It’s too early to declare any of the former Wildcats that have entered the NBA since head coach John Calipari has arrived in
Lexington as big time busts or big time failures just yet. DeMarcus Cousins is playing one for one of the more dysfunctional professional sports franchises in the Sacramento Kings and John Wall is playing for one of the others in the Washington Wizards. The rest of the Cats are finding their way, looking for their niche in the league and as Tayshaun Prince can attest to, there’s a lot of luck and timing involved in having a breakout NBA career.
The thing that sets Cal apart and makes it frustrating when people say he doesn’t develop players is he gets guys to the league. And not just the McDonald’s All Americans that he brings to campus, but guys like Josh Harrellson, Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins. While it’s true that he didn’t recruit those guys to campus, do they get an NBA shot without Cal finding away to showcase their talents? Does Jorts get an NBA sniff without Cal featuring him and Brandon Knight in the pick and roll during Kentucky’s run to the 2001 Final Four? Does Miller get his shot with the New Orleans franchise (Pelicans, really?) without Cal allowing Darius to being the calming, mature influence on the 2012 NCAA Title Team? And does DeAndre latch on with the Thunder if Cal doesn’t take him under his wing and take the one time team cancer and malcontent and make him the defensive lockdown stopper and leader on that 2011 team?
Calipari gets a raw deal because he brings in top notch recruits year after year. The assumption is that all he does is roll out the ball and let the guys play. Anyone who has played or been around basketball at all should know that simply isn’t true. And even if Cal isn’t the best Xs and Os coach, he generally finds away to get the most of his players, by adapting his style to their strengths a mitigating their weaknesses. Probably more than any other coach in the country, he puts the players’ individual and even the team success on their shoulders. As Calipari is wont to say, “I cannot hide you here.”
So, yes, John Calipari gets a lot of talent into the Kentucky Basketball program. Even Rick Barnes could have coached Anthony Davis and would have gotten him to the NBA. But it’s the way that Cal works with the next level players, the role players, and gets them their shot at the NBA, or other professional leagues, that really makes what he’s doing at Kentucky special. Players are either leaving for the NBA or they’re getting their degrees and, to quote the NCAA, going pro in something else. Either way, that’s definitely, coachin’ ‘em up.