John Calipari says that once the season ends, he puts down his coach's whistle and takes up a promoter's trumpet. On a teleconference Thursday, he sounded a clarion call for the seven Kentucky players in next week's NBA Draft.
The catchphrase of the day: position-less players. Diverse skills can make players more attractive to NBA teams.
"Our goal is not just to help guys get in the league," Calipari said. "We want guys to become All-Stars. ... Our goal would be to say, 'Hey, half the NBA All-Stars started with us.'"
Calipari held up Karl-Anthony Towns as an example.
"If he had his druthers, he would have been a two-guard," Calipari said. UK insisted Towns be a post-up player. But there was a problem.
"He had no real post game," Calipari said. "You know, we forced him. Like I told him, 'You're going to be a post player who can play out on the floor.'"
Towns evolved at UK from preseason perimeter shooter to low-post presence in the NCAA Tournament.
"I forced him," Calipari said. "He had no choice. 'You're catching that ball 4 feet (from the basket) and scoring or you won't be in the game.' All of a sudden, he became unstoppable late in the year."
Ipso facto, Calipari implied, Towns is widely projected as the first player taken in this year's draft.
Calipari called Towns the type of player that "never gets traded.
"And there's only a few of those in the league. And he'll be one of them."
Towns is not alone as a Kentucky player who enhanced his NBA stock by expanding his skill set.
Devin Booker became more than a shooter.
"My concern for him was defense," Calipari said. "I knew he could shoot. When we got him, (he was told) 'You're not going to be a stand-still shooter. You're going to create going to the basket, and you're going to defend or you're not going to play.' He ended up being a better defender, much better than I ever imagined because I thought that would keep him off the floor."
Trey Lyles got to show he could play away from the basket.
"No one got hurt, and everybody has improved their position from where we started until now," Calipari said.
That includes Aaron Harrison, the UK coach said. Some projections have Harrison going undrafted.
"I'm not worried," Calipari said. "I think he'll be drafted. And let me say this, I'll even go further. I think he'll be in the league for a while. I believe that because of being able to play multiple positions."
Cal: NBA wrong about WCS
Calipari scoffed at the NBA questions about Willie Cauley-Stein's offensive game and desire to improve. He suggested Cauley-Stein's offense can begin improving quickly and dramatically.
"Those teams will zero in on that in one summer, and he'll begin to change," Calipari said.
Calipari noted that Cauley-Stein did not concentrate on basketball until he arrived at UK. Cauley-Stein's background as a high school football player is well known.
Calipari noted how he watched Cauley-Stein play whiffle ball. "He was pretty good," the UK coach added.
"A lot of these kids have been groomed since they were 6 years old," Calipari said. "Well, Willie really started playing when he came with us. ...
"He's better than you think and (NBA teams) can mold him into what you want him to be. ... He's one of those guys who will do the things that get a team over the hump."
Cauley-Stein possesses "the feet and hands of a 6-3 super-athletic guard," Calipari said. "Which means he can guard all five positions."
NBA teams have questioned Cauley-Stein's desire to improve. No doubt that was one reason Cauley-Stein insisted he had no interest in art, never mind evidence to the contrary in his three seasons at UK.
Calipari noted that he had coached only three "gym rats": Derrick Rose, Brandon Knight and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
"Willie, he plays," Calipari said. "He loves to play.
"But Anthony Davis wasn't, like, a gym rat, and he's OK. So I think it's been overblown. It's almost like you're trying to pick something out that he's not."
Lyles not assertive?
Calipari challenged the perception that Lyles' soft-spoken demeanor meant he'd recoil from competition.
"Well, let me just say this: If a fight breaks out, he's not moving," Calipari said. "He will not move. ... If he gets in a competitive environment, it comes out. And you go, oh my gosh."
Dakari's 'great lesson'
At the NBA Combine last month, Dakari Johnson had the highest percentage of body fat (14.9 percent), weighed 10 pounds more than he had been listed by UK and had a vertical leap measured at 25 inches. He acknowledged that he had taken time off from training.
"It was a great lesson for him," Calipari said.
The UK coach suggested Johnson had become fitter since the combine, in part from working out in Los Angeles under the guidance of former UCLA standout Don MacLean.
"I think they said he lost 18 pounds," Calipari said of Johnson. "His lift is back."
Putting a positive spin on it, Calipari noted the advantage of learning before the draft to stay in shape rather than report to a team in poor condition.
"Good thing to learn in this process than go to training camp and think 'I'm OK to do it this way,' and get behind the eight-ball and never recover. He's fine."
Calipari suggested Johnson could be drafted late in the first round.
Devin Booker worked out for the Detroit Pistons on Thursday and told the Detroit Free Press afterward that he thinks his game is built for today's NBA.
"I saw a statistic where the last five NBA champions led the NBA in three-point shooting, and that's what I do,'' Booker said.
The ex-UK guard grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., and followed the Pistons.
"Growing up watching the team and just loving the dynasty that they had here and being a part of it," he told the Free Press. "I think I understand the meaning of having Detroit Pistons across my chest.''