LOUISVILLE — A crowd of about 800 laughed, applauded and generally reveled in all things Kentucky basketball during the annual Tip-Off Luncheon here Wednesday. But one remark by UK Coach John Calipari brought silence.
"I'll be disappointed if we win a national championship and no one is drafted," Calipari said. He paused and repeated the point for emphasis.
He was making a familiar point: His Kentucky program will emphasize the players' futures first and foremost.
Calipari spoke of the draft's priority in relating a conversation with Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell. The UK coach had told Kentucky's senior senator that several players figured to be in the 2012 NBA Draft.
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"You're creating more millionaires than a Wall Street firm," Calipari said McConnell remarked.
All that is not to say Calipari and UK have little interest in winning the program's first national championship since 1998.
"My vision is at the end of the year, we'll be one of those teams up at bat slugging it out (as a national contender)," Calipari told the crowd. "The more I'm around these kids, the more I realize they really want this."
Calipari cited the fans as an inspiration for the players' desire for a championship. The fans' zeal, which most recently manifested itself at the annual campout for Big Blue Madness tickets, fuels the players, the UK coach said.
If Calipari had a theme, it was his references to what he called the "Kentucky Effect." The UK coach likened this phenomenon to "thinking like a king." By way of introducing this concept, Calipari noted a king's response to golf icon Arnold Palmer's request for a club. He gave him the deed to a country club.
"It not only affects outcomes," Calipari said of the so-called Kentucky Effect, "it affects how you play and prepare."
In what sounded like a page out of the late Al Davis playbook, Calipari suggested that UK basketball must seek excellence on and off the court.
Having the best grade-point average of any Southeastern Conference basketball team, for instance, is not enough.
"Let's be the best in the country," Calipari said. "Let's have the highest (Academic Progress Rate)."
In noting how Kentucky basketball led the SEC in APR in the latest tabulations, Calipari added, "They're not writing stories about that."
The crowd applauded.
As for basketball, Calipari noted the depth UK can have with an "unconventional team" in 2011-12.
"We might have seven starters," he said. "So what do you do?"
During a question-and-answer session, Calipari lauded UK's four freshmen.
He jokingly(?) noted how versatile big man Anthony Davis asked during the recruiting process if he could play shooting guard.
Not wishing to spoil his chances to recruit Davis, Calipari said he agreed. "But I followed it up (by saying) 'I want you to know we post up the shooting guard a lot,' " Calipari said as the crowd laughed.
Calipari likened Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's passionate play to DeAndre Liggins'.
"If you thought DeAndre played hard, wait till you see this guy," said Calipari, who added that Kidd-Gilchrist blocked seven shots in a recent workout.
Calipari saluted Marquis Teague's willingness to take instruction.
"When I talk to him, he's zeroed in on me," the UK coach said. "Whatever I say, he does."
Big man Kyle Wiltjer recently got a nod of approval from NBA superstar Kevin Durant, Calipari said.
When asked about UK's three-point shooting this coming season, Calipari noted how Darius Miller and Doron Lamb return from last season, and how Davis and Wiltjer can shoot accurately from beyond the arc.
Calipari also cited Terrence Jones, whom the coach said was shooting better and playing with a noticeable increase in zeal. "A light went on and he wants this," Calipari said. "And he's chasing it. He wants to be special."
Madness gets sponsor
The Kentucky Coal Association said Wednesday that Big Blue Madness, this year's first practice of the University of Kentucky basketball teams, will be sponsored by the Friends of Coal—Kentucky.
Earlier this year, Friends of Coal sponsored the UK-Louisville football game.
The sponsorship of Big Blue Madness is the group's second of three sponsorships with IMG and UK Athletics.
Herald-Leader Staff Report