Tonight was the night that the eyes of the Big Blue Nation turned toward the NBA and with good reason as Kentucky set a record for first round draft picks with five players being selected. As expected, John Wall got the ball rolling at the top spot and the chips fell for the rest of the guys between the fifth and twenty-ninth pick, making the second round inconsequential for Kentucky’s casual NBA fans. Though it will likely be used in recruiting heavily in the very near future and referenced countless times in the UK internet world, tonight’s draft also served as the offical end of the career of five very important former Kentucky players, all of whom found themselves in very favorable situations to start off their professional careers. Here is how it shook out (and special thanks to KSR reader Jerrod Pace for sending me the videos):
1. John Wall (Washington Wizards)
It started and ended pretty quickly for the former Kentucky point guard as his destiny was well determined long before ESPN started broadcasting. For Wall, Thursday night served a purpose far greater than simply shaking David Stern’s hand and getting a Wizards flat-bill. It served as the official launch of the John Wall brand and everyone from Reebok to the Wizards to the guy selling those corny t-shirts was looking to cash in. Not every top pick is given the opportunity to become a marketable national figure and few in this decade have been given the opportunity to do so. Wall has been given that opportunity for a variety of reasons, most of them based on his basketball abilities. However, what the Wizards and Reebok are counting on to make him more than just a spokesperson or a face on a sign is all the things that made Wall so revered in Lexington. It was the character he showed in the community and the dedication he showed in the classroom. It was the permanent smile he had on and off the court and the very country politeness that he displayed with the media and the community. Both organizations need him to be both the face and the personality and, despite all of the media the past 12 months, Thursday night was the start of that national branding. Watching his mom get choked up over him buying her a house and watching him genuinely smile and handle himself so well in his interview is exactly what they signed up for. John Wall is not just another top draft pick. He’s going to be much, much more.
5. DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings)
I’ve said for weeks that if there is one player in this draft who will prove to be a better NBA player than John Wall, it’s going to be DeMarcus Cousins. However, despite that optimism, for that to properly come to fruition, Cousins needed to find a situation that could properly utilize his skills and provide him with a staff to help him develop his tremendous talents. I believe he got both in Sacramento. Much like his situation at UK, Cousins will step in and be expected to be the go-to guy in the post and second option to a play-making star point guard (Tyreke Evans). In addition, Sacramento’s staff has exactly what Boogie needs to develop and showcase his skills and make sure he doesn’t fall victim to the weight and immaturity issues that so many draft “experts” think could hinder his career. In Sacramento, he’ll likely be mentored and tutored by former lottery pick Shareef Abdur-Rahim and legendary NBA bruiser Truck Robinson. He’ll also have the luxury of working with Hall of Fame assistant Pete Carril, who made another superstar talent labeled as a malcontent (Chris Webber) realize his potential, and head coach Paul Westphal, who helped another nasty player with a weight issue, Charles Barkley, win an MVP and reach the NBA Finals. Great fit for Boogie and a potential Rookie of the Year situation. He should definitely be as excited as the Kings apparently are.
14. Patrick Patterson (Houston Rockets)
Patrick Patterson slipped a bit lower than the 8-10 range that Coach Cal expected and, fortunately for both himself and those of us still seeing spots from Boogie’s watch, found himself in a fantastic situation. As the Rockets official site states, they got their man. With the Rockets, Patterson not only avoids landing on a true “lottery” team and heads to a team that, without Yao Ming’s injury, would be a lock for the playoffs, but also lands with one of the NBA’s first-class organizations. Patterson has the opportunity to not only start in the front court, he also provides the ideal “four” that Houston has been searching for the past few years through Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes, Carl Landry, etc. Patterson will be able to defend the post, rebound the ball and, thanks to his newly perfected mid-range jumper, provide enough of a threat offensively to give Yao space on the blocks to go one-on-one. Scola is a free agent and, if he returns as he’s said he’d like to, Patterson has work ahead of him to earn that starting spot. But, I don’t know anyone who is going to doubt him on that journey. Fantastic pick by the Rockets and a great place to land for Patrick Patterson. It’s good to see someone who has done so many things the right way end up in such a great situation. Make us proud, Patrick, as we all know you will.
18. Eric Bledsoe (Oklahoma City, traded to LA Clippers)
Eric Bledose earned the award for the craziest draft night as the former UK point guard didn’t know if he was going to get it right in Oklahoma City, New Orleans or, ultimately, Los Angeles. Despite earlier reports of a trade to the Hornets, the Thunder eventually sent Bledsoe to the Clippers, where he’ll likely battle Bobby Brown (assuming Steve Blake is not re-signed) for playing time as Baron Davis’ backup. He’s a guy who has, as the experts say, a “high ceiling” and, though he might not be immediately ready to contribute, he is they type of athletic young player the Clippers appear to be building their team around. Should he ever get a head coach, things might work out quite nicely. Either way, it’s a great night for the young man from Birmingham who probably hasn’t had the best couple of weeks. If there’s a place in the entire league that needs someone to “get s–t right”, it’s the Clippers.
29. Daniel Orton (Orlando Magic)
Ahh, Daniel Orton. The big man from Oklahoma has seen his fair share of unfortunate press in the last few days and, with his draft stock slipping, he appeared for a bit to be headed for the second round. Instead, he landed with the Orlando Magic and, fortunately, in another great situation. With the Magic, he’s unquestionably a reserve, but I don’t think that’s any different from pretty much any team he would have selected by. His biggest positive is that he is believed to have tons of potential and practicing against Dwight Howard and getting daily coaching from Patrick Ewing certainly appears to be a great way to develop that potential. Plus, if reports of him being out of shape and unotivated are true, you better believe Stan Van Gundy won’t put up with it for long. As of tomorrow morning, the cancelled workouts, the regrets over his college decision and the fighting over who his agent is all ends. Daniel has a chance to make all of his dreams come true and it appears that he has found a situation that can help him make sure they do. It’s now on him and him alone to make sure he takes advantage of the situation. As long as he doesn’t pick up any of Vince Carter’s habits, he’ll be fine. And, if it’s any consolation, he provided two of the draft’s funniest moments. They played his outtakes from the Draft promo where he had to re-start about 12 times and then they asked Van Gundy what he saw from Orton that he liked. Van Gundy replied, “I didn’t see much” and then clarified that he doesn’t do the scouting. Show him something, DO!
Overall, though it wasn’t quite the “greatest night in UK basketball history” that Coach Cal billed it to be, it was an evening that gave five guys that we’ve all rooted for a chance to realize their dreams and that’s beyond special in itself. Best of luck to all five guys and may there be many more future Cats given the opportunity to do the same. We’ll be rooting for you all.