John Calipari’s players-first approach has been about helping players reach their dreams. At least six of them figure to have a chance to reach their ultimate dream of playing in the NBA next season after winning a national championship for Kentucky on Monday.
Underclassmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague are all projected as potential NBA picks in the upcoming June 28 draft. Senior Darius Miller figures to have very good shot at playing in the NBA as well.
Coach Cal is going to support whatever the players ultimately decide, but he’s not about to let the NCAA rush them into a decision they’re going to regret one way or the other.
For the first time, the NCAA set a deadline of April 10 for players to declare their NBA intentions. The legislation, which was passed last year, was intended to help coaches find replacements for those making an early jump to the NBA. The deadline is the day before the start of the spring signing period.
Coach Cal believes the date is too early and forces a kid into making a decision without proper evaluation. Therefore, he’s advising his players to take their time and abide by the NBA’s early entry deadline of April 29.
“These kids have until the 29th of April to make a decision,” Calipari said after the national championship game. “They’re not going to make one by the (10th). They’re not being pressure by me or anybody else. They will have until the 29th to make that decision on what they want to do.”
But what about the NCAA deadline?
“I’m not worried about the NCAA deadline,” Coach Cal said. “It means nothing to me or those players. They have until the 29th to make their decision. If anybody else wants their players to make that decision by the (10th), that’s fine, but my players will not.”
Davis, who is being talked about as the biggest lock at No. 1 since LeBron James, said in the aftermath of the championship that he hasn’t made a decision yet.
“Coach Cal said we have until April 29 to decide,” Davis said. “I’m going to wait, sit down with my coach, sit down with my family, see what the best decision is for me.”
If all five underclassmen ultimately decide to join Miller and go to the NBA, Calipari said he’s OK with that because they will be reaching their dreams. Two years ago, five Kentucky players were drafted in the first round, an NBA record.
“I said this a couple years ago and everybody got crazy when we had five guys drafted in the first round,” Calipari said. “This is one of the biggest moments, if not the biggest, in Kentucky history. The reason was, I knew now other kids would look and say, ‘You got to go there.’ What I’m hoping is there’s six first-rounders on this team. We were the first program to have five; let’s have six.”
Calipari cautioned reporters against assuming that meant he supported the one-and-done philosophy, once again pointing out that the current NBA rule is not his. The NBA requires that a person must be 19 within the calendar year to be eligible for the draft.
“I hope we change it before this week’s out so all these guys have to come back,” Calipari said. “But it is a rule. It’s not my rule. It’s a rule we have to deal with.”
He’s just playing by the rules better than anyone else. For those who criticize him for allowing his players to turn pro early, imagine if there wasn’t a one-and-done rule and the players had to come back.
“You know what, I sat up there (in the press conference) and I was ready to say, ‘If this was 1985, I would have that team back,’ ” Calipari said. “And I would’ve said, ‘Next year, we’re trying to win them all.’ But you know what? It’s not 25 years ago. It’s now. You have to deal with the reality of the way it is.”
Calipari has issued public proposals (on this very site) to change the current system. He’s met with Billy Hunter, the head of the NBA Players Association, about them.
“You’ve got to negotiate,” Calipari said. “Billy Hunter is basically representing all college players, or at least those 30 that have that opportunity, so you’ve got to negotiate. You can’t do what we do in the NCAA is, which is, ‘You’re going to do what we want and we have no one to answer to, and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it, and forget you.’ Not working this time.
“You’ve got to go to Billy Hunter and say, ‘How do we get this done?’ They’ve got to get the NBA involved and say, ‘Will you be willing to do this?’ Billy will go at them, ‘If you want me to do this, NBA, you’ve got to do this.’ ”
If the NCAA and NBA were to put Coach Cal’s proposals in effect, Calipari believes more kids would stay in school and the NBA would get a more seasoned player that is prepared for the responsibilities and pressure of being a professional.
“It’s good for everybody,” Calipari said.