A couple weeks back, former Wildcat great Jeff Sheppard sent the Big Blue Nation into an uproar over a few comments that were decidedly unflattering toward coach John Calipari and his preference for one-and-done players.
While fans can and will debate whether Sheppard’s statements were disloyal, one interesting point was Shep’s comment that there has been “too much celebrating NBA draft picks.”
Hard to argue with him on that point. After all, long before Kentucky won its 8th national title in 2012, Calipari stunned many with his 2010 comments on NBA draft day that having 5 players selected in the first round was perhaps “the biggest day in Kentucky basketball history.”
Calipari has since made up for such a rash statement—and then some—by reaching two Final Fours and hanging a national title banner. But it’s hard to not think that there is now a very big emphasis within the program on putting UK players in the professional ranks. It sometimes almost feels as though that goal takes precedence over winning college basketball games.
That said, the unabashed NBA slant to the program and winning games are positively correlated. After all, having Lebron James attend games at Rupp or ex-UK NBA players coaching summer camps create decidedly good PR buzz for the program, catching the eye of the types of athletes who win championships.
But Calipari will up the ante this year, with two events that take Kentucky’s pro-hoops love affair to new heights. The first is a September scrimmage between the 2009-2010 team and the title winning squad of 2011-2012. This titanic matchup will settle a lot of arguments in the commonwealth, while also making for must-see TV.
The second event is that Rupp Arena will host an actual NBA game this season. On October 19, the Washington Wizards led by ex-UK star John Wall will meet the New Orleans Pelicans and former Cats Anthony Davis and Darius Miller.
Whatever you think of the new “connection” between Calipari’s Kentucky program and the NBA, there is one thing you cannot deny: Kentucky is the premiere *it* program in college hoops today and with spectacles like these, it will remain so for a long time to come.
With that exposure, recruits will follow and Kentucky teams will be competitive. If you doubt that, just look down the road. UK already has a commitment and heavy interest from multiple top 50 players in 2014, and could haul in as many as 6 top 20 players in 2015.
Until proven otherwise, Calipari is still the best recruiter in college basketball. It’s no coincidence that he often states that preparing players for pro ball is his mission.
Just look at his track record. Not many programs can show this link to any prospective player thinking about where to play his college ball. It’s just an embarrassment of riches.