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Tyler Herro is Proof that Kentucky ‘Produces’ NBA Players


Photo: @NBA

A few weeks ago, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas made headlines when he discussed an article about which college basketball programs produce the best NBA players. Bilas’ argument was that colleges don’t “produce” pros, they recruit them, with the premise being – as best I can tell – that most players in the NBA were born with physical gifts that would have gotten them to the NBA regardless of where they went to college.

And for the most part, I don’t disagree with Bilas. John Wall, Anthony Davis, Zion Williamson, De’Aaron Fox, Ben Simmons, Marvin Bagley – they all would have ended up lottery picks regardless of where they went to college.

Still, there are plenty of exceptions and we see them every year in college basketball. Virginia won a national championship with a lottery pick, DeAndre Hunter, who was ranked the 91st player in America coming out of high school. Was he recruited to be a pro, or did he develop at Virginia? How about Grant Williams at Tennessee? Isn’t it insulting to Rick Barnes to say that Tennessee didn’t help develop him into a first rounder? Texas Tech has had two lottery picks in the last two years (Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver) who were both ranked outside the Top 150 in their high school class. While both had natural physical gifts, I’d tend to think that Chris Beard had something to do with their success as well.

Which brings me to the main point of the article. With all due respect to Bilas (who covers college hoops as well as anybody) there might not be a single better example of the flaw in the “recruit vs. develop” argument right now than Tyler Herro. John Calipari used Herro’s name as proof that Kentucky “produces” pros a few weeks ago, and so far in Summer League – where Herro has been a breakout star – the former Wildcat is proving him correct.

Now look, I understand that playing well in Summer League isn’t a be-all, end-all to future NBA success. There are plenty of guys who play well every summer in Vegas, and it doesn’t translate to becoming a star in the NBA. Last year, Josh Hart won Summer League MVP, and he will never be anything more than a very good role player in the NBA. Lonzo Ball won Summer League MVP two years ago, and his career has been filled with injuries and up-and-down play on the court.

So again, to quote Denny Green I’m not going to “crown” Tyler Herro anything because he’s had a few good days in Vegas.

Still, it’s hard not to watch Herro ball out and feel like Kentucky and John Calipari didn’t at least play some part in his success.

For those who haven’t been paying attention (and I’m guessing most of you have been) Herro has been absolutely phenomenal in his short time as a pro. In the California Summer League (which was a precursor to Vegas) he averaged 19 points per game, and in his three games in Vegas has scored 21 per night. Over five games he’s averaging more than 20 points per game, and doing it all while hitting 40 percent from the field and adding five rebounds and two steals per contest as well.

So yeah, Herro is good. And please don’t tell me that it’s just because the “competition is bad” in Vegas. Keep in mind, RJ Barrett is averaging under 12 points on 28 percent shooting in his three games in Vegas. Let’s give a little bit of credit to Herro here.

Still, let’s also give a little credit to Calipari and Kentucky as well.

By now we all know Herro’s recruiting back-story, so we don’t need to take a deep dive here – but it is worth mentioning. This was a kid who ended up as somewhere around a Top 40 recruit in the recruiting rankings and a guy who – even after he decommitted from Wisconsin and ended up at Kentucky – wasn’t viewed as an immediate, unquestionable NBA talent. Most believed that even in Lexington, it would take two, three or four years for Herro to develop into an NBA player.

So yes, some of it was Herro’s natural talent, and yes, to a degree Kentucky did “recruit” a future NBA player when he signed his National Letter of Intent. To say otherwise would be to take away from Herro’s hard work.

At the same time, didn’t Kentucky play a role in how fast he got to the NBA, the fact that he was just a lottery pick after one season and that he’s been so successful so far in Summer League? I’d say the answer is yes when you consider, oh, I don’t know, that Herro got to play for a Hall of Fame coach in Lexington and was able to practice every day against NBA-level talent like PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson and Ashton Hagans. I’d say that it didn’t hurt playing against other NBA caliber talent when Kentucky faced off against Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, LSU and others either.

And if there was any doubt that Kentucky helped produce him into a pro, Herro put it to rest, when he himself discussed the role that Kentucky played in his development on Tuesday night. When asked about Kentucky, he said:

“The first day I stepped on campus at Kentucky (Coach Cal) treated me like a pro. Without Coach Cal and really the rest of the coaching staff I don’t think I would be here right now. I think I made the best decision ever to go to Kentucky.”

If that isn’t a ringing endorsement I don’t know what it is.

It also proves that while some pros are recruited to college campuses, quite a few others are developed there as well.

Article written by Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at [email protected] He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”

30 responses to “Tyler Herro is Proof that Kentucky ‘Produces’ NBA Players”

  1. Bluebloodtoo

    I’m really not trying to rain on the parade, here, but…. One thing no one is considering is how well those players were developed in high school. What if the development at the high school level was underperformed and they just caught up in college with better coaching? Or maybe some coaches are better at identifying talent? There are too many variables in this problem to get any significant conclusions. Again, I’m not trying to disprove your argument. I’m basically trying to say that there is just no way to prove this argument. Trends are great and can show some information, but it’s still not going to be a significant conclusion.

    1. 4everUKblue

      There’s one non UK fan who will jump right on your wagon with you, I’m not going to mention any names but I would bet you’ll know who I’m talking about soon enough.

