBA team as he contemplates his future once the lockout ends.
“There are a lot of guys that were in my draft who have been with five, six or seven teams. To be able to be with one organization that long is a blessing. I¿have options and we will see what is out there and see what is best for me and my family,” Prince said. “But it always gives me great pleasure to come back. It has always been a great experience and is just getting better.”