Five of his players being selected in the first round of last week's NBA Draft moved Kentucky Coach John Calipari to make an all-encompassing statement. "I'd like to say it is the biggest day in the history of Kentucky's program," he told ESPN's Heather Cox during the network's telecast of the draft. "... the biggest day for the University of Kentucky."
Calipari's statement led to another sweeping comment.
"The dumbest thing I've ever heard," said Dan Issel, UK basketball's career scoring leader.
After all, Kentucky has won seven national championships, amassed more victories than any other program and participated in some of the greatest games (think Christian Laettner) and some of the most significant games (think Texas Western).
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When radio host Dan Patrick asked Calipari on Friday whether the draft surpassed national championships on a biggest-day scale, Calipari hedged. "It depends on your reference," the UK coach said before acknowledging that his draft-night comment might upset "the old guard" (aka the players, coaches and fans who made Kentucky basketball what it is).
Issel did not sound upset. He sounded amused.
"If the goal is to be a feeder team for the NBA, maybe that was the greatest day," Issel said. "I thought the goal was to win a national championship."
In talking to five former Wildcats and ex-coach Joe B. Hall, not one agreed with Calipari that this year's NBA Draft deserved a biggest-day proclamation.
"For sure the championship is what everybody looks forward to," All-American Cotton Nash said.
"The greatest day is whenever a program wins a national championship," said Kyle Macy, who led UK to one in 1978.
"There's no question about that," All-American Kevin Grevey said. "(The draft) was special, but it doesn't top a championship."
Dwane Casey, a teammate of Macy's in 1978, said winning a national championship made for a more exclusive club than being a first-round draft pick.
Hall, an enthusiastic Calipari fan, refused to be drawn into a discussion about Kentucky basketball's greatest day even though he's witnessed or participated in most of them. He called this year's NBA Draft "certainly one of the greatest days because it gives Kentucky another first."
No college team had produced five first-round NBA Draft picks until John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton were selected on Thursday. For all its storied history, UK had not produced a first overall pick until the Washington Wizards drafted Wall.
"That's a hell of an accomplishment," Casey said.
"I'm not saying it's not great," Issel said. "It's terrific. If these prospective players see coming to Kentucky as a step to the NBA, then that's great.
"But the goal is to win a national championship, and the Kentucky program is such that that should be the goal every year."
Choosing his words carefully, Grevey called Thursday "one of the more memorable days" for Kentucky basketball.
"This is probably the greatest moment in John Calipari's history," Grevey added. "It's a huge milestone for him."
Preparing players for the NBA is at the heart of Calipari's recruiting pitch. In that context, the NBA Draft was a four-hour commercial for Kentucky basketball.
"They'll always be talking about that," Macy said of UK's unprecedented five first-rounders. "Not only that night, but for years to come."
No wonder Macy speculated that the chance to use this year's NBA Draft in future recruiting moved Calipari to hyperbole.
The former UK players found Calipari's dismissive "old-guard" label as more fitting. The game has changed. Recruiting has changed. Kentucky was a destination for Issel, Nash, Macy, Casey and Grevey. It's a means to an end for Wall, Cousins, Patterson, Bledsoe and Orton.
Casey recalled how a player merely mentioning his NBA chances drew a strong rebuke from Hall. Midway through last season, Calipari said he would "wrestle" Wall if the player considered returning to UK for another season.
"When I played, it used to be a college sport," Nash said. "You stayed four years. You got a degree.
"Now, it's big business. It's motivated by money. Just a minor league for the NBA in a lot of cases."
In the case of Kentucky?
After a pause, Nash said, "I don't think intentionally."
Rags to riches
The first-round picks from UK came to college as highly regarded prospects. John Wall was projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft while still in high school.
Then there's Paul George, who told reporters at the draft how he wasn't rated among the nation's top 150 high school seniors
"I didn't play AAU like those guys did," he said of the many more celebrated prospects.
He cited another reason for his obscurity. "Being in Palmdale," he said, a town in the California desert about an hour north of Los Angeles. "It's not a city (college recruiters) want to go to. It's not beautiful. It's in the desert, actually. I'm a victim of circumstance."
Some victim. He smiled easily and charmed reporters with a candid, relaxed recollection of how a basketball nobody became a star at Fresno State. After two college seasons, he was one of 15 players invited to attend the NBA Draft.
Fresno Coach Steve Cleveland noted George's work ethic, "great motor" and desire to make it to the NBA. The player needed all that because, in high school, he was a 6-foot-8, 170-pound center. Widely considered too weak to play in the Pacific-10, he committed to play at Pepperdine because a sister, Teiosha, played basketball for the school. When he withdrew his commitment, Cleveland was desperate enough to get interested in what he saw as a project. NCAA probation had reduced Fresno State to eight scholarships.
Now Cleveland says having to play George almost 40 minutes a game accelerated the player's development as a perimeter player. After being named second-team All-Western Athletic Conference as a 214-pound sophomore, George decided to enter this year's draft. His workouts wowed NBA teams, and his stock rose.
