This year’s NBA draft produced three more lottery picks for Kentucky and coach John Calipari. In eight years at UK, he’s had three No. 1 overall picks, 24 first-round picks and 31 players drafted overall. No other school can match those numbers in the same time period.
So who deserves the credit for that? Is it Calipari for what he does for the players once he gets them to Kentucky? Is is parents, high school coaches, AAU coaches or trainers who spent years helping those players hone their skills and lay the foundation for the draft success? Is it both?
I reached out to various media friends — some local, some national — for their thoughts.
“All coaches get too much credit regarding the notion of ‘producing or developing' pros. They recruit them. Calipari is a great coach, one of the best ever. But, Cal nor Coach K (Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski) nor (former UCLA coach John) Wooden produced pros,” said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas.
“Wooden did not produce Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), Krzyzewski did not produce Kyrie (Irving)and Cal did not produced KAT (Karl-Anthony Towns). They recruited them. Did they assist? Did they help them? Yes, of course. But, they were all top picks no matter where the attended school, or if they attended school.”
Bilas says think about which NBA, NFL or Major League Baseball coach “develops” the most all-stars.
“Sounds a bit silly, doesn't it?” Bilas said noting that professional all-star players already had talent.
WKYT-TV senior marketing consultant Dave Baker, who is on both on the UK and SEC TV Networks, credits Calipari for the draft success.
“Can you name for me one player who’s played for Cal at Kentucky that was not better when he left here than he was when he got her? I’d say no,” Baker said. “He knows the players want to go to the NBA. He knows what the NBA guys want and he embraces the process. In the end that means more of his guys succeed at the infamous ‘next level’ and that’s not because he’s just a great recruiter.”
Sporting News basketball columnist Mike DeCourcy, like Bilas, knows most of college basketball’s top coaches and players. He sees teams from coast to coast play every year.
“I don't think there is any question that the choice of school for a basketball prospect -- and how that player is handled while in the program he chooses -- plays an enormous part in his development,” DeCourcy said. “No coach is going to connect with every prospect he signs. And so much of the player's development comes down to his desire to become special.
“But to suggest that the choice of college and coach plays little or no part in the process is disingenuous. There are coaches who are great at their jobs, and there are coaches who are bad at their jobs. Just like everything else.”
Tom Leach of the UK Radio Network believes every Calipari draft pick has improved while at UK. He also says playing at Kentucky gives players another unique advantage.
“Factor in the way Kentucky plays and practices, the access that NBA scouts and team officials have to those practices — plus their relationships with Cal — and the daily test those players get because of the talent Cal gathers and I would argue against the notion that the college coach— at least the one here at Kentucky — gets too much credit,” Leach said.
“Karl Anthony-Towns is perhaps the best example, as he certainly was not being discussed as the number one overall pick when he arrived. Coaches these players had earlier in their career certainly deserve credit, too, and you can never underestimate the value of the guidance of parents, so it is a team effort for those draft picks. But the college coach, at least here at Kentucky, is a major player in that process.”
Krysten Peek, a Rivals.com national recruiting writer, doesn’t think college coaches should take credit for the success of high draft picks, especially one-and-done players.
“Markelle Fultz was going to be the number one overall pick whether he went to Washington or Kentucky. He's that good of a player,” Peek said. “Same can be said for Lonzo Ball. When you get further into the draft and look at a player like Frank Mason of Kansas, I think it's fair to give credit to Bill Self for molding him into the type of player he is.”
Peek believes most high draft picks would have been selected high no matter where they played.
“Fultz only won nine games at Washington, he didn't play in the postseason tournament and he played in the Pac-12 where games start late so most college basketball fans didn't get a chance to see him play often. Ben Simmons and LSU were similar (a year earlier). Ben was an elite player on a horrible team and he was still picked number one overall,” Peek said.
Kentucky Sports Radio’s Tyler Thompson knows elite players are likely to be drafted no matter what, but also believes a college coach plays a major impact on a player’s work ethic, skills and character.
“Calipari's high success rate of getting five-star recruits to the NBA is due not only to the tremendous talent of those players, but also his knack for getting those players to forgo individual success (playing time/ego) for the betterment of the team,” Thompson said.
“By coming to Kentucky, players know they not only will train against the best of the best, they know they have to bring it every single day or someone else will play instead. Not every player can handle that, which makes the players that come through Kentucky these days a rare breed. While parents and high school and AAU coaches lay the foundation for their sons to get to a program like Kentucky, Calipari is the one who makes sure they have the tools to succeed at the next level.”
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Paul Washington Sr. did his best to try and convince Kevin Knox Sr. that his son, Kevin, should come to UK — and he did. Now P.J. Washington’s father might be working his magic again. He was in Egypt with his wife, Sherry, watching their son, P.J., and Team USA play in the under 19 FIBA World Cup.
