Five Cats declare for NBA Draft

jtipton@herald-leader.comApril 8, 2010 

The University of Kentucky's basketball loss on Wednesday could be the University of Kentucky's basketball gain this recruiting season. That's the reality of big-time college basketball as UK announced five players will enter their names in this year's NBA Draft.

Those widely expected decisions give Coach John Calipari five examples to show the next group of highly touted prospects he can put them on the fast track to the NBA and fulfill their basketball dreams.

Coincidentally or not, an official UK news release announcing that junior Patrick Patterson and freshmen John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton and Eric Bledsoe would enter this year's draft included several quotations that could be used in the next one-and-done recruiting pitch.

"I never thought I'd be in this position after one year," Bledsoe said. "Coach Cal pushed us all to be the best we could be, and he believes I'm prepared to take my game to the next level."

Orton acknowledged his hope for so-called one-and-done status, that is, playing one college season before turning pro.

"Battling with DeMarcus and Patrick every day helped improve my game," he said. "I want to thank the coaching staff for helping put me in a position to be drafted this year."

Wall, who along with Cousins made The Associated Press All-America first team, came to Kentucky billed as not only a one-and-done player, but as the No. 1 pick in this year's NBA Draft. If he played more than one season for UK, it would be shocking. He cited two players who played one season for Calipari at Memphis as examples he followed.

"I'm not the same player as when I arrived at UK," Wall said. "I believe I'm ready for the next challenge as Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans were the last two years under Coach Cal. I want to thank my teammates and the fans for all their support this year. I love them."

Wall's comments served as a fitting bookend. He began his cameo UK career by noting his desire to follow in the footsteps of Rose and Evans.

"The things he did for Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans fit in perfectly" with his basketball ambitions, Wall said. "I think I can do the same things they did. The way Coach Cal taught them and prepared them to get ready for the NBA. I kind of just play like them. The dribble-drive, get to the basket, play one-on-one."

Cousins, the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year counterweight to Wall's Player of the Year, echoed the sentiment. "Coach challenged me to grow on and off the court this season," he said. "I believe my game expanded along with my maturity. This year was the most fun I've ever had playing basketball, and a lot of it had to do with the support I got from our fans."

In the UK release, Calipari said he encouraged the players to put their names in the draft.

"They've all met individually with our compliance office to make sure they have a full understanding of eligibility rules and academic responsibilities," he said. "I'm so proud of these five young men, with everything they did for us on the court and the way they represented us off of it.

"It's extremely unusual for four freshmen from the same team to have this opportunity, but it's my job as a coach to prepare these young men for such opportunities."

Calipari could be confident that the next group of top recruits, including Brandon Knight, Josh Selby and Terrence Jones, took note.

As in last spring's whirlwind recruiting bonanza, Calipari can offer the possibility of immediate playing time. If the five players remain in the draft, UK has only seven players in place for next season: veterans Darius Miller, Darnell Dodson, Jon Hood, DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson, plus incoming freshmen Stacey Poole Jr. and Enes Kanter.

Of those players, questions swirl about the eligibility of Kanter, who played for a professional team in Turkey but reportedly wasn't paid.

Underclassmen have until April 25 to declare for this year's NBA Draft. The NCAA deadline for withdrawing from the draft is May 8.

If various mock draft projections are accurate, none of the five players should be expected to return Kentucky next season. The Los Angeles Times, NBADraft.net and Draftexpress.com all projected Wall as the first player taken.

The Los Angeles Times, which published its mock draft late last month, projected all five UK players in the so-called lottery (the picks by teams not making the playoffs this season): Wall, 1; Cousins, 8; Patterson, 10; Orton, 12; and Bledsoe, 13.

NBADraft.net had Wall first, Cousins fifth, Patterson ninth, Bledsoe 17th and Orton 24th. Draftexpress.com had it Wall first, Cousins third, Patterson 11th and Orton 26th. It did not project Bledsoe as a first-round pick.

Otis Hughley, who coached Cousins at LeFlore High School in Mobile, Ala., noted that those draft projections and the seven-figure contracts that go to first-round picks made Wednesday's announcement inevitable. That combination also makes Calipari's one-and-done recruiting pitch hard to resist.

"How many kids who participate in any sport don't dream of this day?" Hughley said. "But they may not have the luxury of it unfolding this way.

"If they all could, don't you imagine they all would?"

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