Players turning pro good news to Calipari

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 23, 2010 

Kentucky Coach John Calipari welcomes the thought of a mass exodus of his freshmen to this year's NBA Draft. The better to show highly regarded recruits that they can punch their tickets to the pros after only a brief stop at UK.

"If we do something unique and special, we'll lose a bunch of guys," Calipari said on Friday. "Will you be happy? I'll be happy.

"If we don't, we're not going to lose a lot of guys. We'll lose a couple. If something unique and special happens, it's reload. Let's go. Who's next? And I'd be happy."

A question about new speculation this week of freshman guard Eric Bledsoe turning pro after the season led Calipari to embrace the thought.

"That'd be perfect," he said.

It's taken for granted that another freshman guard, John Wall, will turn pro after this season. It would be a surprise if big man DeMarcus Cousins returned to Kentucky next season.

During an appearance on the Dan Patrick radio show on Thursday, Calipari seemed ready to show Wall to the exit this spring.

Asked whether Wall might be back next season, Calipari said, "He better not be."

Wall is widely projected as the No. 1 pick in this year's NBA Draft.

"I am saying that if he came to me and he was the No. 1 pick in the draft and he said that he wanted to come back, we would probably be wrestling around on the floor," Calipari said. "Because there is no reason other than me trying to win more games that he should come back.

"I also have a couple of other guys that are in here and if they are in the top 15 to 20 picks and they tell me that they want to come back, I say for one reason. That is if you want to be the No. 1 pick in the draft. (Otherwise) you don't come back."

Calipari said he and UK will survive and thrive if several freshmen turn pro. Kentucky can absorb the loss.

"Now you are helping my program (if you come back) and you are going to help me win more games," Calipari said. "But you won't believe this, I am OK and my program is OK and the next 50 years what you do ... will not be a pimple on the butt of this program."

Prospects visit

According to the recruiting service, two 6-foot-8 underclassmen are visiting UK this weekend.

The two are teammates Zach Peters (a sophomore) and Julius Randall (a freshman) from Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plain Oak, Texas.

Fortson a game-changer

As with other Southeastern Conference coaches who have faced Arkansas, Calipari noted the difference point guard Courtney Fortson has made for the Razorbacks.

Fortson, who was suspended for all games prior to a Jan. 5 meeting against Texas, leads the Southeastern Conference in assists (8.7 per league game) and averages 15.3 points per league game.

"Now with Fortson, what ends up happening is you play four on four because you can't leave one kid (three-point sharpshooter Rotnei Clarke)," the UK coach said. "And he (Fortson) is really good getting to the rim."

Calipari suggested Fortson's absence makes Arkansas' mediocre records (8-10 overall, 1-2 in the SEC) deceiving.

"If Fortson had been there all year, I'm guessing their record would be 14-4," the UK coach said.

Leading indicator

Florida outrebounded Arkansas 42-29 on Thursday. Florida grabbed 17 offensive rebounds. Now Arkansas faces Kentucky, which ranks third nationally in rebound margin (plus 9.8).

No wonder Arkansas Coach John Pelphrey cited rebounding as a key along with containing Kentucky in transition and limiting turnovers.

Bravo, Pitino

Of course, as one of the Unforgettables, Pelphrey's jersey is among those hanging in the Rupp Arena rafters.

When asked whether he'd ever coached against someone whose jersey hung in a place of honor, Calipari said, "I don't think so. (Pause) Pitino is in the building, too, and he took an 'L.' "

UK beat Rick Pitino and Louisville on Jan. 2.


■ Arkansas has lost 14 straight SEC road games.

■ The Hogs haven't won at Kentucky since 1994. And it took a national championship team to beat UK 90-82 that day.

■ Kentucky has beaten Arkansas nine straight games. Among SEC teams, only Auburn (11 straight) has a longer losing streak against UK.

■ Eric Collins, Bob Wenzel and Cara Capuano will call the game for the SEC Network.

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