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Patchwork Wildcats came together quickly to form title-caliber squad

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider
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NEW ORLEANS -- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist nearly went to Villanova and Terrence Jones pulled the switcheroo after committing to Washington at a news conference.

Darius Miller had to fight just to maintain his roster spot after the coaching change and Marquis Teague was, at one point, a done deal to Louisville.

No one thought Kentucky was even in the equation when Kyle Wiltjer announced he was choosing the 'Cats -- and Anthony Davis committed to John Calipari after a brief recruitment in which Kentucky hadn't laid eyes on him before July.

"It's crazy how it all came together," Kidd-Gilchrist admitted.

None of these guys really knew one another arriving in Lexington, but they have bonded and will now play for the national championship Monday night against Kansas.

This is obviously a special group, but it almost didn't happen -- for just about all of them. We'll start with MKG, who was always considered a lock to play for John Calipari due to Cal's relationship with William "World Wide Wes" Wesley. However, Kidd-Gilchrist, according to a source, told one member of Jay Wright's staff that he was heading to 'Nova.

"I was pretty close," Kidd-Gilchrist admitted about going to Villanova. "But I'm just glad I'm here now. End of story."

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The Jones Saga received more attention and dissection. He committed to Washington at a news conference, but then opted to reopen his recruitment following a conversation with Calipari -- and wound up signing with UK.

"I was so confused, so terrified about what to do," Jones said. "I wanted to make the right decision."

Teague told me back at the LeBron James Academy that he was on the verge of choosing Louisville and playing for Rick Pitino, who also coached his father, Shawn, in college. It was just a matter of time before Cardinals fans would be celebrating the arrival of the top-rated point guard in the country.

"That was my top school for a while," Teague said a day before the national title contest. "But ultimately, I felt like Kentucky was the best school for me."

Wiltjer's pick of Kentucky at the Boost Mobile game in California shocked everyone, most of all the recruiting analysts.

"Shocking," said Scout.com national recruiting guru Evan Daniels. "No one expected that."

Davis' deal was unique because Syracuse was the one school to actually see him and the first to offer a scholarship before the all-important July recruiting period. However, after a couple of weeks on the road in front of coaches, Davis shut down his recruitment and then opted for UK over Syracuse and Ohio State.

"I really didn't know anyone on this team," Davis said.

Davis said that this team came together quickly, though, and it began in the summer. Davis and MKG were the two cornerstone recruits, but both came in with virtually no ego. That's what makes this team so enjoyable and successful. They play hard, share the ball and defend. There was the time when Kidd-Gilchrist went to Calipari in the SEC tournament and suggested that senior Darius Miller take his starting spot in the lineup.

"He needed my help," MKG said. "He was in a slump."

On senior night, Davis pulled himself out of the game for outgoing big man Eloy Vargas -- who rarely plays.

"I really appreciate what he did for me," Vargas said.

It starts with Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist, but spills over to the rest of the team. This group that had minimal familiarity has found a way to cast personal agendas aside and play for the ultimate goal: a national title.

"There's no jealousy," Davis said.

That's certainly the way it looks. Teague has learned how to balance scoring and distributing the ball. Davis deferred on the offensive end until recently and Doron Lamb has accepted his role. Jones remains an enigma, but it certainly hasn't affected this team much this season.

Calipari didn't put this together with the normal blueprint, but now these guys -- all thrown together -- may hang a banner on Monday night.

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