LOS ANGELES – Several Thunder players are familiar with this year's Final Four participants, having competed against them during the NBA lockout last summer.
Nick Collison and Cole Aldrich spent the offseason in Lawrence and frequently played in pickup games with Kansas players.
Nazr Mohammed played at Kentucky and set up one of the Thunder's voluntary mini-camps this summer on the campus in Lexington.
Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State and Louisville advanced to this weekend's Final Four at New Orleans.
Kentucky and Louisville meet in Saturday's first national semifinal at the Superdome, while Kansas and Ohio State meet in the other semifinal. The winners will play for the title on Monday night.
Daequan Cook attended Ohio State for one season before going pro, but rather than spending last summer in Ohio, Cook spent much of his time working out in Oklahoma City to show his desire to re-sign with the Thunder as a restricted free agent.
More than half the OKC roster participated at the Kentucky camp. The Wildcats are 36-2 and spent much of the season ranked No. 1. For them to advance to the Final Four came as no surprise to Thunder players.
“We were all thinking, ‘They're pretty good,'” said two-time All-Star Russell Westbrook. “All of 'em are going to be pros. They're a good team, so they're going to be all right (at the Final Four). … It was no mystery they were going to be good.”
Mohammed envisioned a big season for his alma mater.
“Oh, definitely,” Mohammed said.
NBA two-time scoring champ Kevin Durant saw the same.
“Oh, yeah. I did,” Durant said. “I called it. Everybody on our team said they're the best team in the country. They have five pros on their team. Their sixth man is a pro also. They're really, really good, man. Being there for a week, we got close to those guys. You talk to them and you pull for them that hopefully they win the championship. Coach Cal (John Calipari) is a great guy. Their whole staff is good. Hopefully they win.
“They respected us. They came out and competed against us. You could tell they were going to be really good this year.”
Every Thunder player who discussed the Wildcats was quick to mention national player-of-the-year candidate Anthony Davis, who is a lock for the Wayman Tisdale Award as the nation's top freshman.
“Anthony Davis stood out,” Mohammed said. “He's just such a good kid, worked hard, was trying to find as much knowledge as he could. Terrence Jones, all the guys were good. The surprising part was they were such a tight-knit group for guys who just had met, so that definitely was a good sign.”