Bilas expounds on his belief that coaches don't have a formula to develop a pro player

Herald-Leader Staff WriterJune 30, 2012 

Whatever you think of him, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas does not wait for an opportune time to make a provocative statement.

On a Tuesday teleconference, Bilas scoffed at the notion that college coaches can develop NBA players. Two days later, NBA teams drafted six Kentucky players, which brought the total of UK players drafted in John Calipari's three seasons as coach to a whopping 15. That means every starter in Calipari's three UK seasons has been drafted.

Surely, Calipari is using his familiarity with NBA ways to transform his players into pros. No, Bilas said, neither Calipari nor any other coach is doing any such thing.

"The key phrase is 'developing pros,'" Bilas said the morning of the NBA Draft on Thursday. "Nobody is developing pros.

"It implies that coaches choose. 'I'm going to develop a pro.'"

Bilas offered two pointed questions:

■ "Did John decide not to make Kyle Wiltjer a pro?" Then to extend the logic, Bilas envisioned Calipari thinking, "I'll wait. I'll make him a pro later."

■ Why didn't Calipari develop more than five first-round picks during his nine seasons as Memphis coach? He matched that total in his first season at UK. After three seasons, there have been 11 UK players taken in the first round.

Bilas contends that these players would be drafted no matter what uniform they wore (think: Larry Bird, Indiana State).

"Anthony Davis was a pro no matter where he went to school," Bilas said. "That's true of most of them."

Bilas likened any school or coach claiming credit for developing pro players to a modeling agency saying it created, say, Kate Moss or Christy Turlington.

"Either you're the real thing or you're not," the ESPN analyst said.

In rejecting the idea that any coach can develop pro players, Bilas cited his alma mater, Duke.

"Does anybody believe Kyrie Irving played 11 games and he was developed by Duke to be a pro?" he asked.

Bilas said he did not mean to criticize Calipari or any other coach.

"John Calipari is not a good coach," he said, "he's a great coach."

The record speaks for itself: Elite Eight, Final Four, national championship. Those 11 first-round picks. And, as Calipari likes to mention, solid academic numbers, too, including degrees for seniors Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas this spring.

Bilas just doesn't buy — despite the mounting numbers — that Calipari has a formula for producing pro players.

Instead, might the 15 UK players drafted reflect great recruiting?

"That's exactly what it means," Bilas said. "It's a great sales pitch. If your goal is the NBA, you see a path has been blazed."

As Bilas sees it, Calipari deserves credit for arguably making Kentucky basketball greater than ever.

"The idea is not 'I will develop you into a pro,'" Bilas said. "I think John is very accepting of the idea of when you're ready (for the NBA), go! In fact, 'We're going to help you facilitate that goal.'

"There's a trust."

Players think Calipari will put their interests and well-being ahead of what might be best for UK or its coach. No small thing.

But Calipari has no special knack for developing pro players, Bilas said.

"I talk to my colleagues," the ESPN analyst said. "We all laugh about it. Funny how coaches at bigger schools on TV have more pros."

'A blessing'

Fairly or not, to be a second-round NBA Draft pick carries a stigma. No handshake with David Stern. More importantly, no guaranteed contract.

But the key is this: If taken in the second round, you can consider yourself one of that year's 60 best pro prospects in the world.

"I'm not disappointed," Brian Miller said when asked about his son, UK 1,000-point scorer Darius Miller, being taken in the second round of Thursday's NBA Draft. "I'm excited and happy his name was called. That's a blessing in itself. The main thing is he's going somewhere — guess what? — where somebody wants him."

The New Orleans Hornets took the younger Miller with the 16th pick of the second round. He'll rejoin former UK teammate Anthony Davis, the overall first pick of the draft.

"That's great," the elder Miller said. "Those two have a good relationship. They call each other brother."

Miller and Davis will give each other a familiar face and, no doubt, an ally.

"They can piggyback off each other," Brian Miller said.

The elder Miller noted how being a second-round pick represents an opportunity, Yes, nothing is guaranteed. But Miller and another UK player taken in the second round, Doron Lamb, have a chance to show what they can do.

"Nothing's easy," Brian Miller said. "Nothing's given in life. You have to go out and work for it. ...

"Regardless, you've got to apply yourself. First (round), second, last, you've still got to get it out there and perform."

It's easy to forget that the San Antonio Spurs took Manu Ginobili in the second round (57th pick) in 1999.

Other familiar names taken in recent second rounds include Luis Scola, Marc Gasol, Trevor Ariza and Landry Fields.

UK-UNC

One of the many subplots at the NBA Draft involved the evergreen UK-UNC rivalry.

