On June 24, 2010, five Kentucky players were drafted in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft, a night Calipari dubbed the greatest in the history of Kentucky Basketball. That statement raised plenty of eyebrows at the time, and seven years later, it continues to rub some fans the wrong way; however, there’s no denying that the draft has taken on a whole new meaning in the Calipari era. Over seven seasons, Kentucky has produced 28 NBA Draft picks, more than double any other school. All 18 of Kentucky’s one-and-done players have been drafted in the first round. The milestones continue to mount: three number one picks (all freshmen), the first and second picks in 2012, fourteen lottery picks, four players in the lottery in 2015. When you sit back and reflect on it all, in less than a decade, Calipari has put more players in the league than most programs will in their entire existence.
With three more players expected to join the ranks on Thursday night in De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, and Bam Adebayo, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of the best draft moments since Cal came on board. There are certainly plenty to choose from.
In chronological order…
2010: John Wall goes #1
Wall was Kentucky’s first ever #1 draft pick, a fitting end to the program’s meteoric rise from the ashes in Cal’s first year. Wall was a huge part of making Kentucky Basketball cool again, and when his name was called first, you couldn’t help but swell with pride.
2010: Five players drafted in the first round
After Wall went #1, the night just got better. DeMarcus Cousins was drafted 5th by the Kings, Patrick Patterson 14th by the Rockets, Eric Bledsoe 18th by the Thunder/Clippers, and Daniel Orton 29th by the Magic. That’s five players in the first round, which, of course, was an NBA record. Watch all five picks below:
2011: Jorts and DeAndre Liggins drafted
Brandon Knight and Enes Kanter being drafted wasn’t surprising, but the Big Blue Nation jumped for joy when Josh Harrellson’s name was called at #45. Through a trade with New Orleans, Jorts became a New York Knick, proving to boys and girls around the world that with a lot of hard work and some serious denim, anything is possible. Another cool moment came minutes later when DeAndre Liggins was drafted 53rd by the Orlando Magic. Under Calipari, Liggins found his role as a lockdown defender and left school early due to his family’s financial situation. After some ups and downs, he continues to find opportunities thanks to his hard-nosed defense, playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, and now, the Dallas Mavericks.
2012: Anthony Davis and MKG go 1-2
Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went 1-2 in the 2012 NBA Draft, the first time in draft history two players from the same school have done so. Everyone knew Anthony Davis would go first, but MKG was a bit of a surprise at #2, making the shock and emotion on his face once his name was called even more moving:
2012: Six players drafted
Six Kentucky players ended up being selected in the 2012 Draft, the most from one school in NBA history. Sadly, Darius Miller didn’t make the photoshoot above, but his selection at #46 by New Orleans was heartwarming in its own right.
2013: Nerlens Noel’s suit
It was tough to see Nerlens, the projected number one pick, slide to sixth, but he took it in stride, proudly showing off the Kentucky jersey sewn inside of his jacket lining when his name was called by the New Orleans Pelicans. For a brief moment, fans rejoiced at the thought of Nerlens and Anthony Davis teaming up to make Nola Block City, but the Pelicans quickly traded Nerlens to the Philadelphia 76ers for Jrue Holiday. Unfortunately, Nerlens never really clicked in Philly, but now he’s getting a fresh start with the Dallas Mavericks.
Speaking of Nerlens, this GIF of him waving at the camera at the 2013 Draft Lottery is still a classic:
2014: Julius Randle vows to make teams that passed on him regret it
Amid rumors about his foot, Randle slipped to the Los Angeles Lakers at seventh, and afterwards, vowed to make the six teams that passed on him regret it; with the exception of Cleveland (who traded #1 pick Andrew Wiggins to Minnesota), Milwaukee (#2 – Jabari Parker), and Philly (#3 – Joel Embiid), I’m sure they do.
2015: Karl Towns goes #1
By 2015, two Kentucky players had been picked first in the draft in John Wall and Anthony Davis. That didn’t make it any less awesome when Karl Towns heard his name called first on draft night. The months following Kentucky’s loss to Wisconsin weren’t easy for Cats fans, but watching one of the program’s most likable players go first was a sweet, sweet moment. Even Karlito got to come:
— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) June 25, 2015
Counting Karl, Calipari has coached four number one draft picks, twice as many as any other coach.
2015: Four players drafted in the lottery
Six Cats were drafted in 2012, tying the record Kentucky set back in 2012. The program made more history with four lottery picks: Karl Towns at #1, Willie Cauley-Stein at #6, Trey Lyles at #12, and Devin Booker at #13. The only downside to the 2015 Draft was Aaron Harrison not hearing his name called, but by the next morning, word broke that Aaron had signed with the Charlotte Hornets, making it an incredibly sweet night for the program.
2016: Tyler Ulis reunites with Devin Booker
— Kennedy Hardman (@kennedy_hardman) June 24, 2016
The 2016 Draft wasn’t the most memorable, but one sweet moment came when Tyler Ulis finally heard his name called at #34 by the Phoenix Suns. Ulis slid out of the first round after rumors circulated about a hip injury, but teaming up with his best friend Devin Booker was a great consolation prize. The video of his family’s reaction is still one of my favorites.
BONUS: Joel Embiid’s non-reaction in 2014
This has nothing to do with Kentucky, but I can’t think of the draft without thinking of it. Due to a delay in the broadcast, ESPN’s cameras failed to capture Joel Embiid’s reaction in real time, producing one of the most awkward videos in draft history. That’s probably one reason why Embiid’s reaction to Philly’s draw in this year’s draft lottery was so exaggerated:
Either that or he’s just a goofball. Probably just that.