Throughout the John Calipari era at Kentucky, there have obviously been numerous big-name recruits come through the program and make a massive impact on the floor in their lone season with the team before making a jump to the NBA.
Recently, though, Calipari has established a reputation for building the draft stock of solid four-stars and anticipated multi-year prospects into legitimate one-and-done talents.
On June 17, though, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas made headlines by tweeting that the idea of college programs and coaches developing players into NBA talent simply isn’t accurate.
“One thing: college programs “don’t “produce” pros, they recruit them,” he said. “Good coaches at every level help players improve but [they] don’t “produce” pros.”
Interesting article on college programs with the most pros. One thing: college programs don't "produce" pros, they recruit them. Good coaches at every level help players improve, but don't "produce" pros. Which NBA team "produces" the most NBA All-Stars? https://t.co/YhKYGvV0qp
— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) June 17, 2019
When asked about Bilas’ comments during his post-NBA Draft press conference, Calipari said he didn’t agree with the ESPN analyst in the slightest.
“He’s said it before. I don’t agree,” Caliapri said. “What about Tyler Herro? What about Eric Bledsoe? I don’t know, maybe I’m missing something. Everybody must have missed on those kids. They just didn’t evaluate them right and we did.
“I think that there are two things that have come out of this. How are our kids, 75% of them, getting to second and third contracts? We just evaluated better? There are other schools that are evaluating just like us and their kids don’t seem to make it. When they do make it, it’s about 20% of the kids, 15%. So, I don’t agree with him.”
In ten NBA Drafts as Kentucky’s head coach, Calipari has turned perceived multi-year players Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Tyler Herro, among others, into legitimate first-round talent after just one season with the program.
And while Bilas might not see it, apparently NBA executives do.
In response to Bilas (and several others in his mentions) on Twitter, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic went out of his way to note that during his regular conversations with NBA executives each year, Calipari is “always” brought up when asked about specific coaches who prepare players for the NBA the best.
“Professionalism, typically good culture guys, body [development],” Vecenie said. “UK does a good job.”
I will just generally note that NBA executives that I talk to, when I ask them about coaches who they think do a good job at preparing players for the NBA on the college level, they always bring up Cal. Professionalism, typically good culture guys, body dev. UK does a good job
— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) June 24, 2019
Bilas’ argument is obviously correct to an extent when it comes to can’t-miss prospects out of high school such as Zion Williamson, Ben Simmons, Anthony Davis, and John Wall, among others. Yes, there are players that are good enough to be drafted right out of high school and make an impact in the NBA right away.
But when you look at that next tier of recruits, it’s fairly obvious that development at the collegiate level is make-or-break for them in terms of their draft stock, especially if the goal is to go pro after just one season.
If Herro stuck with his original commitment to Wisconsin out of high school, would he have gotten the coaching and exposure necessary to be a lottery pick after one season? Or Booker if he went elsewhere to be utilized as a four-star role player? Gilgeous-Alexander?
Even the anticipated one-and-done guys out of high school just a tier below the cant-miss superstars such as Karl-Anthony Towns, De’Aaron Fox, and Jamal Murray, among others, all learned the ins and outs of the league and how to carry themselves as professionals during their time at Kentucky. Now, they are seen as leaders and cornerstones of their respective franchises going forward.
There have been some misses over the years, but in terms of overall track record from top-to-bottom, it’s tough to argue with Kentucky’s success over the years. Vecenie’s report only confirms that.