With Kentucky expected to produce multiple NBA first-round draft picks again this year, Jay Bilas scoffed at the notion that John Calipari could claim a knack for developing pros.
"A lot of coaches out there are really good teachers," Bilas said on an ESPN-sponsored teleconference Tuesday. "But the idea that somehow a coach does a better job developing pros is absurd."
Bilas' opinion cut to the heart of Calipari's program. During a Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month, prospects cited UK's record in recent years of producing pros as a recruiting lure. Most often, the draft picks from UK are so-called one-and-done players who spent — or required — only one season in college basketball to be deemed ready for the NBA.
Bilas suggested it's a chicken-or-egg argument: which came first, a player of exceptional ability arriving at Kentucky or a player benefiting greatly from the one UK season?
"That has to do more with talent than anything else," Bilas said.
Bilas cited such stellar NBA coaches as Phil Jackson and Larry Brown to make his point.
"Have you ever heard anybody say of an NBA coach, 'Hey, Phil Jackson does a great job developing players and turning players into all-stars or Hall of Famers?'" Bilas said. "And, 'Larry Brown does a great job of developing all-stars.'
"They never say that."
Such college coaches as Calipari or Mike Krzyzewski of Duke or Roy Williams of North Carolina should take limited credit, Bilas said. That's especially true of players who play only one season of college basketball, the ESPN analyst said.
"They had the guy seven months," he said. "What did they do to develop them?
"That's so meaningless. That is more about talent than anything."
However the credit should be distributed, Kentucky and Calipari have been prominent in recent NBA drafts. In 2010, five UK players — an unprecedented number for any school — were taken in the first round.
Bilas is among those who expect four more UK players to be taken in the first round of this year's draft, which will be held Thursday night. Those four are Anthony Davis, widely expected to be taken with the first overall pick, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague. Bilas had Doron Lamb and Darius Miller taken in the second round.
During the teleconference, a reporter asked Bilas to assess Harrison Barnes of North Carolina and Kidd-Gilchrist, players seen as vying for one of the first picks after Davis.
Bilas saw Barnes as the better offensive threat, but the analyst noted how the former UNC player seemed burdened by the hype surrounding his high school career.
"'Victim' is the wrong word," Bilas said. "He probably 'suffered' from the fact he was so highly rated out of high school."
While productive at North Carolina, Barnes did not shine quite as brightly as expected.
"I started to question, 'Is he as good an athlete as I thought?'" Bilas said.
Barnes excelled in the physical testing at the NBA Combine in early June, including a startling 38-inch standing vertical leap, Bilas said.
"What that told me is he's a little bit of a thinker on the court," Bilas said of Barnes. "He's very process-oriented.
"I think he'll be a better pro than college player."
As for Kidd-Gilchrist, Bilas echoed many assessments: Standout athlete and willing defender who brings notable effort.
"He's really energetic," Bilas said. "I guess that's what you'd call him: an energy player."
Bilas said that Kidd-Gilchrist has to work on shooting mechanics. The former UK player doesn't always square up to the basket. He also lets his right elbow move away from his body on the shot.
But Kidd-Gichrist can expect to hear his name called early in the draft.
"I don't know any coach in the NBA who would say, 'Nah, I don't want him on my team,'" Bilas said. "He's all about winning."