UK Recruiting

'Bigs' buy in to Calipari's pitch

CLEVELAND — Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall make Kentucky Coach John Calipari synonymous with NBA-bound point guards. That's an invaluable tool in recruiting.

As the King City Classic camp for highly regarded prospects ended Friday, it became clear that Calipari's reputation for developing NBA-ready players extends beyond flashy point guards.

"He put two 'bigs' in the draft this year," said Amir Williams, a 6-foot-10 center from Detroit. "... It's looking like he's getting 'bigs' in the pros. So it's looking good for him."

And Williams, along with other big men attending the King City Classic, see Calipari as more than a point guard Svengali. Like the smaller floor leaders, the "bigs," to borrow current basketball vernacular, want to be on the fast track to the NBA, too.

"That's real important," Williams said. "I want to go to a school that will use their 'bigs,' develop their 'bigs' and put them in the pros."

Anthony Davis, a 6-9 player considered the top center in the King City Classic by the Hoop Scoop recruiting service, includes Kentucky in his three-school list (with Ohio State and Syracuse). He considers himself more of a small forward, perhaps a lingering mind-set caused by his 7-inch growth spurt in the past year. He sees himself as a hybrid player well suited to Calipari's dribble-drive offense.

"Because of my height, I have to be a big man," he said. "But because of my skills, I can still use that guard mentality to get by my defender."

Kyle Wiltjer, a 6-9 player from Portland, Ore., plays what some might consider an old-fashioned style. How often do you see the hook shot as a primary weapon? Father Greg Wiltjer, a player for Oregon State in the 1980s, taught his son the low-post fundamentals.

But Wiltjer also stays current. He found UK's show of interest last week flattering.

"I just know they're a winning program in the last couple years," he said when asked about Calipari's eye-popping string of one-and-done point guards.

But that association with NBA-caliber point guards, which many expect to continue with Brandon Knight next season and then Marquis Teague (the highest-rated point guard in the class of 2011), makes Wiltjer think about how a big man fits in Kentucky's dribble-drive offense.

"It's something I've got to consider," he said. "Is it the right fit?"

Of course, there's an easy answer to such concerns. DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton played only one season at Kentucky before becoming first-round picks in the 2010 NBA Draft. They were part of a record five first-round picks Kentucky produced.

"I just know (Calipari) is very good getting guys in the league," Wiltjer said.

Wiltjer seemed surprised when it was noted that Calipari's programs had sent other big men to the NBA. Marcus Camby, who led Massachusetts to a later-vacated appearance in the 1996 Final Four, was a vague memory.

"That was a long time ago," Wiltjer said.

And Lou Roe, a highly productive forward for Calipari and UMass earlier in the 1990s, might as well have been at the Springfield YMCA when James Naismith first hung up the peach baskets.

"Never heard of him," Wiltjer said.

This did not come as a surprise to recruiting analysts attending the King City Classic.

Van Coleman of the Hoops Masters recruiting service noted how the knowledge of prospects merely reflects the over-riding importance of recent accomplishments.

"The world is about what have you done for me lately," he said. "What's on my Twitter. What's on my Facebook. What the players can point to is the lineage of point guards."

This year's NBA Draft alerted the prospects (and reminded older basketball minds) that Calipari the coach is more than simply a mentor of point guards.

"I think Calipari's reputation extends almost equally to big guys as point guards," said analyst Brick Oettinger of the Prep Stars recruiting service. "Point guard is (just more) obvious."

To prove his point, Oettinger pointed to Orton (No. 29) and Cousins (No. 5) being taken in the first round of this year's NBA Draft.

"How many other coaches had two freshman big men going in the NBA Draft?" he said. "And not just this year. Ever."