This year's 'reunion' shifts to San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO -- John Lucas asked rhetorically about the common denominator among the Final Four teams. He answered his own question with the obvious, saying that Oklahoma State, Connecticut, Duke and Georgia Tech all have some sort of inside game and good point guards.

Whether he forgot to mention it, or was just being modest, the former NBA player and coach failed to mention himself. You see, Lucas had a thing or two to do with at least one player on each of the four teams gathering in San Antonio.

"It's kind of like a reunion,'' Lucas said.

But the barbeque will have to wait. And those pickup games played by his son John Lucas III and a revolving door of college players have been replaced this weekend by three pretty important games in the Alamodome. But the summer days spent at the Lucas family spread in Houston by the likes of Emeka Okafor helped 'em all get to San Antonio.

The Lucas connection is the start to this year's "Eight Degrees of Final Four Separation." There are friendships, even kinships, among these four teams -- starting and ending with each Lucas.

Here we go:

John Lucas III and Okafor (Connecticut) played at Bellaire High in Houston. Okafor is now a teammate of Charlie Villanueva at Connecticut, who played with Duke's Luol Deng while both were at Blair Academy (N.J.) last season. Deng is, of course, a Duke teammate of Chris Duhon, who just happens to be a cousin of Georgia Tech point guard Jarrett Jack. Now Jack is a teammate of Will Bynum, who was a teammate of Oklahoma State guard Tony Allen at Crane High School in Chicago. Allen now brings us back to Lucas, who of course transferred to OSU this summer and was all-Big 12 with Allen this season.

Oh, as a bonus: Ivan McFarlin (Oklahoma State) and Daniel Ewing (Duke) both played at Willowridge High in Sugar Land, Texas.

Now, full disclosure says Duhon and Jack are distant cousins, as in second cousins. (Apparently, Duhon called Jack after Georgia Tech won the regional and said they should get together at the Final Four ... now that they've discovered they are cousins.) Jarrett's father and Duhon's mother are first cousins. But, apparently, the Jacks and Duhons don't exactly get together for annual family gatherings.

Still, no one seems to have as much of a connection to all four teams as the elder Lucas. Obviously, the former NBA coach (Lucas' last stop was Cleveland), who played point guard himself at Maryland, and for over a decade in the NBA, has the most important connection to his son. But as well as teaching his son the tricks of the trade, Lucas also tutored Okafor on the court, beginning in ninth grade. Lucas also said he has worked out the following players at one point or another: McFarlin, Ewing, Taliek Brown (Connecticut), Jack, and claims to be tight with Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt from when Lucas was with the Sixers and Hewitt was a Villanova assistant.

But when Lucas begins to talk about his connection to these teams, he starts with Okafor and his son. The pair was apparently very close in high school, always lifting weights. Lawrence Roberts was the third Musketeer in this group. Lawrence was also a teammate of Lucas at Baylor before last summer's scandal involving the death of Patrick Dennehy allowed each to transfer (Lawrence went to Mississippi State where he was the SEC player of the year)

"I remember Emeka's dad telling me he wanted his son to be a doctor when he was in the ninth grade," Lucas said. "I told him, (Okafor) has the chance to be the No. 1 pick. He said I was crazy."

Okafor reflected on the days spent listening to Lucas as he ran both the 6-foot-10 forward and 5-11 point guard through tough individual workouts. He discussed the influence Lucas had on his game during a news gathering Tuesday before the Huskies left for the Final Four.

"His dad had a pretty big impact on my game," Okafor said. "He introduced me to trainers and got me going as far as lifting weights."

Okafor's workouts with Lucas in Houston became less frequent once he went to Connecticut. But when he returns to his own Houston home during the summer months, it's not unusual to find Okafor joining Lucas for an occasional workout under the eye of his high school teammate's father.

But back in high school, whenever the pair got together, it often led to a serious run with an array of talent.

"This helped all of them," Lucas said of playing a lot of times against NBA players. "Daniel (Ewing) and John played against Damon Stoudamire, Cuttino Mobley and Steve Francis. Emeka got a chance to play against Mark Bryant and Othella Harrington and all of the Rockets. It helps to play with all the pros."

And, of course, one of Lucas' favorite prodigies is T.J. Ford -- another Houston native. Ford was in the mix with this group, getting in games with Lucas' group. Lucas said he usually has the players go to West Side Tennis Club, or they can usually find a game at Rice University's Autry Court. And, there is always Bellaire High.

Speaking of Bellaire, when the two were being recruited, Lucas' workouts were watched by plenty of college coaches from all the usual suspects. And those coaches who stopped by always had plenty to say to the elder Lucas, who wasn't influential in Okafor's recruitment but he did pass on his opinion.

Lucas told Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun that there wasn't a package deal with Okafor and Lucas. But then-UConn assistant Karl Hobbs, who is now the head coach at George Washington, did consider trying to lure Lucas to come to Storrs.

Lucas' ability to score, as well as distribute the ball, made Hobbs a believer. But the Huskies didn't push too hard to have two players from Bellaire. Lucas said he talked to Ray Allen about Okafor going to a place he thought was reserved for guards. "But now (UConn) is being known for big guys with Emeka and Villanueva," Lucas said.

"What I'm proud of is that Houston basketball and the state of Texas is getting on the map," Lucas said. "But a lot of these guys are still leaving town. My way of trying to give back is to work on the ballhandling and skills over the summer. I started to do that in Cleveland with LeBron (James) but I was suspended."

Yes, Lucas got into a little trouble with the NBA two summers ago while coach of the Cavaliers when he was fined for having James, while still at St Vincent-St. Mary's in Akron, participate in a workout that included NBA players. His defense: Lucas just wants to help players get better. And, nobody at OSU seems bothered by his attempts to improve not only his son's skills, but those players who show up in Houston each summer.

Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton said Lucas isn't like the stereotypical tennis or hockey dad, always trying to corrupt the coach's teaching. Instead, Sutton said Lucas doesn't stray from the teachings of the current OSU coaching staff. He apparently isn't a hindrance, and is definitely helpful.

Lucas credits his father with giving him that added confidence to perform as well as he did last weekend in East Rutherford. It was Lucas who hit the clutch 3-pointer that sent the Cowboys to San Antonio. And it was Lucas (the father) who was in the stands at the start of the second half, motioning to his son to keep his elbow straight and to follow through on his shot. Now, whether or not Lucas' tips led to his son's second-half turnaround or not, the younger Lucas did score 17 of his 19 points in the second half.

Each team's players will do their own things with their own teams, but there should be some interesting conversations in the Alamodome come Friday afternoon when the teams gather for the first time for open workouts. Sure, Bynum and Allen will have talked on the phone before playing each other in Saturday's first semifinal. Deng and Villanueva will certainly reminisce about Blair Academy before tipoff late Saturday night.

"We've gotten along really well since the first day I met him," Villanueva said of his high school teammate Thursday. "We've gotten along really well. He was my rommate sophomore year and we've been friends ever since. He's a great guy."

"We've always talked about (getting to the Final Four). Now it's a reality. I called him but he hasn't called me back. I guess we're enemies now, but after the game it's going to be all good. ... I'm excited that we're going to play Duke."

They all have the same goal. But it certainly won't stop this Final Four from having somewhat of a family affair. And, if there was a way they could fit in a quick run outside the Alamodome, well they shouldn't hesitate to call Lucas. He'd gladly find a gym somewhere close to the Alamo.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.