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June 7, 2012CHICAGO - It's been barely two months since the Kentucky basketball team cut down the national championship nets in New Orleans, and already those are starting to feel like the good old days for the Wildcats.
Basketball is a business now. The six key players on the UK team that won the NCAA title in April - Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller - are mostly looking forward now, at the NBA Draft on June 28.
Still, they take time to look back.
Almost as soon as they touched down for this week's NBA Draft Combine, the ex-Cats were touching base. They gathered in Davis' hotel room Wednesday night and swapped stories.
"When we first got here, we were all in each other's rooms, calling each other," Davis said. 'Where you at? Where you at?' It was fun."
They talked about their national title season. They talked "about how summer school's started" at UK, Jones said, and how they're absent.
They're competitors now, fighting for draft position, but some relationships transcend that. So as the Cats have crossed the country - Davis is training in Chicago, Lamb and Jones in Los Angeles, Teague in Indianapolis, where Miller also has worked out - they've stayed in touch via phone calls and texts.
"We talk a lot, almost every day," Lamb said. "We talk about how we've been doing every day, how the workouts been going, who you're going to work out for. We just talk about life. We're always going to be friends for life."
A reporter asked Jones during Thursday's combine interview session about Kentucky's hope of having five players taken in the first round, and with a smile, the power forward corrected him.
"Six," said Jones, who during interviews wore a t-shirt featuring caricatures of all six prospective picks. "It's great. We always were there for each other. That's what I think helped us have so much success is how much we were there for each other and communicating. It's just good to be around my brothers."
Davis is the presumptive No. 1 pick in the Draft. He's headed to the New Orleans Hornets, even if the club isn't permitted to say so. Kidd-Gilchrist and Jones are likely lottery picks. Teague is hearing he'll land in the top 20 picks, and Lamb and Miller are fighting for spots in the first round.
It's a relatively light week here for Davis, who's not participating in workouts. Kidd-Gilchrist, too, will have limited activity. For Jones, Teague, Lamb and Miller, the pressure's on to impress prospective employers, to excel in workouts here and for teams in the coming weeks.
The Wildcats are accustomed to pressure. But this is something new.
"It's a different pressure," Jones said. "This is a little bit more by yourself than what we were doing at the Final Four. We really relied on each other. Guys not being there, from my team at least, in the same workouts is just a little different."
Still, they caught glimpses of one another during Thursday's workouts. That was enough to ease Miller's nerves.
"Just my teammates being here made it a lot easier for me," Miller said. "Familiar faces; they're all going through this the same way I am."
The coming weeks will be critical as the former Wildcats showcase their skills for NBA personnel. And there's plenty to show off, Teague said. During the season, the Cats held back for the greater good, he suggested. Now it's time to cut loose.
"We all pretty much could dominate and score at will," Teague said. "We all showed flashes of that. But we all sacrificed for each other to win games. That was OK with us. We were fine with that. We all had plenty of things we could've done in college like we did in high school if we went to a weaker college, but we chose to be together so we could win a national championship."
There's a brotherhood born of that sacrifice.
"I miss those guys," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I miss everything about last year. It was just so fun with all of us."
It's an experience not likely to be immediately duplicated. The best prospects in Kentucky's rookies-to-be are likely to land with struggling franchises, and their rookie seasons figure to be far different than UK's 38-2 march through college hoops.
"I might cry some nights, but hey, it is what it is at this point, I guess," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I'm going to lose."
Still, he's anxious for what lies ahead. His former teammates are, too. And there's always the chance that some of these Cats will be paired up in the future.
New Orleans holds the No. 10 pick in addition to the top spot in the Draft, and Jones has worked out for the Hornets. And Jones knows there's a chance he could go ninth to Detroit to play with former UK teammate Brandon Knight.
"It would be great to play with someone from Kentucky, especially someone who I started college with and built a great relationship with," Jones said. "Hopefully pretty soon we're going to have a Kentucky player on every team."