UK Men's Basketball

Calipari's method of selling draft readiness is not unique, but his honesty is

Kentucky's DeAndre Liggins applauded his team as a time out was calld during the second half of the Kentucky at South Carolina men's basketball game in Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina,  on Saturday Jan. 22, 2011.  Photo by Pablo Alcal‡ | Staff
Kentucky's DeAndre Liggins applauded his team as a time out was calld during the second half of the Kentucky at South Carolina men's basketball game in Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina, on Saturday Jan. 22, 2011. Photo by Pablo Alcal‡ | Staff

The NBA holds its annual draft of college players Thursday night. Not so coincidentally, the occasion again figures to advertise Kentucky's come-one, come-all early summer clearance of fine basketball merchandise.

This may never be more so than at last year's draft when five NBA teams picked UK players in the first round. No college program had ever produced so many first-round picks in a single year, which caused UK Coach John Calipari to famously gush about "the greatest day in Kentucky basketball history."

Was this eyebrow-raising comment a pragmatic concession to the way of the world? An indication of how far college sports has drifted from the idea of educational pursuit? A serious appraisal of draft picks as more of an achievement than, say, such team goals as winning a national championship or being first to 2,000 victories? Or merely not missing a chance to remind the next round of prospects of how easily Kentucky can put you behind the wheel of a brand new NBA dream?

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas gives Calipari credit for honesty.

When asked about a college coach using the NBA Draft as a recruiting tool, Bilas said, "All of them do. I tend to think John is one of the most honest about it."

Any top program's media guide — which is more sales packet for prospects rather than guide for reporters — contains a section touting the players produced for the NBA.

"John's out front (with) 'We want to prepare you to be a pro,'" Bilas said. "Nothing wrong with that. Kids want to be pros. It's OK to pursue that dream."

Earlier in the week, Calipari predicted that the names of two of his players — Brandon Knight and Enes Kanter — would be called within the first 30 minutes of this year's draft.

Calipari then thought aloud of a best-case scenario in which DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson joined Knight and Kanter as first- rounders from UK this year.

"If all four are drafted in the first round, I'd probably retire because what more could I do?" he said. "I'd be done."

Not only does Calipari make no secret of selling Kentucky as a means to prepare for the NBA, it seems at the heart of the program. In speaking to reporters at one of his "satellite" camps on Monday, he noted the "20-percent bump" UK provides in draft position and shoe contract deals.

"There's long been a commercialization of college sports," said noted observer Murray Sperber, a professor emeritus at Indiana and now teaching at Cal-Berkeley. " ... He embraces it. You'll get the best training for the pros at Kentucky. You're only here a year, but it's at the top AAA level.

"At one level, it's sort of chutzpah. At another level, it's total realism."

However it strikes you, it's effective. At an NBA Players Association-sponsored Top 100 Camp earlier this month, prospect J.P. Tokoto noted the many so-called one-and-done players at Kentucky.

"Kentucky is kind of a factory," he said. "Coach Calipari, give him credit. He's getting them ready in a year. If I was one of the players to be one-and-done, Kentucky would definitely be the spot for me."

Tokoto committed to North Carolina this spring.

"I see myself playing (multiple years), trying to get my degree," he said.

When asked about likening UK to a basketball "factory," Tokoto said he did not mean to disparage Kentucky basketball.

"Coach Calipari had Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose, John Wall," he said. "Guys have seen that. Coach Calipari is a great coach. People are going to follow. Guys are kind of attracted to one-and-done. (They say) 'I should go there.'"

Another prospect in the class of 2012, Gary Harris, said Kentucky appeals as more than just a NBA training ground.

"He's definitely a good coach," Harris said of Calipari. "He's always had teams that win. That can only help. That appeals to a lot of people. They can win.

"They also develop players for the NBA."

More than once, Bilas emphasized the notion that there's nothing wrong with a player attending college as a means toward pursuing a pro career. The ESPN analyst said he did the same when he went to Duke in the 1980s.

When asked why such a recruiting approach draws criticism, Bilas said, "It's not the way the NCAA hierarchy would recommend you do this. ... The idea that other coaches are not addressing it (the same way) is absolute nonsense. Of course, they are."

Bilas saw "some hyperbole" in Calipari calling the 2010 NBA Draft the pinnacle for Kentucky basketball. But Calipari spoke the truth in terms of sustaining Kentucky basketball's viability going forward.

"Part of that was really smart," Bilas said. "Kentucky fans, he's already got them. That was not said for Kentucky fans. It was said for Kentucky recruits."


School: Morehead State

Height, weight: 6-7, 225

2010-11 stats: 17.3 points, 14.5 rebounds, 2.3 blocks

Age: 21 Class: Senior

Position: Power forward

Hometown: Newark, N.J.

Projection: Mid to late first round


School: Butler

Height, weight: 6-2, 205

2010-11 stats: 16.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists

Age: 22 Class: Junior

Position: Point guard

Hometown: Lexington

Projection: Late first or early second round


School: Tennessee

Height, weight: 6-7, 205

2010-11 stats: 17.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists

Age: 21 Class: Junior

Position: Shooting guard

Hometown: Hopkinsville

Projection: Outside shot at second round

Year Player Pick Team

2010 John Wall 1 Washington

1984 Sam Bowie 2 Portland

1949 Alex Groza 2 Indianapolis

1978 Rick Robey 3 Indiana

1993 Jamal Mashburn 4 Dallas

2010 DeMarcus Cousins 5 Sacramento

1953 Frank Ramsey 5 Boston

1986 Kenny Walker 5 New York

1997 Ron Mercer 6 Boston

1984 Melvin Turpin 6 Washington

1996 Antoine Walker 6 Boston

1967 Pat Riley 7 San Diego

1988 Rex Chapman 8 Charlotte

1949 Wah Wah Jones 9 Washington

1997 Derek Anderson 13 Cleveland

2010 Patrick Patterson 14 Houston

1996 Tony Delk 16 Charlotte

1978 Jack Givens 16 Atlanta

2010 Eric Bledsoe 18 Okla. City

1975 Kevin Grevey 18Washington

2000 Jamaal Magloire 19 Charlotte

1996 Walter McCarty 19 New York

2006 Rajon Rondo 21 Phoenix

1979 Kyle Macy 22 Phoenix

2002 Tayshaun Prince 23 Detroit

1999 Scott Padgett 28 Utah

2010 Daniel Orton 29 Orlando

1998 Nazr Mohammed 29 Utah