Thirty minutes after their teammates had already left practice, four Suns remained at various parts of the practice court, putting in unrequested and unrelenting work on the talent in which Phoenix has heavily invested.

On one main basket, Eric Bledsoe hoisted floater after floater, honing a new weapon in his offensive arsenal. He was the first of the current team to receive a long-term contract extension. He is rewarding it with production – 22.2 points, 6.3 assists, 1.9 steals per game – that quietly puts him in the same statistical breath as MVP candidates Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and LeBron James.

On the opposite end of the court, Brandon Knight and Devin Booker are engaged in a heated battle of three-point marksmen. Booker, the youngest player in the league at just 19 years old, was billed as a the best long-distance shooter in his draft class. He has backed up that reputation with an early 9-of-15 showing from beyond the arc, far and away the most efficient mark in the league of anyone with at least that many attempts. In a practice setting, his consistent and complete shooting form rarely misses.

Knight, however, is matching his competition shot-for-shot. His release is different – a flick of the wrist and barely heard fingernail scraping of the ball on every shot. It is maddening if you listen for it, but even more so for those hoping he misses. He has made 47 threes in 18 regular season games. Only seven players have made more, and only three of those players have shot them more efficiently than Knight (39.8 percent).

On one of the side baskets, Archie Goodwin practices his own jumper. It is not as finished a product as Knight or Booker’s. His basketball trajectory is similar to that of Bledsoe, who like him started his career as a speedy slasher rather than a set shooter. Give him a sliver of room, and he will attack the rim, where he has converted 64.7 percent of his layups. The league average per NBA.com: 55.3 percent.

Different games, different hoops, different phases of their respective careers, all with one similarity that extends 1,792 miles east.

“I’d say just the mindset that we all have, the same goals and aspirations of just being a great player in this league,” Booker says of the Suns quartet. “That’s why we chose Kentucky.”

There is no striking similarity on or off the court between the NBA’s Kentucky alumni. The Suns’ former Wildcats all happen to be guards, but 16 other representatives dot the NBA, including All-Star big men DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento) and Anthony Davis (New Orlenas).

Bledsoe is quietly intent. His leadership – a role he has learned to embrace since being traded to Phoenix in 2013 – is best expressed through action. Defensive pressure and instincts, constant work in the weight room and, more recently, consistent production on offense say all that needs to be said.

Knight is the communicator, a former valedictorian who feels internal absorbing and external sharing of knowledge is the best path toward success. Less than a week after being traded to Phoenix last February, he implored that his teammates speak up more on defense. Shortly afterward, he was the one pointing out where teammates should be during set plays in practice.

Bledsoe Finds Knight

Goodwin is a fireball, especially when he succeeds. Poster dunks or and-ones are followed by matching celebrations. He will throw himself into an in-practice slam dunk contest as quickly as he does a wall of defenders during a game.

Booker is a happy medium of the other three. He works relentlessly on his craft, but enjoys active learning and interaction. He is thoughtful and articulate while talking, silent and workmanlike when playing.

“At the end of the day, B-Knight is a different player than me,” Goodwin said. “Booker’s a different player than B-Knight. Bled is a different player than B-Knight, Book and myself. We’re all different.”

Each of them, however, feels one common thread caught the attention of John Calipari, the man who recruited them to Lexington, Ky.

“He doesn’t like getting athletic players that don’t have any type of heart,” Bledsoe said of his college coach. “He wants a player that’s going to come out and do whatever it takes to win.”

“I think we just have a drive to be successful at this level,” Knight added. “We all come from different backgrounds, but there was something about Kentucky that attracted us to go there. You look around the league, we have guys that have a knack for success. I would say a lot of that came from the competition we had while at school. We all watch each other.”

Molding the common denominator of competitiveness is tricky. Different motivations and backgrounds come into play. Booker was heavily influenced by his father, a former professional basketball player, while growing up in Michigan. Goodwin grew up in the heart of the South, raised by a mother who fought tooth-and-nail to provide for her four children in Little Rock, Ark. Knight was raised by both parents on the southeast coast of Florida. Bledsoe’s home (Birmingham, Ala.) was a short drive from the heart of college football and his physique seemed made for the sport. He hadn’t played organized basketball until his teen years, and even then it was only because his single mother managed to convince an AAU coach her son was worth a shot.

Somehow, Calipari managed to reach each of them.

