Kentucky fans in attendance for Saturday’s matchup against Ole Miss were treated to a limited-edition poster featuring all of the former Cats who are playing in the NBA. The Kentucky effect, you could call it. For the fans, it’s a cool poster and a great keepsake. For Kentucky’s current players, it’s motivation.
“That’s why you come to Kentucky. You want to be a pro,” Immanuel Quickley said after the game when asked if he could envision himself on that poster in the years to come. “As an individual player and as a team, you work hard to reach your goals here, and one day reach the NBA.”
After the game, Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis said John Calipari doesn’t get enough credit for that aspect of the program. Sure, he’s known for the one-and-dones, but Coach Cal’s ability to actually develop those players into NBA-caliber competitors is often overlooked.
“I don’t think [Calipari] gets enough credit for player development. We played Quickley last year, had a great game in our place [and] he was probably a no factor in that game,” Davis said.
He’s right. On the road against Ole Miss last year, Quickley recorded five points in 19 minutes with one three-pointer and two free throws. This time around, he earned 17 points. A similar comparison can be made for Nick Richards. In his first outing against Ole Miss, he didn’t score a single point. The next time around, he managed six. This year, that number jumped to 16, and that wasn’t even that great of a night for him.
“They get so much attention on the one-and-done guys, but the guys who stay in the program get a lot better and he is one of them,” Davis said about Richards. “He may be the best center in college basketball.”
“[Calipari] is always known to push guys to the NBA after their first year, but people don’t give him enough credit for guys that stick around and actually want to improve their game,” Richards said after the game.
Richards may be this year’s star student when it comes to player development, but he’s done his homework. He knows he’s not the first.
“It’s not just me. You can see guys like Tyler Ulis; when he came back for his second year, he was probably one of the best point guards in the country. Willie Cauley-Stein was one of the best forwards in the country his last year. Derek Willis – he was a guy who came through and made a lot of big threes down the stretch for them in his last year,” Richards said. “So yeah, I think he needs more credit for player development.”
That’s why you come to Kentucky.