UK Basketball Notebook

Recruits view Coach Cal as lottery ticket

Calipari's willingness to accept one-and-dones a big selling point

Herald-Leader Staff WriterJuly 12, 2009 

To hear prospects talk at last week's recruiting camps, John Calipari is selling the NBA more than he's selling Kentucky basketball. And that's what the customers, er, prospects are lining up to buy.

"He pushes you hard, and he makes pros," top-25 prospect Doron Lamb said. "That's what everybody wants to be."

It seems as though everybody wants to play for Coach Cal. Or close enough to everybody to restock UK with the nation's No. 1 class in his first few weeks on the job.

"Remarkable and unprecedented," said recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer of Rivals.com. "He leaves the No. 1 class (at Memphis) and in one-month's time — in the spring — recruits another No. 1 class.

"We knew he'd be a good recruiter at Kentucky. But maybe we didn't know he'd be that good that quickly."

When asked what made Calipari's pitch so appealing, one prospect after another mentioned the NBA.

"You go to college to get a job," top-25 prospect Jelan Kendrick said. "All the guys want to get to the NBA. Who wouldn't want to get developed into a pro?"

The quicker the better, the players said.

That makes the examples of Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans powerful. Each played one season, the minimum required by the NBA, before turning pro. Each left Calipari and Memphis in the last two years to become lottery picks.

"I really like them, especially since Cal went there," forward Johnny O'Bryant said of Kentucky. "Because he's a one-and-done coach. He coaches players. He only recruits one-year players, and most players want to get to the NBA as soon as possible."

O'Bryant, a top-10 prospect in the class of 2011 and a native of Cleveland, Miss., acknowledged that he'd like to follow the example of Rose and Evans.

"It makes me feel, if I go (to UK) and I work hard, I can be drafted in the first round," he said. "A lottery pick."

Marquis Teague, a top-five prospect in the class of 2011, feels the effect, in part, because he plays the same point guard position as Rose and Evans.

"I know Coach Cal did great things with Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans," he said. "He coaches great guards."

Teague, whose older brother Jeff starred at Wake Forest and was a first-round pick in this year's NBA Draft, wants to visit UK even though the program hasn't offered a scholarship.

Why? "One of the best programs in the country," he said, "and Coach Cal."

Lamb, a point guard for high school powerhouse Oak Hill Academy, mentioned the dribble-drive offense in terms of the NBA.

"That is the pro game," he said. "He runs a pro offense."

Kendrick, who is 6-foot-6, noted how Rose and Evans were tall players that Calipari used on the perimeter.

"Last couple years, he had tall wings and tall guards," Kendrick said. "He had Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans in the lottery. He let them play point guard and developed them into lottery picks."

When asked whether the success Rose and Evans enjoyed made an impression, Kendrick said. "Oh, definitely."

Calipari, who once coached the New Jersey Nets and later was an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers, isn't the first Kentucky coach to use his NBA connections in recruiting. Rick Pitino had been New York Knicks coach before coming to UK. He not only noted his ability to prepare players for the pros, he named moves for NBA players (Kevin McHale's up and under, Karl Malone's drop step, etc.).

Getting to the NBA was not the only factor mentioned to explain Calipari's recruiting success.

Former Georgia coach Jim Harrick, who helped coach a team at the It Takes 5ive camp in Cincinnati, said Calipari worked hard and made effective use of his time.

"He'll shake the trees," Harrick said with a smile.

There's the power of personality.

Forward Adreian Payne of Dayton, Ohio, sensed a direct honesty when he visited UK this spring.

"He keeps everything real," Payne said. "He's up front with you. I like that a lot. I don't associate him with liars.

"The truth always helps. When they tell you what you want to hear, I don't want to hear it."

And, Payne said, Calipari spoke bluntly.

"He doesn't hold back his language," the player said. "Most coaches, they won't talk to you like that till they feel more comfortable. I just met him, he let everything out."

Prospects are drawn to success. Calipari made Memphis an annual presence in the top 10.

"He's like one of the biggest," prospect Perry Ellis said. "You know what I mean? He's one of the top coaches. Like, I hear his name, I can't explain it."

All those factors help. But none got mentioned as much as preparing for the NBA.

That enticing possibility reduces any college program, even Kentucky, into a mere way station.

"At Memphis, he branded the program as the place to prepare you for the NBA," Meyer said. " 'We're not going to hold you up.'

"That's the most important thing for top-level recruits."

Dunk you very much

Here's a surprise: Sylvia Crawford was not surprised when she learned that her middle son, Jordan, had dunked on LeBron James in a pickup game early last week.

"To be honest, it didn't surprise me," she said on Friday. "Jordan is a no-back-down kind of kid."

