Posted Jul 14 2010 8:15PM
LAS VEGAS - -- Courtside at the Thomas & Mack Center in an NBA-emblazoned black leather seat, John Wall called out to DeMarcus Cousins minutes before tipoff.
"What you going for?"
Cousins didn't miss a beat, shooting back, "30."
They were teammates. They're now rivals. They'll always be friends.
Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton are part of the same band. The five former Kentucky Wildcats turned first-round picks are taking the first baby steps of their professional careers this summer. Wall, Cousins, Patterson and Bledsoe all happen to be in Las Vegas going through this together. Orton, chosen 29th overall, already completed his summer course load with the Magic in Orlando.
The four in Vegas have made sure to catch each other's games whenever possible if they're not competing against one another first.
"We're making that effort because in the NBA we won't be able to see each other play until we play against each other or on TV," said Patterson, a power forward selected 14th by Houston. "This is actually a chance to see each other in person and see how far they've progressed."
There is a bond among the historic group, despite spending only one year together at Kentucky, that won't be broken by the different colors worn now. UK is the first program in NBA history with five chosen in the first round.
"We're all like brothers," said Wall, the No. 1 overall selection by Washington. "We all want to make sure we watch each other."
Wall is easily the featured attraction in the desert. The über-confident playmaker drew a standing-room only crowd his first time out and continues to move the turnstiles, and with good reason. The Wizards' 19-year-old poster boy averaged 21 points and nine assists in his first two outings.
"John has been playing real well, watching him on TV and having a chance to see one of the games," Patterson said. "DeMarcus is playing pretty well, Daniel struggled in the beginning, but picked it up, Eric has looked good, so I'm definitely proud of all of them."
Bledsoe made his debut earlier in the week against Wall in an animated matchup of point guards drafted into vastly different situations. The top pick has the weight of a franchise on his shoulders. Bledsoe will back up Baron Davis with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Bledsoe offered up a scouting report on Wall: play off the speedster and force him to take his jumper. The 18th pick, drafted by Oklahoma City before being traded, also wants nothing more than Wall's jumper to improve.
"On and off the court," Bledsoe said, "we try to make each other better."
That's not to say the competitive juices aren't flowing. There's been plenty of box-score perusing already, and expect these NBA Cats to chart their respective exploits throughout the season.
"I guess you could say it's a little competition between us," Cousins said. "But right now, John's got it, of course."
They all want to get there. Cousins, picked fourth, should be the starting center in Sacramento. Patterson is adding size to Houston's frontcourt rotation. Expect loads of late-night calls, texts and other methods of support when times inevitably get rocky for the rookies.
"It's good to go around the league with people that you know," Wall said. "It's going to be a tough process. Sometimes you're going to have a bad game."
They didn't have many when playing for John Calipari at Kentucky. Patterson, for one, isn't going to sell his former coach short when it comes to the next great UK class. These five figure to have plenty of Big Blue company in the years to come.
"We all take pride in what Coach Cal has done for us and putting us in this position to get drafted," Patterson said. "We're just playing now and setting a milestone for ourselves and Kentucky. We're extremely proud of what we've accomplished, and hopefully we can get six next year."
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