John Calipari came to Kentucky as a known recruiting savant. Year after year, Cal has abused the one-and-done system to his advantage and in the process has produced constant Elite Eight appearances, an NCAA Championship, and more NBA players than any other coach since his arrival.
There may not be a more influential person on the planet when it comes to taking 18-year olds and molding them into NBA players in a matter of months. His impact on the entirety of the NBA is slowly beginning to show in considerable fashion as his first batch of freshman from way back in 2009 are in the midst of their primes. Players such as John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Anthony Davis are now multiple time All-Stars and dominant figures in the NBA. As Cal continues to pump out young prizes such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, and several others, it made me wonder what type of impact Calipari has had on the NBA compared to past Kentucky coaches. Let’s dive a little deeper into exactly what I’m talking about.
Since the NBA was brought to life in 1946 (although the draft wasn’t installed until the 1947 season), the University of Kentucky has employed a total of seven coaches (which is still incredible to think about when discussing the consistency the school has had, considering one of those was Billy Gillispie). In that time span, Kentucky has had 111 players that were selected in the NBA Draft and played at least one NBA game (A total of 121 have been drafted, but 10 of them did not play in an NBA game). Not players that eventually made it into the NBA, but solely players that were drafted. So guys such as Isaiah Briscoe and Wenyen Gabriel are left off this list, even though they’ve recently signed with NBA teams but weren’t drafted. Old school players such as Dale Barnstable and Jim Line were drafted, but ultimately never played in an NBA game.
It should be noted that statistics from the American Basketball Association are not being counted. However, I will also note that Louie Dampier (7x ABA All-Star) and Dan Issel (6x ABA All-Star) were dominant ABA figures before playing the back-end of their careers in the NBA. The ABA only existed from 1967 until 1976 before merging with the NBA.
111 players over the course of 71 years isn’t too shabby. According to the NCAA, Kentucky has had 47 first round draft picks in that span, the second most among all schools and only one behind North Carolina. Kentucky is also tied with Duke for most number one overall picks (three). Wall, Davis, and Towns were all number one picks. They also all came during the Calipari era. Think about that. Up until 2010, Kentucky had never produced a number one overall pick. Sam Bowie was selected number two overall back in 1984, sandwiched between Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan, although injuries quickly derailed his career. Alex Groza was the number two overall pick in 1949 and won the unofficial Rookie of the Year award before being named an All-Star one year later. Unfortunately, Groza was banned from the NBA after only two seasons for his inclusion in the infamous point-shaving scandal of the 1948-49 season.
Since Cal took over, Kentucky has produced three number one picks in nine years. 33 percent of the time, Calipari is bound to coach the best prospect in the draft. That’s an unheard of trend.
This isn’t to say Kentucky has never seen success in the NBA before Calipari. Players such as Rajon Rondo, Antoine Walker, Rex Chapman, Issel, Cliff Hagan, and plenty of others tell us otherwise. But Calipari pumps out NBA players better than Oak Hill Academy pumps out championships.
Consider this, Adolph Rupp coached Kentucky for 25 seasons while the NBA Draft was in place. In his span, he produced 30 draft picks of whom played a total of 6,692 games in the NBA and collected nine total All-Star selections spread across five players. That’s without counting the ABA numbers. Hagan was easily his most successful NBA player. A five-time All-Star and NBA Champion in 1958, Hagan was a third-round draft pick in 1953. *The NBA didn’t switch to a strictly two-round draft system until 1989.*
Calipari, in his nine seasons (15 fewer than Rupp), has produced 38 NBA draft picks. That’s an average of over four players per draft. Despite most of his players still being in the early stages of their careers, Calipari’s draftees have already played a total of 7,147 games in the NBA, and that doesn’t even include the four that have yet to play a game (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Hamidou Diallo). Four of those players have already gathered a total of 15 All-Star selections and that number should expect to double within the next 5-7 years.
There have been three former Kentucky coaches who never saw any of their players selected to an NBA All-Star game; Billy Gillispie (surprise, surprise), Eddie Sutton (who coached only four seasons), and Joe B. Hall (which is a bit of a surprise).
In terms of longevity, Tubby Smith might actually lead that category (at least until Cal’s players are given another 10 seasons). He’s the only former Kentucky coach whose had a player play at least 1,000 NBA games. And he had two of them; Tayshaun Prince and Nazr Mohammed. Although neither were ever named to an All-Star team.
Here are some other notes regarding Calipari’s dominance in the NBA compared to past Kentucky coaches. There have been 30 former Kentucky players that either currently average or finished their careers averaging at least 10 points per game. 12 of them are Calipari products. There have been 13 players that currently average or finished their careers averaging at least six rebounds per game. Six of them are Calipari products. Finally, there have been seven players that currently average of finished their careers averaging at least four assists per game. Five of them are Calipari products.
If you’re interested in knowing exactly how many games each Kentucky draftee has played and who they were coached by, here’s a Google Sheet that quickly outlines that plus the All-Star selections.
Even if Calipari only coaches another five seasons at Kentucky, he would still be the most influential college coach the NBA has ever seen in terms of impact. There is a non-zero chance that Kentucky has at least 50 NBA players playing in the NBA at the same time during some point in the future, whether he’s the coach at Kentucky or not. Having at least one player on all 30 NBA teams would be a monumental accomplishment. As long as Cal is bringing in blue-chip prospects, Kentucky blue is only going to continue to flood the professional ranks.
Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan