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Thunder: Several OKC players were impressed with teams long before Final Four

More than half of the Thunder roster participated in offseason workout with Kentucky players. And they came away impressed with the Wildcats.
JOHN ROHDE, Staff Writer, Published: March 29, 2012

It was never the Thunder vs. Kentucky in Lexington. It was always mix and match. Mohammed said at one point there were two courts of 5-on-5 going on side-by-side.

“I was really impressed with their talent,” Collison said of Kentucky. “Anthony Davis, when I saw him, I knew he was going to be really good. Yeah, they've got a ton of talent, for sure. They were really talented, and that was their first couple weeks on campus, too. I'm sure they've gotten a lot better since then.”

The same success wasn't expected for Collison's alma mater, which lost roughly 70 percent of its scoring, rebounding and steals and nearly 80 percent of its 3-pointers off the previous year's team, yet the Jayhawks still managed to win their eighth straight Big 12 regular-season title.

“Honestly, they've really impressed me, man. They've overachieved a lot,” Collison said. “This is probably one of the least-talented teams they've had in a long time in terms of depth, the number of guys, but the players have done a great job. Guys who didn't much at all last year really stepped up. … I'm really impressed. They've had an unbelievable year. They've got a lot of walk-ons playing quality minutes. That's not always the case at Kansas, but those guys have really stepped up and played great. It's been fun to watch.”

Aldrich smiled and shook his head when asked how he thought this year's Jayhawks would fare after facing them throughout the summer.

“Nick and I kind of joke about it,” Aldrich said. “We were like, ‘Uh, I don't know about this.' We thought they'd make the (NCAA) tournament, but we were unsure of how far they would go. To see them in the Final Four, I think huge credit goes out to Coach (Bill) Self, not only for getting those guys prepared for the season, but for the guys themselves, for working hard and getting better throughout the season. It shows that a team you think may not have a good year has a great year.”

Mohammed advanced to the national championship game all three seasons at UK, winning the title as a freshman in 1996 and as a junior in 1998, after which he turned pro.

Collison made it to the 2002 and 2003 Final Fours, losing the national title game to Syracuse and freshman Carmelo Anthony in 2003, when Collision had 19 points and 21 rebounds.

Aldrich was a freshman on the 2008 national championship team at Kansas.

Cook, Greg Oden and Michael Conley were all freshmen at Ohio State and turned pro after losing in the 2007 national championship game against Florida.