Top 5 pick, Reed Sheppard, the final feather in John Calipari’s cap as Kentucky head coach

The John Calipari era is officially over after Coach Cal's final NBA Draft-night victory lap with Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham both being selected in the top 10.
2024 NBA Draft - Round One
2024 NBA Draft - Round One / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

John Calipari’s very first year at Kentucky was defined by the arrival of John Wall. Wall immediately reinvigorated the fanbase and led the Wildcats to a 35-3 record and the Elite Eight. After his freshman year, Wall was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, and that most of all was indicative of what the Calipari era would entail. 

Calipari turned Kentucky into an NBA factory and even while the winning went away in his last five seasons before departing for Arkansas, the draft-day success remained. Now, with Jeff Sheppard’s former teammate Mark Pope installed as the next head-man in Lexington, Sheppard’s son Reed is the final feather in Calipari’s cap. 

With Coach Cal at his table on Wednesday night at the NBA Draft, Reed Sheppard was selected No. 3 overall by the Houston Rockets. Calipari’s last recruiting class at Kentucky featured three five-star recruits, but it was Sheppard, a four-star who was not projected to be a one-and-done, who was the first selected on draft night. 

Justin Edwards, the top recruit in the class, fell out of contention for the top pick in a watered-down 2024 draft right from his first game in a Kentucky uniform, and DJ Wagner and Aaron Bradshaw followed Calipari to Arkansas after underwhelming freshman campaigns. Yet, Sheppard became the first college player selected in a draft that saw two French prospects, Zaccharie Risacher and Alex Sarr selected No. 1 and 2. 

Sheppard became the third Kentucky guard under Calipari to be selected in the top five of the NBA draft,  joining Wall and De’Aaron Fox, who went fifth overall to the Sacramento Kings in 2017. 

Primarily coming off the bench as a freshman, Sheppard averaged 12.5 points, 4.5 assists, and 4.1 rebounds while shooting a staggering 52.1% from three-point range. He was the best shooter in the draft and will fit nicely next to Houston’s rising stars Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun. 

While Calipari was carrying Kentucky to multiple Sweet 16s and Elite Eights, he was producing plenty of early first-round picks. However, Sheppard isn’t just the first Kentucky guard since Fox to go in the top five, he’s the first Kentucky player to be selected that high. 

With the veteran-laden roster that Mark Pope assembled through the transfer portal this year, it’s unlikely that the Wildcats will have a moment like this in the 2025 NBA Draft and maybe that’s a good thing, because finally, after Calipari’s final draft night with Kentucky prospects, the focus is back on winning in March and April, not late June. 

Even at Arkansas, Calipari can lay claim to Sheppard, a legacy Wildcat, and Rob Dillingham, another top-10 selection on Wednesday night. Calipari can have that and will have many more at Arkansas, but if the NBA talent doesn’t translate to NCAA Tournament wins, Razorbacks fans will get tired of draft night too.