UK Men's Basketball

Players can enter NBA Draft, hire an agent and still play for UK next season

Kentucky’s John Calipari: ‘I’m proud of these guys, I’m proud of my team’

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari speaks to the media after a 77-71 overtime loss to the Auburn Tigers on Sunday, March 31, 2019, in the Elite Eight of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
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Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari speaks to the media after a 77-71 overtime loss to the Auburn Tigers on Sunday, March 31, 2019, in the Elite Eight of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

There used to be a sure-fire way to know immediately if an underclassman who entered his name in an NBA Draft was forfeiting his remaining college eligibility. He could make that clear by hiring an agent.

No more.

Starting with this year’s NBA Draft, so-called early entrants can be represented by an agent who has been certified by the NCAA. That agent can represent the player in meetings with pro teams and setting up tryouts.

In the past, only family members or college coaches could guide a player in the pre-draft process.

The NCAA’s ad hoc Commission on College Basketball, which was formed as a reaction to an FBI investigation into corruption in the sport, recommended the change.

David Ridpath, an associate professor of sports administration at Ohio University, welcomed the new guidelines. A former president of the Drake Group, which advocates reforms in college athletics, he framed the change as “a freedom issue. It’s an athlete’s rights issue.”

Ridpath saw the change as the NCAA’s reaction to recent court cases that saw judges rule that the organization could not cap educational benefits such as computers, science equipment and musical instruments nor restrict scholarship money to nothing more than tuition and board.

The change allowing agents followed earlier NCAA reforms permitting payment of stipends to athletes and easing restrictions on transferring.

“They’re really doing more from a reactionary perspective now,” Ridpath said of the NCAA. “It doesn’t take the brightest bulb in the shed to know these are things that should have happened years and years ago. A lot of the things they’ve done are at the point of a bayonet.”

Before hiring an agent certified by the NCAA, a player must first submit his name for an evaluation from the NBA’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee. The deadline to do so is 11:59 p.m. EDT Thursday. The committee is chaired by NBA Executive Vice President for Basketball Operations Kiki VanDeWeghe. A senior front-office executive from each of the league’s 30 teams serves on the committee.

It seems reasonable to expect more than one Kentucky underclassman — PJ Washington? Keldon Johnson? Tyler Herro? Ashton Hagans? — will announce an intention to either submit his name or bypass this year’s draft in the coming week.

Both the NBA and NCAA set April 21 as the deadline for players to enter into this year’s draft. The deadlines for withdrawing from the draft differ: May 29 for the NCAA, June 10 for the NBA. Players must withdraw in writing, and inform both the NBA and his school’s athletics director.

The NBA Draft is June 20 in New York.

The NCAA has issued various dos and don’ts involving early entry in the NBA Draft. Those include players not being allowed to miss class to participate in a workout for a pro team. And upon withdrawing from the draft, the players must terminate their association with the agent.

The NBA’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee will give the player a general range of where he can expect to be drafted: lottery, first round but outside the lottery, first half of second round, second half of second round or not drafted.

Unexceptional Kentucky

Kentucky’s loss to Auburn in last weekend’s Midwest Region finals brought to mind the famous five stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

When asked early last week how the Big Blue Nation should cope with what was then a hypothetical UK loss, psychologist Angela Fifer made an indisputable point about acceptance.

Victory “isn’t a gimme for any team, even for Kentucky,” she said. “There is an opponent who has a say. There are officials who have a say.”

Fifer has a PhD and serves on the Association for Applied Sport Psychology E-Board.

Anger

Dan Wann, a professor in Murray State’s department of psychology, specializes in the psychology of sports fans. Here’s his take on how fans should cope:

“They have perfected coping about as well as any group out there. Because if sports fans weren’t going to cope, how would they keep coming back time and time again to watch their team because everybody’s team — no matter how good they are — lose sometimes?”

To help with the coping process, Wann advised fans to resist the urge to judge a team on its last game. Think of the positives in a long season, he said.

Wann also suggested fans think of joys that are not based on winning. Camaraderie. Sense of belonging to a community. The game-day experience.

