BY NEAL MALONE
John Calipari says that it’s his job to prepare his players for the NBA. In fact, he encourages each and every one that may have the abilities to play at the next level to at least test the draft waters, no matter how old they are.
That’s not exactly the standard procedure followed by your typical college coach. Normally, you’d expect a coach to try to persuade their players to come back to school for another year and continue to develop their game. Also, if you were to ask a college coach what their primary job was, I think most of them would answer “to win championships” or “to teach kids” rather than say “to prepare kids for the NBA.”
I suppose this isn’t breaking news, but Calipari’s coaching philosophy for the college game is drastically different than that of most other NCAA coaches. The real question is this…Is Calipari’s outlook on coaching college basketball the right one?
I really don’t think so.
Just yesterday, FIVE Kentucky players declared for the NBA Draft. Four freshmen (John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, and Daniel Orton) along with one junior (Patrick Patterson) will now test the draft waters. It’s unclear whether any of them have hired agents yet, which in NBA Draft-speak means you are 100% entered into the draft. So technically it’s conceivable that a few of them could return…but not likely. Wall, Patterson, and Cousins seemed to be draft shoe-ins in my mind, while Bledsoe and Orton are a bit on the fence.
I wonder what Calipari tells these kids when they talk about staying in school or leaving for the pros. I mean, hell…Daniel Orton averaged an extremely modest 3.4 points and 3.3 rebounds per game in his freshman season. Now, he did finish near the top of the SEC in blocks, but how are those numbers NBA worthy? How?!?!?
Calipari could be seriously ruining this kid’s life. If Orton foolishly enters because his college coach feeds him a bunch of B.S. about him being able to compete in the NBA now, what happens if he flops? Where is his degree? What’s his backup plan? And it’s not just Orton, it’s Bledsoe too. Don’t get me wrong, these two kids are decent players, but they are NOT NBA READY. However, because they’re so easily influenced by what Calipari and others tell them, they may make a hasty decision that could really hurt their careers.
Ok, let’s forget about the NBA Draft talk for a second and discuss the basketball situation back in Lexington if all these players depart. Calipari could face a major rebuilding project. Besides the five who have declared for the draft, UK loses key players Ramon Harris and Perry Stevenson to graduation…this leaves the Wildcats with just five returning players. The only prominent returners would be DeAndre Liggins, Darnell Dodson, and Darius Miller.
Now, of course Coach Cal has another primetime recruiting class set to come in. Enes Kanter, a 5-star big man per Rivals.com, and Stacey Poole, a 4-star small forward, will be playing for Kentucky next year. The Wildcats are also on the short final lists of several big-time recruiting targets, so Kanter and Poole should be joined by a few more talented prospects.
I don’t care if they recruit the next Michael Jordan to play there next year, Kentucky isn’t going to be as good as they were this year…and we all saw how that ended. My question about Calipari is this…will he ever win a title at Kentucky if he keeps recruiting one-and-done players?
I mean, we definitively saw what truly works in college basketball this year… and that’s 4-year player development. Duke and Butler, who played in the championship game are teams that epitomize player development. They improve year to year as a TEAM, not as individuals. It gives the program a sense of continuity. With teams like Duke and Butler, no one is threatening to leave early for the NBA and their coaches sure as hell aren’t urging them to test the NBA Draft waters if they don’t appear ready.
So if Calipari continues to get two or three of the top five recruits in the country year after year, it may not be all positive for Kentucky. Normally, if a player is rated as a top 10 high school prospect, then they are probably only going to college for a year because they are forced to by the NCAA (which is a whole other animal that Brady discussed on the site a few days ago).
You see, Coach Cal isn’t going anywhere at Kentucky until he truly understands how the college game works. One-and-done recruits come and go, while four-year players give a program that extended development that helps win championships.
If I’m Calipari, I’m telling the likes Daniel Orton and Eric Bledsoe, “Ok, you had a great freshman year, but you’re not ready. If you’re this good as a freshman, imagine what level you could be at as a junior or a senior!”
For Wall, Cousins, and Patterson, I believe they are ready for the NBA…and some kids truly are ready out of high school. Not many, though.
John Calipari still has a lot to figure out. He should be telling some of these kids to stay in school. He should be wanting to win NCAA championships instead of focusing on preparing a player for the NBA!! Until he does figure it out, though, the SEC Championship is the only title Kentucky will be winning.