Pros vs. Dominican Republic game ‘will be a circus’



Francisco Garcia gives up 4 inches and 75 pounds to DeMarcus Cousins. Garcia is the one the Rupp Arena crowd won’t be caring to see on Monday night. But that won’t stop Garcia from making sure Cousins knows his place.

“He’s still my rook,” Garcia said of Cousins, his Sacremento Kings teammate, who may or may not technically be an NBA rookie anymore but still is in the eyes of Garcia. “I want to see what shape he is, how hard he’s been working. He told me he has, so I’ll be looking. If I don’t see it, I’m going to let him know.”

Garcia-Cousins is just one of multiple fascinating subplots of the Pros vs. Dominican Republic series. Denny Crum, who was unavailable for contact because he’s fishing in Idaho all week, will take the same side of the court as former rival coach Joe B. Hall, who is not fishing and has been plenty available for contact. And, of course, the current UK coach will be coaching on the other end.

“Both of them are still competitive,” Dominican Republic head coach John Calipari said. “They ask, ‘Do we get practice time before? Do we have a shootaround?’ No, you get nothing. Just throw the ball out there.”

That might be the best offensive system to run, anyway. Most of the Pros will be coming into town this weekend, some as late as Sunday night. The roster spans three decades of UK players. John Wall and Rajon Rondo will be together in the backcourt, a tandem that Calipari could only shake his head at, envisioning the possibilities.

“People would have run to the basket,” Calipari said. “Not the lane, not back. They would have had five guys standing underneath the goal.”

Filling out the starting five will be Cousins, Tayshaun Prince and Jodie Meeks. On the bench will be Keith Bogans, Eric Bledsoe and Nazr Mohammed (who was asking for a FIBA ball to get accustomed to about a week ago). On the other side — besides Calipari and Eloy Vargas — will be NBA players Al Horford and Charlie Villanueva. Both are taking this game seriously. It’s the first live-action tuneup, if it can be called that, as the Dominican team tries to qualify for the Olympics for the first time ever.

“This is good preparation,” Horford said. “I don’t think there’s any arena in South America that sits 25,000 like Rupp does.”

They also consider it a road game, not only because they are the non-UK players, but because they are non-UK players who went to decidedly anti-UK schools in Florida and Connecticut.

“They don’t know how crazy the fans in Kentucky are,” Vargas said. “But they will find out.”

Calipari also gets to find out just how crazy the fans can be. Tickets to the Rupp Arena game rapidly sold out; tickets to the Louisville game, announced at a later date, have not been doing so well. As of Friday, about 12-14,000 tickets were sold to a game that features two former Louisville players in Garcia and Edgar Sosa (who both expressed excitement at being able to play in the Yum! Center for the first time, as they played their whole careers in Freedom Hall).

While Calipari noted that the game hadn’t been promoted anywhere except online, it would have to come as a bit of a disappointment if the Yum! Center does not get filled near capacity. It’s certainly still impressive that a combined 30,000+ tickets have already been sold to two mid-August exhibition games, but because the second game was only formulated because of massive demand and because there’s a golden opportunity to stick it to U of L fans, missing out would be a minor letdown. Calipari issued a challenge Friday to sell out the Yum! Center, to paint the traditional red-clad arena in blue.

Already, though, the success of this series could lead to a continuation of summer exhibitions. It could be similar to North Carolina’s Alumni Game or the recent NC Pro-Am, where former college and NBA players from the area (or given school) return to play.

“We’d probably consider that,” Calipari said. “After seeing this turnout, the powers that be ought to be talking about it.”

The idea started out as a way to raise money for the Dominican team, Calipari said. He said the Dominicans “have to pay off a debt to FIBA that was owed.” The team also has to pay the normal $1,000 per day rental fee to train in the Joe Craft Center, which Calipari noted proceeds were going to. And the NBA players don’t have their customary insurance due to the lockout.

It’s all part of creating what a ProCamps representative recently said was a “once-in-a-lifetime game.” While there’s plenty of other pickup games in summer leagues across the nation, this collection of talent has to be considered near the top.

“This,” Al Horford said, “is going to be a circus.”