LEXINGTON, Ky. — John Calipari and his Kentucky pipeline to the NBA will have yet another major impact on the league’s annual draft.
It’s nothing new, but Thursday night could be record-setting — even for the Wildcats.
Calipari’s first Kentucky team in 2010 featured five first-round NBA draft picks, including No. 1 overall selection John Wall. Six Wildcats turned pro after their 2012 NCAA championship, with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist going 1-2 in a parade of four first-rounders.
All told, Calipari has groomed 15 first-round choices among 19 players, with the total figuring to jump significantly Thursday night.
A school-record seven Kentucky players from last year’s 38-1 Final Four team could hear their names called at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, with Karl-Anthony Towns possibly becoming Calipari’s third No. 1 overall selection in six years. Seven-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, 6-10 Trey Lyles and 6-6 shooting guard Devin Booker have also been invited to the green room and could be lottery selections.
Seven-footer Dakari Johnson and 6-6 twin guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison are also expected to be drafted, positioning the Wildcats to have 26 picks in Calipari’s six seasons, enough to stock nearly two NBA rosters alone.
That is nearly double any other school during that six-year span.
With Wall, Davis and DeMarcus Cousins coming off All-Star seasons and Towns facing huge expectations as one of the top selections, it’s no wonder Calipari boasts a scenario of an NBA All-Star game half comprised of Kentucky talent.
“Our goal is not just to help guys get into the league; we want guys to become all-stars,” the coach said during a teleconference last week. “We had three last year, and if you took Derrick Rose (a No. 1 overall under Calipari at Memphis in 2008) as a fourth, then our goal would be to say, ‘Hey, half of the NBA all-stars started with us.’”
Though many in Kentucky’s fan base consider the 2012 draft class as the school’s gold standard for pro talent. Calipari often refers back to his 2010 group for setting that high bar of success for subsequent groups to follow.
Wall has overcome an injury-filled start to his career to become an All-Star guard and lead the Washington Wizards to back-to-back playoff appearances. Cousins earned his first All-Star selection last season and is considered one of the NBA’s top big men after averaging 24.1 points and 12.7 rebounds with the Sacramento Kings.
Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Patterson, who went 18th and 14th to Oklahoma City and Houston respectively, are key parts of the rotation in Phoenix and Toronto. Daniel Orton meanwhile hopes to land on a roster next season.
“I feel good about my chances,” said Orton, the 29th overall choice with Orlando. “When you have that Kentucky stamp and teams know what they’re getting, you’ve got to perform.”
As for that 2012 class, Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist established another school milestone as the first two players chosen and are considered respective franchise cornerstones in New Orleans and Charlotte. Terrence Jones was a key cog for Houston, and Darius Miller just helped the Brose Baskets win the German League championship last weekend.
Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague have bounced back and forth between the NBA and the Developmental League, but Calipari sounded hopeful that their work could land another opportunity.
“You gotta let it play out,” Calipari said, “but I come back to us teaching position-less basketball, and it’s not one way of playing, it’s a lot of ways of playing. … I’m proud of these guys, and these guys got a lot to live up to.”
The coach has stressed that point to his latest crop of pro prospects, whose versatility could fill a number of teams’ needs. Calipari provided pro scouts an initial opportunity to judge them last fall during an on-campus combine that drew representatives from every NBA team.
For Kentucky players, the tryout offered a baseline to prepare for the next level. Scouts meanwhile got glimpses of talent from which to track during the Wildcats’ remarkable season that put them within reach of becoming the nation’s first unbeaten champions since Indiana in 1976.
Now comes the next step of teams choosing from Calipari’s biggest pool of talent. Towns seems set on going no worse than second, but his former teammates’ fates depend on where clubs determine they might fit best.
With so many options this year, Detroit Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy stresses being as thorough as possible before choosing with the eighth overall pick.
“It takes a little longer to get through that film, at least for me,” Van Gundy said, “simply because as you’re making your notes, you might be making notes on five different people on the same play. It takes a little longer to write things up.”