What did surprise the player's mother — and perhaps much of the basketball world — was what came after the dunk. Nike, which sponsored the LeBron James Skills Academy, confiscated the two recordings of the dunk. The shoe company apparently did not want its star pitchman seen getting a leather facial.

The appearance of heavy-handedness prompted a storm of criticism.

"It's as exciting to us as it is to the world," Mrs. Crawford said of the dunk. "It's perplexing at the same time.

"It's a game, I know, Jordan will remember the rest of his life, and we wish we could see it."

Jordan Crawford dunked on James after Tuesday's session of the NBA MVP's camp in Akron. Nike said it has a policy that forbids taping of these informal pickup games.

Mrs. Crawford wishes Nike would make an exception.

"A great idea I heard is maybe Nike will have a private screening for the family, and we walk out empty-handed," she said. "I'd be happy to enjoy that kind of experience."

The family found out about the dunk when Jordan called his older brother, former UK guard Joe Crawford. Mrs. Crawford said she had planned to drive from her Detroit home to watch Jordan play.

"I had powered up the cameras, both video and still," she said.

Because of work obligations, she canceled the trip.

Mrs. Crawford does not blame James for not being able to watch a tape of the dunk.

"People around him made the wrong decision," she said. "Professionals in a public relations capacity should have corrected it. A mom, a dad, a mentor, a coach, that's when they come in and say, 'Hey, that doesn't look too good.' "

History to repeat?

Jodie Meeks came to UK without the fanfare that normally accompanies many new players. Not being selected to the McDonald's or Parade All-America teams stung. Hard to believe now, but would-be pundits wondered whether he could shoot well enough to play for Kentucky. Then he left UK this spring after one of the program's most productive seasons in 40 years. That included a school record for three-pointers.

Meeks will attempt to repeat history as an NBA player. His pro career began last month as a second-round draft pick. Yet before he made his debut with the Milwaukee Bucks' entry in the Las Vegas Summer League on Friday, he was already making waves.

The Web site for the Las Vegas Summer League included a comment on each team. Here's what the site said about Milwaukee:

"A few of these Bucks should be starters this year, including Joe Alexander, Brandon Jennings, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jodie Meeks."

As for the oft-repeated question about Meeks' lack of size for a shooting guard, it could be noted that Ben Gordon and Dwyane Wade are about the same size.

Two other former UK players were listed on rosters for Las Vegas: Joe Crawford with the New York Knicks and Erik Daniels with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Former Kentucky Mr. Basketball Chris Lofton played for the Boston Celtics in the Orlando summer league and set a league record for three-pointers (15-for-25).

Coachable Cal

Between games at the adidas-sponsored camp, Tubby Smith acknowledged the advice he gave new UK coach John Calipari.

Calipari called most of the former UK coaches seeking advice on what to say at the introductory news conference. Smith suggested Calipari mention the late Bill Keightley's wife, Hazel, and daughter, Karen.

Surely, Smith smiled as he watched Calipari acknowledge Hazel and Karen, almost word for word saying what Smith suggested.

Big day nears

The due date is Friday, and former UK guard Michael Porter and his wife, Bryana, are about to become first-time parents.

They're expecting a girl and have picked a name: Payslie.

Proud grandfather-to-be Gary Porter, the player's father, has four grandsons. So Payslie will be the first granddaughter.

Meanwhile, Porter has applied to UK graduate school to study business.

Rumor mill

One rumor heard at the camps: At some point, John Calipari will add former Louisville player Kenny Payne to UK's staff.

Coincidentally, Calipari tweeted Friday that he was about to meet with Payne. He called Payne "the next great one in our profession."

Player/journalist

Kyrie Irving, a senior-to-be point guard and high school teammate of junior mega prospect Michael Gilchrist, has a 3.5 grade-point average. He aspires to be a journalist.

"I love to write," he said. "I've kept a daily journal for about a year."

Irving, whose first name is pronounced Kie (rhymes with Pie) Ree, also makes thoughtful entries on Twitter. When someone noted the quality of the tweets, Irving said, "I don't want to put any nonsense on it."

His favorite tweet was advice. "Stay hungry and humble."

Among schools on Irving's list are Duke, UK, Notre Dame, Indiana, Seton Hall, Virginia, Marquette and Texas A&M.

Happy birthday

To Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones. He turns 83 on Tuesday.

As all UK fans know, Jones was a member of the Fabulous Five. Their exploits, which included a national championship and 1948 Olympic gold medal, gave Kentucky a prominent place on the basketball map.

Jones remains a UK fan. He noted how Adolph Rupp's offense featured screening and passing. So he looks forward to watching John Calipari's dribble-drive offense next season.

Jerry Tipton covers UK basketball for the Herald-Leader. This article contains his observations and opinions. Reach him at jtipton@herald-leader.com

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service