When a reporter noted how some fans openly rooted for UK to have four or more players drafted before UNC, Tyler Zeller laughed.

"It'll definitely be interesting to see how that plays out," he said, diplomatically, the day before the draft. "They have five or six (players in the draft). They definitely have more of them."

UNC was the first team to have four players drafted Thursday.

North Carolina players acknowledged the nagging thought of what might have been had their point guard, Kendall Marshall, not been seriously injured early in the NCAA Tournament.

"Not saying we'd have beaten Kentucky," John Henson said, "but we'd have given them a helluva game."

Zeller noted how UK beat UNC 73-72 in Rupp Arena in December.

"We feel we made a few dumb plays at the end," he said. "I think we matched up well against them."

Who me?

Self-deprecating humor isn't a regular staple for John Calipari. But he used it to good effect at the NBA Draft.

"I started thinking the reason we won (the 2012 national championship) was because of me," he said after Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were the first two players chosen. "I guess if you have the first and second picks, you should win."

Rookie mentality

The players taken early in the NBA Draft offered varying thoughts on how boldly they might enter the league.

When asked if he might convince veteran Eric Gordon to stay with the Hornets, Anthony Davis said, "I'm not sure a rookie can do that. I don't think I have that much power."

But former UK teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sounded ready to take charge at Charlotte.

"I'm ready to lead the team," he said.

Former Kansas star Thomas Robinson also sounded anything but shy. He said he'd bring a winning attitude to Sacramento, which had a lottery pick for a sixth straight year.

"No matter how old I am, a rookie or not, I'm not letting nobody relax," he said. "It's not cool to lose."

Draft leftovers

■ New Orleans taking Austin Rivers marked the 11th straight NBA Draft in which at least one son of a former NBA player was selected. The others were Mike Dunleavy (2002), Luke Walton (2003), Jackson Vroman (2004), Sean May (2005), Ronnie Brewer (2006), Al Horford (2007), Patrick Ewing, Jr., (2008), Stephen Curry, Gerald Henderson and Austin Daye (2009), Ed Davis (2010) and Klay Thompson and Nolan Smith (2011).

■ Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving hugged Dion Waiters as he left the stage after being taken by the Cavaliers with the fifth pick of the first round.

Anthony Davis became the third SEC player taken with the first overall pick. The others were UK's John Wall in 2010 and LSU's Shaquille O'Neal in 1992.

■ After being taken by the Bucks with the 14th pick of the first round, John Henson called Milwaukee "a nice, small city. Not necessarily a small city, but a good-sized city and there's not much traffic, which is a beautiful thing."

Father/son

Besides helping coaches make roster decisions, workouts last month for the U.S. Under 17 team showed the progress James Blackmon Jr. has made in the rehabilitation of a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

The son of a former UK player tore the ACL in his left knee in February while playing in an event created to showcase players who had committed to Indiana. He underwent surgery on March 6.

"I never thought it would happen to me," he said.

"When it first happened, it seems like the end of the world," said his father, James Blackmon, who played for Joe B. Hall, then Eddie Sutton at UK in the 1980s. "You have something you love taken away."

The younger Blackmon was far enough along in the rehab to participate in some drills with the U.S. Under 17 team, which began play in Lithunia Friday.

When asked why he participated in the tryouts in Colorado Springs while knowing he could not make the team, Blackmon said, "Because it's a big honor for me. Even though I was hurt, I was still selected." He continued the rehab with USA trainers.

Blackmon, a 6-2 shooting guard in the class of 2014, is a top-30 national prospect according to ESPN's recruiting service. Rivals has him in the top 50 and Scout in the top 70.

His father, who also is high coach at Bishop Luers High in Fort Wayne, said he worked with his oldest son. Two other sons — BiJay, 14, and Jalen, 10 — also play basketball.

"As a parent, you definitely don't want to force it on a kid," the elder Blackmon said.

The younger Blackmon credited his father for making him a good player. "He basically taught me everything I know about basketball," he said.

In comparing their games, father and son agreed that the younger Blackmon is the better pure shooter.

James Blackmon Jr. committed to Indiana in September, 2010, when he was starting his freshman year of high school. He's expected to be fully recovered by the time next season begins.

Happy birthday

To former UK star Tom Parker. He turns 62 today. ... To CBS analyst Clark Kellogg. He turns 51 on Monday. ... To longtime UK radio presence Ralph Hacker. He turns 68 on Monday. ... To former UK coach Tubby Smith. He turned 61 on Saturday. ... To former Ole Miss coach Ed Murphy. He turns 71 today.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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