Three major Kentucky recruiting targets in the 2018 recruiting class — Immanuel Quickly, Cam Reddish and Louis King — are also on their team. The fathers of all three players were also in Egypt.
So was Paul Washington talking UK with them?
“We had dinner the other night with them all,” Washington said from Egypt. “We talk a lot of recruiting. We are the only parents here, so we are together a lot. So you know me. Whatever I need to do for the UK family, I will do it.”
King, a 6-8 forward out of New Jersey, does not have a UK offer like Quickly, Reddish and Romeo Langford, another high school senior on the team, do. But he would like to have one. Kansas, Syracuse, North Carolina State, Seton Hall, Connecticut and Maryland are some of the schools that have already offered the top 15 player in the 2018 recruiting class.
“I think a lot of people are sleeping on Louis King. I think he is doing really well,” Paul Washington said. “I think he’ll get a Kentucky offer, and probably really soon. You don’t want to sleep on him.”
King averaged 6.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in the FIBA World Cup in 19.2 minutes per game. However, he shot just 34 percent, including 16 percent from 3-point range.
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P.J. Washington led Team USA in scoring at the FIBA World Cup with 14 points per game. He also averaged 6.0 rebounds in 19.7 minutes per game and had 13 assists and six steals in six game.
Kentucky teammate Hamidou Diallo was third in scoring at 11.2 points per game and also pulled off 3.8 rebounds in 18.8 minutes per game.
While Washington and Diallo did a lot of things Calipari and UK fans had to like, two shooting statistics could be worrisome. Washington was just 1-for-5 from 3-point range and Diallo 2-for-10. At the foul line, Washington was 19-for-38 and Diallo 13-for-24. Washington also had a team-high 19 turnovers.
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Former UK All-American receiver/kick returner Derek Abney has two daughters, ages 7 and 4. His oldest daughter loves soccer and “just lit it up” in her first season. She also enjoys tennis. His youngest daughter is not stoic like her sister. She’s “very outgoing and emotional” but it also starting tennis and soccer.
“I played everything and there are two big benefits I see in playing multiple sports,” Abney said. “One, each sport benefitted the other. Other sports give you athletic intangibles you won’t get if you focus only on one sport. It was a big benefit to me in football to play basketball and run track. I played soccer when I was younger. All the sports were critical to my development as a football player.
“Two, playing multiple sports keeps you from burning out. If you are going to be a Division I player, the last thing you want to do is burn out by sticking to one sport only. I didn’t burn out because I tried different things. To me, that just makes sense.”
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Randy Mulder said there’s one thing he will always appreciate about John Calipari — he let parents come to practice.
Mulder’s son, Mychal, played two years at Kentucky after transferring from junior college where Randy Mulder said he was allowed to see only two practices.
“At Kentucky, they allowed me to go to any practice. Cal was always there if I had any questions, too,” Randy Mulder said. “Cal invited families to his house for Thanksgiving. He has continued to help Mychal a lot since graduation. He played an important role in getting Mychal on with Toronto’s summer league NBA team.”
Randy Mulder remembered when he was bringing his son to UK to move in how often assistant coach John Robic kept calling while they were driving. When they got to Lexington, Calipari and his wife, Ellen, came to great them.
“The Kentucky fans treat players like they are gods, too. You get the star quality treatment when you go to Kentucky. Once people realized I was Mychal’s parent, I really enjoyed the two years,” Randy Mulder said. “I met Rex Chapman, Tony Delk, Jack Givens, Dan Issel, Joe Hall.”
However, his biggest thrill was getting to see Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh.
“I was raised on a farm with horses. It was like meeting Tiger Woods. He was the sweetest, most magnificent animal,” Randy Mulder said. “I couldn’t believe the way horses are treated on those farms in Kentucky. If you have never been on a horse farm tour, go. It’s just beautiful.”
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Quote of the Week: “I don’t say much during a game unless we are on the field communicating about what is going on. Coming off the field, I don’t talk. I like playing. Trash talking gets me off my game,” linebacker Jordan Jones, UK's top tackler last year, on trash talking.
Quote of the Week 2: “He can be a great player for our offense. He is really fast, he has a great ability to break tackles, too,” UK sophomore running back Benny Snell on redshirt freshman running back A.J. Rose.
Quote of the Week 3: “He's really special. He can play five positions. He went from a 6-3 freshman to having a four-inch growth spurt, so suddenly he could play every position. He's special,” veteran sportswriter Dick “Hoops” Weiss on UK recruiting target Cam Reddish.
Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy believes coaches like John Calipari deserve credit for coaching first-round draft picks. (USA Basketball Photo)