NBA Draft a recruiting pitch for UK

Recruits take notice of Cats' success at sending players to Pros

jtipton@herald-leader.comJune 22, 2010 

  •  NBA draft

    When: 7 p.m. Thursday

    TV: ESPN

As sales pitches go, the NBA Draft makes for an offer that prospects cannot refuse.

That's hardly an exaggeration for Kentucky basketball, which may have an unprecedented five players taken in the first round Thursday. The impact that such a bonanza has on the impressionable minds of high school prospects is big.

"Oh, it has a tremendous impact," said Marshall Plumlee, one of the players in last weekend's NBA Top 100 Camp. "That's the end goal for a lot of these players. A school like Kentucky is notorious for cranking out so many NBA players, that's got to be a huge plus."

Plumlee, whose twin brothers play for Duke, spoke as a neutral observer. He has not received a serious recruiting pitch from UK.

Two players said to be on Kentucky's recruiting radar, senior-to-be Anthony Davis, and junior-to-be J.P. Tokoto, described this year's NBA Draft as impossible to ignore. But they're trying not to be swept off their feet.

"My future is to go into the NBA," said Davis, a lean, 6-foot-10 player from Chicago. "Kentucky's an elite program. Kentucky might be the place for me."

But, Davis added, he does not want to think too far ahead. He said he's concentrating on improving enough to become a McDonald's All-American and play in the Jordan Brand Classic next year.

"One step at a time," he said.

Tokoto, a top-10 national prospect in the high school class of 2011, took a similarly cautious view.

"It's interesting," he said of UK possibly producing five first-round picks in this year's draft. "(Playing in the NBA) is a big dream of mine."

But, Tokoto said, it was too early in his developmental curve to be thinking about the NBA.

Michael Gbinije, who has committed to Duke, said that a vast majority of prospects would be aware of the NBA Draft.

"Every kid's dream is to go to the NBA," he said.

Jerry Meyer, an analyst for the Rivals.com recruiting service, said that the NBA Draft can make an invaluable impact on Kentucky basketball's fortunes going forward. The potential impact cuts to the heart of why many highly-rated players pick a college, he said.

"It has a enormous recruiting effect," Meyer said. "When you're recruiting at the level Coach Cal (John Calipari) is trying to recruit at, the elite players, those guys only expect to be at college one year.

"They're not so worried about who's going to be there when they get there. It's how soon can they leave."

Kentucky can play four aces with one-and-done players John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton and Eric Bledsoe.

Many prospects are keenly aware of what teams select what players and what kind of million-dollar contracts are signed, Meyer said.

"They're all thinking of their draft status and the kind of money they can make," the analyst said. "They're paying very close attention."

Meyer saw this year's NBA Draft giving Kentucky a two-fold benefit. It reinforces the idea that Kentucky basketball can get an elite player NBA ready in the shortest time possible. It also tells that the merely good player that potential playing time will be available at UK when the one-and-done guy leaves after one season.

"I don't think there's a downside as far as recruiting," Meyer said.

After a moment, Meyer acknowledged that a revolving door of one-and-done players might have a downside in that Kentucky would be more vulnerable against veteran teams deep in a NCAA Tournament.

But, in Meyer's mind, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

"You're keeping a buzz around the program," he said. " ... There's tons of upside."

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