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Phoenix Suns

Updated Apr 21, 2017 - 10:14 am

Kentucky coach Calipari: Suns have ‘a team full of fighters’

Phoenix Suns' Devin Booker (1) gives Kentucky college basketball coach John Calipari, right, a hug prior to an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Thursday, March 30, 2017, in Phoenix. Suns' Booker played for Calipari at Kentucky. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari said the Phoenix Suns have “a team full of fighters.” Of course, they also have a team full of Calipari’s former players.

The 2016-17 Suns had four Kentucky alumni on their roster: Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Tyler Ulis. They all played for Calipari, and all but Ulis played just one year before going pro. When Calipari joined Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM on Friday, he spoke highly of his former players.

“You know I like bragging about my guys,” Calipari said.

The veteran college coach told the story of visiting Phoenix and seeing the Suns’ game against the Clippers in late March, saying he was impressed with Ulis and Booker playing against Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan.

“I loved it out there when I watched that game. Here’s what I said to Earl (Watson): ‘I thought he’s got undersized guys.’ But the league’s getting undersized, so it’s not that bad. But what I saw was a team full of fighters. That means you’ve got a chance. If you don’t fight in that league, you’re just playing, you can’t win. You’ve got to have talent and assets and all of that other stuff, but you’ve got to fight.”

The 5-foot-10 Tyler Ulis was drafted 34th overall in the second round of the 2016 NBA Draft. In his rookie season, he averaged 18.4 minutes, 7.3 points and 3.7 assists per game as a point guard.

“I talked to three or four teams, like, ‘You understand what you did by passing on Ulis?,'” Calipari said. “(And they said) ‘I knew I was getting this call, you were right.’ So I think Phoenix, with Tyler Ulis, I mean come on now. This kid’s heart, this kid’s ability to do what he does, it’s amazing.”

Ulis and Booker were reunited on the Suns, as the two were teammates under Calipari in their freshman seasons. This year, rumors are swirling as to which non-Calipari product will join the youth movement in Phoenix in the NBA draft, and whether it could be UCLA star Lonzo Ball.

Ball has been somewhat mired by the antics of his father LaVar, and Calipari gave his take on whether the Suns — particularly Booker and Ulis — will have a hard time dealing with LaVar’s outlandish behavior.

“I’m counting on Ryan McDonough to make those choices,” Calipari said. “I’ve got a lot of faith in the guy, I think the guy’s really good. Think about that Devin Booker pick: Can I just tell you, everyone thinks, ‘Well that was an easy pick.’ There were four teams that passed him up that today I can’t believe they passed him up. You know why they passed him up? Devin Booker didn’t start for my team.”

Calipari gave McDonough praise for taking Booker and Ulis, once again.

“Devin Booker coming out there, he was the youngest player in the draft, did not start for Kentucky,” he said. “And Ryan made him a lottery pick? What the hell are we doing? What is that? And then when he takes a 5-foot-6 player that’s 150 pounds, everybody’s like, ‘Are you kidding me? Why would we do that?’ So I don’t know exactly what they’re looking at or what they need or what draft picks they have, but they’ll do their homework. I have a lot of faith in that.”

The NBA Draft will take place on June 22.

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