In the past five years, the Kentucky Wildcats have sent more players to the NBA than any other college basketball program. Many of those players have spent just one year as Wildcats before moving on to the pro circuit. Which begs the question: are the NCAA Kentucky Wildcats a revolving door for the NBA?
This year, DraftExpress projects three Wildcats in the top 25 draft prospects. Freshman Julius Randle is projected at the No. 4 spot, sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein is listed at No. 12 and DraftExpress sees freshman James Young at the No. 25 spot. Four others, sophomore Alex Poythress, freshmen Dakari Johnson and Aaron and Andrew Harrison are expected to play next year and enter the NBA draft in 2015.
But that is just conjecture. After losing the Championship game to Connecticut 60-54, the Wildcats announced players would wait before committing one way or the other. When interviewed, some players said they had “no clue” about next year, others simply refused to look beyond the present. Players have until April 27 to make a decision of whether to enter the NBA draft.
Kentucky Coach John Calipari told the Associated Press that, with the season over, “it’s no longer about the program,” but about the players. He has supported his players’ decisions in the past, whether to go pro or stay at the university. Calipari’s attitude seems to add fuel to the question of “are the NCAA Kentucky Wildcats a revolving door for the NBA?” He has vowed to support this year’s crop of players any way he can.
Calipari’s view has angered some Kentucky fans in the past. When all five Wildcat starters were taken in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft, he spoke of the event as “the greatest day” in Kentucky basketball history. Dan Issel, himself a former Wildcats basketball star called that comment, the “dumbest” he had ever heard.
Some think Calipari’s easy-going attitude actually helps attract high school players to the Kentucky basketball program. Many blue chip high school prospects seem to like the idea of showcasing their talents for one year with the Wildcats before moving on to the green pastures of the NBA. Interviewed after the Championship game one Kentucky player admitted that, while he liked college life, he was attracted by the NBA’s potential of “millions of dollars” and being able to work on honing his basketball skills without worrying about going to class.
There is a chance Calipari himself might not return to the University of Kentucky’s program next year. He has denied rumors that he is interested in coaching the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA. The rumors started when one-time Wildcat star Rex Chapman Tweeted that Calipari’s hiring by the Lakers was a “done deal.” Asked about those rumors, Calipari said simply that the Lakers “have a basketball coach.” He refused “to dignify” those stories by talking any further. His past NBA record is imminently forgettable. He coached the New Jersey Nets to two losing seasons before being canned 20 games into his third year.
Calipari can deny the rumors about moving to the pro league all he likes. If they prove true, however, Wildcat players are not the only ones taking advantage of the NCAA Kentucky Wildcats revolving door to the NBA.
Commentary by B. David Warner