Calipari plans include adding NBA prospects
Posted: Monday, June 28, 2010 10:10 pm
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — John Calipari spent Thursday night in New York City, watching five of his players shake NBA commissioner David Stern’s hand after being selected in the first round of the draft.
By Friday morning, Calipari’s feet still hadn’t touched the ground.
“I said it at the press conference when I took the job, ‘Players first,”’ Calipari said. “These kids realized their dreams and I was able to sit there with them and be a part of it.”
John Wall became the first Kentucky player drafted No. 1 overall when he was selected by the Washington Wizards.
Teammates DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton soon followed, marking the first time in the draft’s history that five players from the same school were taken in the opening round.
Calipari called it “the greatest night” in the history of Kentucky basketball. He knows that didn’t sit well with some who believe winning national championships, not producing NBA-level talent, is what defines greatness at college basketball’s all-time winningest program.
“Some of the old guard were upset,” Calipari said. “Would we like to win national titles? If we shot better against West Virginia maybe we would have, we would have done it all.”
UK didn’t though, and watched as West Virgina advanced to the Final 4 where they were beaten in the semifinals.
The Wildcats went 35-3 but fell short of collecting an eighth title after losing to West Virginia in the regional finals of the NCAA tournament.
It’s a loss that stuck with the Wildcats for several weeks but ultimately wasn’t a factor in the decision for all five underclassmen to put their names in the draft.
“I was upset that we lost, but you’ve got to move on about it and I think we had a great college career,” Wall said.
Patterson, taken by the Houston Rockets with the 14th pick, said the legacy of draft night gives this year’s team a unique place in school lore.
“We created a milestone and made history for the university,” he said.
“I think that’s going to stand above everything we did at Kentucky.”
Calipari admitted navigating the NCAA tournament with a roster full of underclassmen can be difficult. He said it’s up to the coaches to make up the difference.
“That’ll be the challenge for us,” Calipari said. “How do we figure out as a bunch of young guys to get by those last three (games) to win the national title.”
It’s the only path the Wildcats are likely to take during Calipari’s tenure. He has no plans to stop signing players who could have the option of heading to the NBA after a short stint in Lexington, the path Wall, Cousins, Bledsoe and Orton followed to the pros.
“We’re going to continue to recruit the best of the best,” he said. “We’ve got another young team coming in. We could start as many as five freshmen (next year). I don’t believe we will, but we’re going to have a lot of freshmen that are going to have an opportunity.”
Does that mean he expects to produce another handful of first-round picks next summer? Hardly. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
“I hope we have six (first-rounders) one day,” he said. “The hard thing is, will six guys come together?
“Will veteran players like Patrick accept the young kids and not be jealous.”
Calipari will gladly take his chances trying to meld a young but talented roster.
Kentucky has the top-ranked recruiting class for the second straight year, led by point guard Brandon Knight, with the potential to land another monster class in 2011.
“It was only a few years ago Florida was the school everybody wanted to go to, and years before that everybody wanted to go to Duke or North Carolina,” he said. “I just hate to tell you right now it’s Kentucky.
“I know it makes a lot of people mad, but that’s where it is right now.”
Calipari has been the focus of several rumors regarding NBA coaching jobs this spring and summer, but insists he has no interest in rejoining the pro ranks.
Among the most heated rumors was one that had him joining free agent LeBron James in Chicago with the Bulls.
James is expected to make his new home known sometime next month. Staying in Cleveland is also a strong option.
The coach previously left UMass to lead the New Jersey Nets, a career move that proved unsuccessful.
The Wildcats are still likely to be a favorte next season in the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference next season.
Published in The Messenger 6.28.10