Indiana took George with the 10th pick. The player nowhere to be found in the top 150 will be guaranteed $1,865,300 next season and $2,005,200 in 2011-12.
That the Orlando Magic drafted Daniel Orton "totally shocked" the former UK player's father. His son had not worked out for the Magic, Larry Orton said.
But upon reflection, the elder Orton saw why he should have anticipated the possibility.
During a UK game last season, Larry Orton said, a man approached him and told him, "I'll never pass the ball to you again."
Larry Orton did a double-take and recognized Tommy Conrad, his teammate at Old Dominion. Conrad now works as a scout for the Magic.
"We're just trying to get a steal," Conrad said of Orlando's expected position late in the first round.
The elder Orton welcomed the news of Orlando drafting his son. He liked the idea of Daniel sitting behind and learning from Dwight Howard. Plus, Magic assistant Patrick Ewing tutors big men.
"With two years of learning, he'll be where he needs to be," Larry Orton said of his son.
Grading the suits
Matt King of The Los Angeles Times graded suits worn by several first-rounders at the NBA Draft. Here's his grades on the three UK players:
■ John Wall, Grade A
"Wall stepped up to the occasion with his suit," King wrote. "He rocks the pinstripes with a nice blue tie as a nod to Kentucky. He's got the flat pocket square going on that matches his tie, which is nice, as well."
■ DeMarcus Cousins, Grade B+
"I like that Cousins went with the purple for the Kings," King wrote. "He's got another straight, matching pocket square and pinstripes like Wall. I wonder if the two planned that. Really, it's a solid suit. I was just hoping for a little more craziness from the most mentally unstable young man in the draft."
■ Patrick Patterson, Grade A-
"Going with the general trend of pinstripe suits and Kentucky players is Patrick Patterson, coming with a silver number all around," King wrote. "His pocket square looked kind of wrinkled and sloppy. But I'm a giant UK homer, so I'm giving him bonus points for no good reason. Sue me."
Rookie of the Year odds
Bodog (www.Bodog.com) issued odds on who will win the 2010-11 NBA Rookie of the Year award.
The favorite is John Wall at 5-2 odds. Second choice at 11-4 is Blake Griffin (last year's overall No. 1 pick who sat out the season because of injury). Other contenders listed by Bodog and the odds of winning Rookie of the Year were Evan Turner (3-1), DeMarcus Cousins (6-1), Wesley Johnson (15-2), Derrick Favors (10-1), Greg Monroe (10-1), Jordan Crawford (15-1) and Cole Aldrich (18-1).
Columnist Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe saw John Wall as a "sexy pick" and Evan Turner as a safe, solid choice.
"The Wizards, who were last truly relevant in the Jimmy Carter administration, need sexy," he wrote. "Actually, they need everything. Wall makes sense for them."
Clearly, Ryan saw DeMarcus Cousins as the most intriguing player in the draft.
"Cousins was a highly demonstrative player who had run-ins with Coach John Calipari (who downplays them now), referees, and, frankly, himself," Ryan wrote. "The second warning flag was conditioning. It was a major part of every pre-season Kentucky analysis, and it was a major topic as he went through the pre-draft process. It did not help his image, or his chances of going in the top two or three, when he was officially weighed at 290-plus when his desired playing weight is about 270."
At the NBA Combine, Cousins had the second-highest percentage of body fat (16.4 percent) of the 52 prospects weighed and measured.
Ryan noted that Calipari and Cousins spoke of how Cousins would seek to exact revenge on teams that passed on him.
With that, Ryan summed up this year's draft by writing, "All in all, it's a utilitarian draft, not a glamour draft. There might be some nice rotation players in here somewhere. But for sizzle, it pretty much begins and ends with John Wall. For vengeance, there will always be Mr. Cousins."
As Division I schools such as Kentucky try to balance academic achievement with athletic success, Transylvania Sports Information Director Glenn Osborne shared how athletes at his school did in the classroom in 2009-10.
"I know that as a private 1,100-student Division III school, it isn't fair to compare to a large public institution," he wrote via e-mail. "But I thought you would be interested to see the numbers anyway."
Transy's 329 athletes compiled a cumulative 3.078 grade-point average. The overall student body at Transy averaged 3.181.
Of the 18 sports, 13 had team GPAs better than 3.0. The overall team GPAs ranged from field hockey's 3.392 to men's soccer at 2.726.
In addition, 99 athletes were named to the Dean's List (3.5 or above), and 34 were named to All-Heartland Conference Academic teams.
Transy also enjoyed athletic success with a school-record-tying six teams qualifying for NCAA Division III Championship play (men's and women's tennis, men's golf, softball, and men's and women's soccer). The school had four conference MVPs and five coaches of the year.
Here are Transy's team GPAs: baseball 2.812, men's basketball 2.842, men's cross country 3.122, field hockey 3.392, men's golf 3.158, men's soccer 2.726, softball 2.981, women's soccer 3.222, men's swimming 3.153, men's tennis 3.177, men's track 3.093, volleyball 2.975, women's basketball 3.172, women's cross country 3.343, women's golf 3.023, women's swimming and diving 3.172, women's track 3.256, women's tennis 3.362.