Nineteen first-round picks from the University of Kentucky in the last six NBA Drafts. That commands your attention. But what does it mean?
A testament to UK Coach John Calipari's expertise in developing pro players? Or merely the inevitable result of recruiting players already destined to be in the NBA?
Counting Enes Kanter, 16 of the first-rounders were one-and-done players, which by definition means they could benefit from Calipari's coaching for only a few months.
"Well, I think John Calipari would tell you that it's first and foremost about the recruiting, because he's been able to do an incredible job since he arrived (at UK) at recruiting the best players in the country," ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla said. "That's a given. That's a fact. There's no argument there.
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"But anybody who thinks that he hasn't developed a lot of these guys doesn't realize how good a coach John is."
When four Kentucky players were first-round picks in the 2012 NBA Draft (and a record-tying six taken in the two rounds that year), another ESPN analyst scoffed at the notion of any college coach deserving credit for a player in the NBA. "Nobody is developing pros," Jay Bilas said. "It implies that coaches choose 'I'm going to develop a pro.' ... (2012 No. 1 overall pick) Anthony Davis was a pro no matter where he went to school. That's true of most of them. Either you're the real thing or you're not."
For an example, Bilas cited Kyrie Irving, the first player selected in the 2011 NBA Draft despite an injury-shortened one-season college career for Duke.
"Does anybody believe Kyrie Irving played 11 games and he was developed by Duke to be a pro?" Bilas asked.
Even as Kentucky again tied the record with six more players taken in this year's NBA Draft on Thursday, Bilas continued to insist pro players are recruited rather than developed.
"They recruit them," he texted last week. "Or are we to believe some years they just don't bother to develop any?!!"
Jerry Meyer, the Director of Basketball Scouting for 24/7 Sports, said that he believed both recruiting and player development played a part in so many Kentucky players becoming first-round picks in the last six years.
"I think Kentucky does a great job of player development," Meyer said. "But I'm generally in the camp that a pro is a pro. And I don't think Kentucky is doing anything so much different than other top programs. ... I mean, they're recruiting pros, and then they're doing a great job making them better during the time period they're there."
Not counting Kanter, who grew up in Turkey, nearly every first-round pick from UK in recent drafts was a highly regarded high school prospect. Twelve were ranked among the top 10 prospects in their high school class, 17 of the 18 were in the top 25. The exception is Willie Cauley-Stein, taken by the Sacramento Kings with the sixth pick on Thursday. As a high school senior, he was ranked a still-estimable No. 38 by the Recruiting Services Consensus Index and No. 40 by Rivals.
(Coincidentally, three UK players once rated as top-10 high school prospects were not first-rounders: No. 5 Andrew Harrison and No. 9 Dakari Johnson, who were taken in the second round, and No. 6 Aaron Harrison, who went undrafted.)
When asked why he believed pro players might be polished, but not produced by college coaches, Meyer said, "Because I think most of it is genetics. Just how talented a player is. And a lot of that is genetics.
"I don't think a college coach, especially in a one-year deal, turns a guy into a pro. College coaches can really help a player and develop them, but I don't know how to create a NBA player out of a non-NBA player."
Meyer said there have been "just a handful" of players who seemingly come out of nowhere and make it in the NBA. Steph Curry comes immediately to mind. The Rivals recruiting service labeled him a three-star prospect as a high school senior. He was the NBA's Most Valuable Player this past season and led the Golden State Warriors to a championship.
"He's an anomaly ... ," said Meyer, who noted that Curry's father, Dell, was an NBA player, thus supporting his belief in genetics as a key factor. "You do have outliers and anomalies. But that's what they are."
Curry, then weighing 140 pounds, wanted to play for Virginia Tech, his father's alma mater. But Tech only invited him to be a walk-on. So he accepted Davidson's scholarship offer.
Davidson Coach Bob McKillop does not put stock in the labels recruiting services apply to prospects, be it one-star or five-star players. "I never look at the stars," he said. He relies on what he calls the "eye test." In Curry's case, McKillop needed multiple eye tests, and got them because Curry lived nearby in Charlotte.
"My initial thought was he could play for us in a starring role," McKillop said. "He had all the tools. And I don't think he has reached his pinnacle yet."
McKillop likened Curry's time at Davidson to an actor perfecting his craft. "It was like he was readying himself for the Broadway stage," the Davidson coach said. "He was doing his summer stock. You don't become an overnight sensation. It just doesn't happen. You need some rehearsals."
