The NBA Draft has been quite kind to the Miami Heat organization in recent years, and the Kentucky basketball program has a lot to do with it.
In 2017, the Heat selected former Kentucky forward Bam Adebayo with the 14th overall pick.
At the time, Heat president Pat Riley – a former Wildcat himself – had astronomical optimism for the 6-foot-9 forward, telling reporters at Adebayo’s introductory press conference that he saw a legendary career in his future.
“One day,” Riley said holding up Adebayo’s new No. 13 uniform, “this jersey is going to be hanging up in the rafters.”
Just two years later, the franchise again used a lottery pick on a former Kentucky star, selecting Tyler Herro with the No. 13 overall pick last summer.
And again, the Heat president couldn’t help but shower the former Wildcat with praise.
“We need him,” Riley said at the time. “This is a perfect pick for us. … What I like about him is that his work ethic is second to none. I think he’s going to fit right in with all of these guys.”
With the NBA, along with the majority of other major sports, shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, another member of the Miami Heat organization is speaking highly of the Kentucky basketball program and the players that come out of it.
In a recent appearance on Sirius XM NBA Radio, Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra raved about Kentucky head coach John Calipari and how he runs the program.
“We love what Cal does,” Spoelstra said in the interview, as discovered by Chris Fisher of 247Sports this week and brought to light again by UK Athletics this afternoon. “I’ve been up there a few times, just to see how he does his program. We like talking shop and everything. But he’s going to coach you hard. They’re going to spend a lot of time with player development. They’re not going to treat you with kid gloves because of whatever you were ranked in high school.”
Prior to the shutdown, Adebayo was averaging 16.2 points, 10.5 rebounds 5.1 assists, 1.3 blocks, and 1.2 steals per contest en route to his first NBA All-Star selection, while Herro was putting up 12.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game in his rookie campaign.
As for Adebayo specifically, Spoelstra was impressed with his star forward’s patience in the development process in Lexington.
“I loved the fact that he played a role at Kentucky,” Spoelstra said. “I mentioned that when I first met with him. He said he was capable of more, but he loved being in that program, loved being developed by that coaching staff of Cal, Kenny Payne. But he had no problem playing that role. I like that fact that he was just willing to play defense, to rebound, to set screens and do that kind of thing and be okay with that.”
Adebayo trusted the process and learned how to become a better teammate, and as a result, he’s reaping the benefits in the NBA, earning All-Star honors in just his third year in the league.
And according to Spoelstra, that professional approach is exactly why Kentucky is the answer for high-level basketball prospects wanting to make it at the next level.
“None of those guys ever average over 25 points a game. That’s just not the deal when you go to Kentucky,” Spoelstra said. “You’re going to have to defend. You’re going to have to play a role. There’s going to be a ton of lottery talent around you so you’re going to have to be willing to share in the game, share in the success, and enjoy other people playing well, and not play for numbers.
“So I think for a college program, there’s no better way to develop, to get ready for the next level in this league.”