“He inspires each of us in different ways,” Knight said, “but it sticks with all of us.”

Knight to Goodwin

They saw firsthand how they weren’t the only ones. Former Wildcats visit their old stomping grounds frequently. Booker, the most recent Kentucky product to arrive in Phoenix, admits his transition to the NBA was easier after seeing very real examples of what his future could look like.

“I think that happens when the older guys come back to visit,” Booker said. “They’re still at the college age so that when they come back, you can still hang out. You still have things in common. It’s not just Tayshaun Prince who went there 15 years ago. They’ve been there within the last two or three years, so we know everything they went through, we’re all going through the same thing.”

Such connections are important, especially since Kentucky has become synonymous with the “one-and-done” era of college basketball. Their recruiting efforts – which pay off with successive deep runs in the NCAA Tournament year after year – produce an annual exodus of talent toward the NBA.

Bledsoe (2010), Knight (2011), Goodwin (2013) and Booker (2015) could have hypothetically been teammates in college. Instead, Goodwin and Booker were encouraged by their recent predecessors making the time to establish relationships that might not have happened.

“One thing about Kentucky basketball, we always seem to go back and see how the guys that are coming in are,” Goodwin said. “We want to know who they are and learn about them and try to be good friends with them because we know that eventually they’ll be [in the NBA] too.”

Nearly every recent Kentucky alumnus was the star of his local state. Their talent is overwhelming at that level, and the Wildcats’ share of that talent has produced far more wins than losses. Bledsoe, Knight, Goodwin and Booker’s respective college teams sport a combined 123-25 record.

Such a collection of star power leads to victories, but it also creates competition. Bledsoe played with John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. Knight wreaked havoc with Terrence Jones, Enes Kanter and Josh Harrellson. Goodwin had big men Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. Booker was the sixth man of his college squad, which was headlined by this year’s No. 1 pick, Karl-Anthony Towns.

“I think we just have a drive to be successful at this level. We all come from different backgrounds, but there was something about Kentucky that attracted us to go there.”

— Brandon Knight

It’s a recipe for success for the team-oriented athlete, and a mind field for the teenager who is only focused on his NBA draft stock. Playing time on such a roster is 100-percent earned, a process which is playing itself out again with the Suns’ Kentucky Orange stable of guards.

“Once you get [to Kentucky], it’s like you’re fighting for a spot because [Calipari] doesn’t guarantee anybody anything,” Goodwin said. “You have to come in prepared to play and prepared to battle for your position. You do it so long that it carries over [to the NBA].”

Phoenix Head Coach Jeff Hornacek has the task of juggling minutes with his talented backcourt. Bledsoe and Knight spearhead his dual point guard system, each of them innately feeling when to score and when to share. When outside shooting is needed, he goes with Booker off the bench. If paint points and experience in his system are on the agenda, Goodwin’s number is called.

Whatever the team’s nightly needs may be, Hornacek feels his players’ college experience cancels out any potential for selfishness.

“They know how to play as a team because they have to do it when they’re there at Kentucky with all those stars,” Hornacek said. “Hopefully that gives them a better sense of team play when they get to the NBA, to do the right things and be part of the group. That’s what we’ve seen from the guys.”

Sharing the court with so many former Wildcats in the same position group, it’s only natural for Knight to flash back to his own college days.

“It still feels like the NBA, but it does bring back memories of when you’re competing against guys at the college level,” Knight said. “It’s a little bit different when you don’t have Cal in there making you do sprints and yelling in your face and stuff like that.”

It doesn’t hurt that, despite each of them arriving in the NBA at a different time, all of them fall within roughly the same age group. Booker is, of course, the youngest. Despite being a third-year “veteran,” Goodwin is only recently 21 years old. Knight is 24.

Booker Nets Career-High

With two children and at the ripe old age of 25, Bledsoe is the elder statesman of Kentucky Orange.

“It is [funny], because I feel a little old even though I’m still 25,” Bledsoe laughed. “I feel like I’m 30 with some of these guys coming in.”

That comment was made after another after-practice session of shooting. Bledsoe was the last to leave on that particular day. The following day, it was Knight and Booker. With all of them in their early twenties, it could be a common scene for years to come.

“I think that mindset – just wanting to be on the biggest stage in college basketball – translates to the NBA,” Booker said.

It’s especially fluent in Phoenix.