To explain Curry's rise from nondescript prospect to all-pro, McKillop noted the player's "quest for excellence" in all aspects of his life. "He wants to be the best son, brother, husband, father, teammate and friend," the Davidson coach said. "It's a habit, nurtured by two model parents who began the process well before he made his first jump shot."
This might be where a college coach like Calipari can step in. Even with highly regarded players, this "quest for excellence" is an important ingredient. College coaches can benefit the eventual first-round picks by demanding sacrifice, encouraging them to embrace the need to improve and holding them accountable,
"I give John tremendous credit for it," McKillop said of Calipari. "Same with Mike Krzyzewski. Players have to toe the line. They have to adhere to a discipline."
The real Dakari
Willie Cauley-Stein believes in Dakari Johnson, who was a second-round pick of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"Once he gets his opportunity, people are going to see what Dakari really is," Cauley-Stein said. "He didn't really get an opportunity to show a lot with Kentucky. But once he gets on a team where he can be established and not worry about (anything), you'll see what he really is."
Yahoo Sports liked the Thunder taking Johnson with the 48th pick of the draft.
"He does have NBA size and sturdiness and he could make the Thunder," Yahoo said. "As a classic rebound-and-foul guy, he's good value for this late in the draft."
Karl-Anthony Towns became the third UK player to be the first overall pick of a NBA Draft. He followed Anthony Davis in 2012 and John Wall in 2010.
That enabled UK to break an 11-way tie for most overall No. 1 picks. Now, 10 schools are tied for second with two overall No. 1 picks: Kansas, Duke, UCLA, Michigan, UNLV, Maryland, Purdue, Georgetown, North Carolina and Houston.
That's according to a list of No. 1 picks dating back to 1966 provided to the media by the NBA.
Besides the UK trio, the only other Southeastern Conference player to be an overall No. 1 pick? Shaquille O'Neal in 1992.
Aaron Harrison went undrafted and will pursue an NBA career as a free agent.
Other notable players who went undrafted in recent years include:
■ North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo in 2014. He looked good against Kentucky that season, scoring 20 points in the UNC victory. He split time with the D League and the Golden State Warriors this past season.
■ Missouri's Phil Pressey in 2013. "Little Phil," as Nolan Richardson likes to call Pressey, played in 50 games and averaged 12 minutes for the Boston Celtics last season.
■ Tennessee's Scotty Hopson in 2011. Hopson was a noted player for University Heights Academy in Hopkinsville before going to UT. He played for a pro team in Spain this past season.
Former Duke big man Jahlil Okafor was widely projected to be the second pick in this year's NBA Draft. In a combined mock draft, the ESPN twosome of Jay Bilas and Chad Ford had Okafor as the overall No. 1 selection.
When asked about being selected third overall by Philadelphia creating "a chip on your shoulder," Okafor said, "I can't be disappointed. I'm in the NBA living my dream."
Still UK fans
While accepting congratulations for his son Trey Lyles' impending move to the NBA, Tom Lyles said he planned to attend Kentucky games next season. He and his wife, Jessie, will continue being UK fans, he said.
Former Notre Dame standout Jerian Grant, who ended up with the New York Knicks, is the son of a NBA player (Harvey Grant), the brother of a NBA player (Jerami Grant) and the nephew of a NBA player (Horace Grant).
These in-the-know relatives offered him advice.
"Bring it," Jerian Grant said. "You're going to have to bring it and continue to work hard. Just because you're in the NBA doesn't mean you've made it yet. They said it's easier to get there than it is to stay."
Jahlil Okafor, the third overall pick, said he received advice from Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
"One thing he said, make sure that my heart was in it," Okafor said. "He felt the type of person I was, if I was going to do something, then my heart had to be in it."
Longtime strength and conditioning coach Ray "Rock" Oliver is changing jobs. He will move to UK's Center for Academic and Tutorial Services. He had been informally serving as a mentor when not supervising the lift-that-weight/tote-that-bar sessions.
Oliver will move to CATS once UK finds a new strength and conditioning coach.
To former UK Coach Tubby Smith. He turns 64 on Tuesday. ... To former UK Athletics Director Larry Ivy. He turned 72 on Friday. ... To Tom Parker. He turns 65 on Wednesday. ... To Dominique Hawkins. He turned 21 on Saturday. ... To Herky Rupp. He turns 75 on Tuesday. ... To Brandon Stockton. He turned 31 on Thursday. ... To Antwain Barbour. He turned 33 on Saturday.