“So if you’re Kentucky, you think you should win a national championship, and you lose to an Auburn team you already beat twice,” he said. The typical fan says, “I don’t want to hear about how I’m supposed to cope. I want to be mad for a while,” he said.

“And that’s OK, too,” Wann added. “That’s part of being a fan. To be emotional is to be a fan. But once things settle down after a day or two, remember there’s more to being a fan than wins and losses. If you’re Kentucky, you’re having a lot more wins than you’re having losses.”

Grading grumbles

Kentucky fans are practically synonymous with grumbling. So no surprise that Auburn beating UK in the Midwest Region finals last weekend caused some fans to complain about Coach John Calipari. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas offered perspective.

“Ask those same people how they felt about things in 2009,” he said in reference to the end of Billy Gillispie’s two-season run as Kentucky coach.

“They grumbled when Tubby Smith lost 10 games in a year. Now they’re grumbling, ‘I can’t believe we were in overtime to go to the Final Four.’”

On a scale measuring reasons for basketball unhappiness, “that’s a pretty good grumble,” Bilas said. “The grumble before Cal got there was, ‘I can’t believe we’re in the freaking NIT.’”

When it was suggested that Kentucky fans always grumble about something, Bilas said, “That’s fine. There’s reasonable grumble and unreasonable ones. And this is an unreasonable one.”

Good old days

Forgive the dated reference, but as Carly Simon once sang in the song “Anticipation,” these are the good old days. Here’s the familiar rundown of Kentucky basketball success in John Calipari’s 10 seasons as coach: one NCAA Tournament championship (the exact one-every-10-years average rate of titles in the history of the UK program), four Final Four appearances, seven advancements to the Elite Eight.

When it was suggested to ESPN analyst Jay Bilas that sometime in the future the Calipari era will be looked back upon as the good old days, he said, “You’re damn right. The fans have not seen a better period in Kentucky basketball’s modern history.”

Looking ahead

After the loss to Auburn, Jemarl Baker spoke of the 2018-19 season as a teaching tool.

“Last year I kind of got a cheat sheet to see what was going on, I guess,” he said. “Now, that I actually I got a chance to play (and learn about) all the little things that matter and go into winning.

“Now it’s just time for me to work on my individual game.”

Historic achievement

Auburn had already become the first team to beat Kansas and North Carolina in back-to-back games of an NCAA Tournament. Then Auburn made it three out of three against the bluest of college basketball blue bloods by beating Kentucky in the Elite Eight.

“It feels good because they are historic programs that have won the NCAA Tournament,” Auburn forward Horace Spencer said after the Tigers beat UK. “To beat them really shows how far we’ve come. It shows what we can really do.”

Before the game, Jared Harper said he and his teammates saw playing Kentucky as a way to “continue to make Auburn basketball relevant.”

Congratulations

To Mike Pratt. It was announced on Monday that the former UK player and present analyst on radio broadcasts of UK games will be inducted into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame on May 18.

“I’m certainly surprised,” he said, “and very honored that they remembered me.”

Pratt played for Meadowdale High School in Dayton. He was on UK teams that won three straight SEC titles (1968, 1969 and 1970), compiling a league record of 48-6. He scored 1,359 points during his UK career.

The announcement of his upcoming induction into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame referred to him as a “sturdy 6-foot-4, 195-pound forward.”

When asked how sturdy of a forward such a player would be today, Pratt said, “not very.

“I was only 6-3. They always like to move you up a little bit.”

Now, Pratt will be moved up into an Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame that includes Jerry Lucas, Oscar Robertson, John Havlicek, Austin Carr, Bob Knight and ex-UK star Kevin Grevey.

“I’m in over my head,” Pratt said, “but I sure am happy.”

Happy birthday

To Jarred Vanderbilt. He turned 20 on Wednesday. … To Hall of Famer John Havlicek. He turns 79 on Monday. … To Kyle Macy. He turns 62 on Tuesday. … To Nerlens Noel. He turns 25 on Wednesday.

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