In the last three years, John Calipari has done everything he promised he would when he became the head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky.
He’s made the Wildcats a factor in the national championship race. Kentucky reached the Elite Eight in 2010, advanced to the Final Four in 2011 and won the national title in 2012.
He’s brought the best available talent to Kentucky. The Wildcats had five players, including four freshmen, picked in the first round of the 2010 NBA draft. He had two more first-round picks and two second-round picks in 2011. Thursday he had four more players, including Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist going one-two, selected in the first round and two in the second round.
“How much more does Calipari had to do to show the world how well he prepares young players to make the transition to the NBA at an early age?” said Dick “Hoops” Weiss of the New York Daily News as the draft unfolded. “The numbers speak for themselves.
“Four picks in the first round and two more in the second round. If you were a kid looking to be a one-and-done (player), where else would you go?”
It’s a question rival recruiters are going to have to answer because Calipari has a fourth straight No. 1 recruiting class on campus that includes Nerlens Noel, the top-ranked player in the class, and two more McDonald’s All-Americans in Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin.
But with Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist going one-two in the draft — something that teammates had never done before — it could position Calipari and Kentucky for an even bigger recruiting haul in 2013 and 2014 where most of the top-ranked recruits already have UK¿on their college list.
Why wouldn’t they want to play for UK and Calipari?
In the last three years, Calipari’s 11 first-round draft picks — UK¿had only 13 first-round picks from 1985 through 2009 and only three in the decade before Calipari’s arrival — will have combined to make around $65 million in the last three years. Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Terrence Jones will get contracts worth around $12 million without endorsements for going in the first-round Thursday. Those kind of numbers are hard for recruits, and their parents, to ignore.
The Elias Sports Bureau notes that no coach had reached double figures in players drafted in a three-year period until Calipari kicked that door down by having the 15 in three years.
Gene Frenette, a columnist for jacksonville.com, wrote that Thursday’s draft “was a crowing achievement for what many feared: College basketball is now John Calipari's kingdom until he leaves or is forced out.”
The NCAA has tried to find transgressions under Calipari but has been unable to find him guilty of any wrongdoing even though both Massachusetts and Memphis had to vacate Final Four appearances under him. Frenette, a media member on the outside looking in, doesn’t see Calipari leaving Kentucky any time soon.
Frenette wrote: “Calipari will never have a better hoops gig outside of Lexington. At the 2010 draft, Calipari took flak for saying that five first-round selections was ‘the biggest day in the history of Kentucky's program. But no one can question him if he says it now. College basketball's preeminent powerbroker has a national title and another knockout draft for UK as validation. For now, Calipari is king.”
He is. Three times in the last five years he’s had the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, including twice at Kentucky (UK¿had never had a No. 1 pick until Calipari arrived). He’s had a point guard picked in five straight drafts and two or more players selected in five straight drafts.
Weiss thinks Calipari’s ways often are overlooked and/or underrated.
“Having the first two picks in the draft is an incredible tribute to two high character kids who bought into the Calipari philosophy from the start,” Weiss said. “Everyone knew about Davis and that he would go No. 1, but it was interesting to hear (Charlotte coach) Mike Dunlap saying Kidd-Gilchrist was their No. 2 all along.
“Davis was the best shot blocker in college basketball. Not saying he's a young Bill Russell but he will make an impact as a freshman. Huge upside. Kidd-Gilchrist is a high energy player who will be instant starter, lockdown defender. They are both great players who Calipari helped progress just as he has with other guys. That’s what makes me wonder why one-and-done type players would really look anywhere else to play right now.”