    2. Soylentbeans

      If they were undercoached in high school and get to college then get coached by a great coach who for the lack of a better word produces nba talent. wouldn’t it stand that said coach helped transform said player into a pro I.E. produce a pro.

  2. BallDontLie

    What about guys Cal didnt recruit? Are we going to pretend the Jorts, Liggins and Miller would have ended up being drafted had Billy G been at UK for their entire careers? There is a Kentucky effect, to what extent its hard to precisely quantify, but its real.

  3. CrystalBall

    Balldontlie. Very good point.

  4. CrystalBall

    BallDontlie. Very good point.

  5. kentuckybackupplayer

    Mashburn fan is stabbing himself in the eye with a fork right now

    1. 4everUKblue

      If only…or maybe he’ll miss his eyeball and hit the part of the brain that renders him at least somewhat intelligent.

    2. StillBP

      Haha I just came here to see how long his rant is… Not to actually read it; it just makes me laugh to see his paragraph. Guess it’s too early

  6. Voice of Reason

    Patrick Patterson was stuck in the post until Coach Cal let him shoot 3’s. Enough said.

  7. Matt10

    Also important to remember Cal really starts coaching them in high school, telling them what to work on mentally and physically to get ready. Then the summer before official practice, pick up games which I’m sure he gives input on some level. Private team meetings at his house where he’s always teaching. A lot more goes into the NBA prep than just the official season.

  8. Soylentbeans

    People just don’t understand there is a difference in producing talent (cant produce talent) and producing pros. You can have all the talent in the world. doesn’t mean you are going to get drafted high or even at all. In some cases like mentioned in above comments you may not even be the most talented player and get drafted high(producing pros).

  9. njcat54

    What about the Harrisons, or Dakari, or Diallo, or Teague, or Skal. All top 10 recruits and average draft position – 42.

    See how helpful it is to pick a few outlier data points to try and make a point.

    1. Rowinguy1

      What about them? What’s your point? Which of these guys was disserved by coming to Kentucky? If colleges don’t “produce” pros, shouldn’t they all have thrived without coming here, or, for that matter, any college at all?

    2. njcat54

      My point is that Cal does not make pros, the players make themselves pros. He provides the environment, but development is unique to the individual. Some overachieve, others underachieve – same as any other school.

    3. njcat54

      The other point is for Mr Torres. He picked a few data points of 4 star guys who went high in the draft as proof that Cal makes pros. Problem is, Cal had even more top 10 guys who were never even drafted.

    4. 4everUKblue

      Is that you mashbumfan? Sure sounds like it.

    5. 4everUKblue

      You’re points are weak at best, but I think I just sit back and watch StillBP or J-Dub leave you looking like the fool you are.

    6. njcat54

      As my favorite actor once said ‘You can’t handle the truth!’

    7. J-Dub421

      Skal and Diallo are both NBA teams. Teague was undersized. The Harrisons and Dakari have all played in the NBA sporadically, but aren’t the most athletic players out there, which is highly valued in the League.

    8. 4everUKblue

      njcat, I can handle the truth if it were in you but sadly it is not. Glad your in NJ and not KY.

  10. njcat54

    Forgot to mention Poythres and – #7 recruit who went undrafted.

    For recruits ranked 11-20, Cal’s players had an average draft position of 37. And that is being charitable since I assigned a value of 61 to all undrafted players.

    Not exactly what I would call overachieving.

    1. VirginiaCat

      Your point on players ranked 11-20, with an average draft position of 37 is telling, but will get bashed by the “love it or leave it crowd.” For those of us who appreciate facts over emotion, thank you.

    2. 4everUKblue

      Dear njcat, the sad truth of coaching is no coach can make a player want it more than anything else or work hard every day for it, Poythress could’ve been drafted fairly high had he wanted it that bad or listened to the coaching staff, given his all night in and night out, he was given the tools and the opportunities.

      Unfortunately VaginaCat (thanks Clutch) you fall into that category along with another non UK fan, who shall remain nameless, who only chooses the partial facts that fit his argument while ignoring the facts that blow his argument all to hell.

    3. njcat54

      The points are not from partial data. They are from ALL the data. You don’t like facts, fine.

    4. J-Dub421
  11. tgoff

    Just follow Bilas then. Some of you refuse to give credit where credit is due!! Haters gonna always Hate!

  12. VirginiaCat

    4everblue: You are incorrect on two counts. First, you refer to me as a non-UK fan. Please consider than when a KY fan has an opposing interpretation, it doesn’t automatically relegate him/her to non-fan status. Second, facts are facts and you can’t summarily dismiss a legitimate point simply because it fails to amplify your point of view.

    1. 4everUKblue

      VaginaCat, if I cared enough about your opinion (and I don’t) I could rip your argument to shreds. Why is it all you so call UK fans who live outside KY are all cut from the same cloth. You, njcat and mash are all the same, makes me wonder if you’re not all him. We have all the negative fans we need. And yes you do pick the facts that make your argument lame as hell.

  13. VirginiaCat

    Apparently, living outside the Commonwealth is proof positive that you are negative fans. How silly is that? Most of us grew up in Kentucky and have been Cat fans since an early age. Bleeding blue has nothing to do with geographic lines. It stays with you forever no matter where you live. To say that we are all “cut from the safe cloth” is just plain dumb. Referring to me as “VaginaCat” is elementary school fodder and suggests a limited intellect.