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BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: Do Guys Really Improve in College?


With 7 guys headed to the NBA this year, and the fact that 2-3 of them could clearly use another year of college to improve their skills, the question has been raised about improvement while a college basketball player.  Everyone assumes that you will get better if you stay longer in college.  But in the John Calipari era, has that really played out?  Below are all the guys who returned and played 2 or more seasons under Cal.  Do you think they improved?

Terrence Jones
Freshman (10-11): 15.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 44.2% FG
Sophomore (11-12): 12.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 50.0% FG

Jones is an interesting case because his stats went down during his sophomore season, but that is largely due to the fact that the talent around him increased.  Anthony Davis hogged many of the points and rebounds Jones would have normally pulled in.  But, above all else, I think we found a more MATURE Terrence Jones his 2nd year, plus he developed a better outside jump shot.  A 2nd year was beneficial for him.

Doron Lamb
Freshman (10-11): 12.3 ppg, 48.7% 3FG
Sophomore (11-12): 13.7 ppg, 46.6% 3FG

Lamb was much like Jones is that statistically, he didn’t see any drastic improvement or decline is any category.  But you have to say the publicity from the title run, plus a more mature Lamb was a benefit for him.  He seemed to develop a better driving game, finishing in transition much better.  Did a 2nd year actually help his draft stock?  Maybe not.  But his game did improve.  And he was a significant bonus to the Cats winning a title.

Kyle Wiltjer
Freshman (11-12): 5.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 43.2% 3FG
Sophomore (12-13): 10.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 36.7% 3FG

Wiltjer got slightly better his 2nd season at Kentucky, but the problem was he needed to take a starring role with UK and just was not able to hold that responsibility.  His rebounding got better but still wasn’t up to snuff with his size.  He defense remained a problem spot and he didn’t shoot the ball well.  It was a tough year for Wiltjer in Year 2 and he ended up transferring.

Alex Poythress
Freshman (12-13): 11.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg
Sophomore (13-14): 5.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg
Junior (14-15): 5.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg

Obviously Poythress’ season was cut short by his knee injury this year but in his 8 games this season, I don’t know if we saw a ton of improvement from Alex.  In the Bahamas, he might have been the Cats best player.  He will once again be a starter in 2015-16 and could potentially be the focal point of the offense.  It will be the key year to determine how much Alex will have improved in his 4 years, assuming the injury won’t limit him.

Willie Cauley-Stein
Freshman (12-13): 8.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.1 bpg
Sophomore (13-14): 6.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.9 bpg
Junior (14-15): 8.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.7 bpg

What is interesting about Willie is that anybody who watched him for the past 3 years could see how much he improved.  But his stats really don’t reflect that.  That is likely due to his minutes decreasing this year and the fact that Willie was never a great offensive player.  I think he just took more advantage of his skills on the offensive floor by running the floor better and finishing lobs.  Of all the players on this list, I think WCS probably improved the most.

Andrew Harrison
Freshman (13-14): 10.9 ppg, 4.0 apg, 36.7% FG
Sophomore (14-15): 9.3 ppg, 3.6 apg, 37.8% FG

Andrew is close to WCS for most improvement under Calipari, but also like Willie, the stats don’t really show it.  But those of us who watched him saw him develop into a very capable point guard while battling for playing time with Tyler Ulis.  Andrew became a go-to guy in the NCAA Tournament.

Aaron Harrison
Freshman (13-14): 13.7 ppg, 35.6% 3FG
Sophomore (14-15): 11.0 ppg, 31.6% 3FG

Aaron’s improvement is up for discussion.  He shot the ball worse this year but also seemed to be the guy that Calipari leaned on the most in key situations.  He hit a couple more huge shots during the year, but likely needs to develop in several areas to be a successful NBA player.

Dakari Johnson
Freshman (13-14): 5.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 56.9% FG
Sophomore (14-15): 6.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 50.6% FG

Dakari certainly got in better shape this year and Cal seemed to like him late in games.  His athleticism does limit him some but he definitely developed from his 1st year to his 2nd year.

Marcus Lee
Freshman (13-14): 2.4 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 61.9% FG
Sophomore (14-15): 2.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 64.4% FG

Lee hasn’t really seen the floor enough to determine his improvement, but he’ll definitely see the floor next year.  Then we’ll know.

Article written by Bryan the Intern

6 Comments for BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: Do Guys Really Improve in College?

  1. vickster3
    9:56 am April 16, 2015 Permalink

    Because of the “platoon” system and change in overall team depth from two seasons ago to this past one, BTI you really should have added minutes per game as a 4th stat line for each player (or used per minute efficiency ratings from Jon Scott’s site).

  2. KevinM
    10:05 am April 16, 2015 Permalink

    Good article Bryan, and its a case for any freshman coming in that they will be a better team player in Year 2, but the stats aren’t going to show your improvement. But I think you should leave after Year 1 if you think you can handle the grind.

    Their maturity is always a good thing heading into a potential pro career.

    If the NBA ever went back to high schooler eligible, it would be even a bigger gamble for teams trying to select talent.

    • ukbradstith
      11:04 am April 16, 2015 Permalink

      That’s why the NBA went that direction. The Twins would have been top 20 guys out of high school, Alex top 5. No matter how much you love them, you know that’s crazy. The one year rule has been great for the NBA, it’s a much better product now.

  3. msnthrop
    10:10 am April 16, 2015 Permalink

    I rather liked this fan post from Celtics blog that focuses solely on the twins

    Also take a look at David Epstein’s book The Sports Gene

    for an excellent discussion of why elite athletes are elite and how differences in training manifest themselves among such players…I hope Cal might be more proactive on this issue and develop individual training programs for his recruits that specifically trained them in NBA skills…maybe he already does to some degree…the strength and conditioning facilities sure seem geared for that based on the videos that have come out, but I’ve not heard of a more detailed regiment like sense and/or genetic testing being used here…

  4. FloJo
    10:58 am April 16, 2015 Permalink

    Good article…I agree that stats don’t tell the whole story; however, I think FT% and turnovers/game should be included.

    Staying longer also changes the NBA’s perspective of “potential”. Sometimes the longer you stay will lower the potential in the eyes of scouts. I’m afraid that’s what will happen with the twins and is probably why they and Dakari left this year.

  5. sylvar
    12:21 pm April 16, 2015 Permalink

    Why didn’t you use Tempo Free efficiency stats? These are useless stats for this analysis.