Mark Story: Calipari says it's OK to come to UK and NOT be one-and-done, too

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistApril 17, 2014 

James Young's Thursday announcement that he will enter the 2014 NBA Draft brings to 11 the number of Kentucky players (not counting Enes Kanter, who didn't actually play at UK) who have been one-and-done under John Calipari.

From a players perspective, putting one's self in line to become a millionaire with one decision is something to be celebrated. No player should ever be criticized for doing what is in their economic self-interest.

For UK, I've wondered at various times these past five years whether having essentially a new team every year is the surest route to basketball success. It's hard to argue, however, with four Elite Eights, three Final Fours, two championship game appearances and an NCAA title over a five-year period.

Still, there has been one clearly lamentable facet of the "one-and-done" era in Kentucky basketball — the fact that players who stay at Kentucky beyond their first year are somehow stigmatized as not up to par. There's something perverse about a dynamic in which the people who are in your program the longest are diminished.

Even Calipari seems uncomfortable with that aspect of Kentucky's one-and-done culture.

"Why is (staying more than) one year a failure?" the UK coach asked Thursday morning in a news conference. "I'm even doing it in recruiting now. I'm going into homes and one of the things I've started saying is 'You are not a failure if you come back two, three, four years. You're not a failure.'"

Calipari was meeting with local media Thursday to promote his new book, Players First: Coaching From The Inside Out, written with Michael Sokolove, a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine.

The Kentucky coach said his whirlwind book tour — from spending a day appearing on ESPN platforms to venturing into Bill O'Reilly's No-Spin Zone on Fox News to meeting with former President Bill Clinton — has proven a welcome antidote to what would otherwise be a nasty hangover from UK's 60-54 loss to Connecticut in the NCAA finals.

With more time to ponder the one that got away, "I'll want to jump off a bridge," Calipari said.

Most were shocked when Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein announced Monday that he would not enter the 2014 draft and would return to UK for his junior season. The 7-foot shot-blocker was being projected as a certain first-round pick, even given some chance to make the back end of the lottery.

Calipari asked reporters for a show of hands on who was surprised by Cauley-Stein's decision. The coach then raised his own.

In Calipari's time at UK, Cauley-Stein joins Patrick Patterson and Terrence Jones as players who would have been certain first-round picks but came back for another college season anyway.

"What's wrong with Patrick Patterson?" Calipari said of the Toronto Raptors forward. "He's going to get a big (NBA) contract, folks. What's wrong with him? You know what he said? That 'the best thing I did was go back to school and learn to play out on the floor. It changed my life.'"

Cauley-Stein listed several reasons for delaying NBA riches for another year, Calipari said. "'I'm in no hurry to leave (UK). I love going to school,'" Calipari quoted Cauley-Stein as saying. "'I'm going to be really close to my degree. I still have to grow as a player. And we left something on the table that I'd like to try to (finish).'"

Calipari said Thursday he'd gotten feedback from the NBA that one UK player who had expressed no interest in turning pro this season — I would guess freshman center Dakari Johnson — would go in the first round if he put his name in the draft.

"I called him back in and said 'You need to get with your mother and we need to talk about this,'" Calipari said. "'You need to know what you are passing on by (potentially) coming back.'"

Projected as a consensus top-five draft pick, Julius Randle is expected to turn pro. However, Kentucky freshmen Aaron and Andrew Harrison and sophomore forward Alex Poythress still have decisions to make about the NBA Draft. If they aren't dead-lock first-round picks, it would be nice if they could stay at UK without being labeled as flops.

"You can't plan on coming to this university for one year and then you will get out," Calipari said. "If it happens, Hallelujah, I'm happy for you. But it can't be me just (saying) this: Staying in school more than one year is not a failure."

Novel concept, that.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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