All videos were shot and produced by Adam Warner
Title in hands, the bulk of the 2011-12 national championship team is headed to the pros.
Accomplishing what they set out to do when they signed with Kentucky, underclassmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb are headed to the NBA with missions accomplished and sky-high NBA stocks. The five upperclassmen announced their decisions Tuesday at a joint news conference attended by national media outlets and live streamed on ESPN’s family of networks.
With five guys seated around him — three to his right, two to his left — John Calipari tried to pull a fast one. He said Davis, Lamb and Jones had declared for the draft before pausing and waiting to announce the other two.
“I was trying to scare some coaches out there,” Calipari said. “That’s all I was doing.”
For a second, at least, some of Big Blue Nation rejoiced at the thought of two star players coming back, but Coach Cal quickly reassured everyone that all five guys would be going pro.
“I want to first talk about that this is a players-first program,” Calipari said. “I said it three years ago. During the season, it is about our team. You saw it in this year’s team. They were about each other. It is about how we play together, how we share. When the season is over, it is about moments like this. It is about these young people getting with their families and getting information to make a decision about their future.”
The players had until the NBA-mandated April 29 deadline to make a decision, but as they had done all year, they decided to make the announcement together, as a team. The idea was introduced to a surprised Coach Cal from the players, and he was on board. Calipari said it was another example of this year’s team’s servant leadership to each player.
“It just shows how together we are,” Davis said. “We went through it together. We all came to Coach Cal and said, ‘We all want to do this together. We’re a team and this shows people how we did this together this year to win a national title. We should do this together.’ He thought it was a great idea.”
Davis, who is being called the biggest lock atop the NBA Draft since LeBron James, said the decision to turn pro wasn’t a sure thing. He said he didn’t make a definitive choice until he was with his family Monday night in Oklahoma City, where he we picking up the Wayman Tisdale Award.
“A lot of people said it should have been an easy decision but … I’m just going to miss this place,” Davis said. “The fans, the school, just seeing what we did this year to win a national title, it would always be good to win another one. Just playing in college, the next level is a different scenery. It’s guys’ livelihood. It’s like a job. Here you’re out there just having fun. We’re going to have fun at the next level, but they’re going to expect you to win. Here they expect you to win, but we’re still just kids trying to have fun.”
Now they’ll become professionals, working out and getting ready for the NBA Draft on June 28.
Calipari is hoping all five underclassmen, plus senior Darius Miller, go in the first round of the NBA Draft. Two years ago, UK set an NBA record when five players were drafted in the first round.
Until then, Calipari said the the players will finish up their semester and have the opportunity to finish up their degrees. Every one of them said they would take summer classes and try to finish up their degrees during their NBA careers.
The departure of the five underclassmen, in addition to Miller and Eloy Vargas, means UK will lose 92.9 percent of its minutes from this season, 93.3 percent of its points, 87.3 percent of rebounds, 95.1 percent of the blocked shots, 96.2 of the assists and 96.7 of the steals. But if anyone can reload a championship contender, it’s Coach Cal.
The Cats lost 86.6 percent of their points after the 2010 run only to make the Final Four in 2011. After last season, Calipari had to replace 45.8 percent of his team’s points production. He has once again hauled in one of the top recruiting classes for next year with a couple of recruits still to make decisions.
“I don’t want to get emotional but anybody who tells you in one or two years you cannot create a relationship or you’re not going to have a bond, they’re crazy,” Calipari said. “These players are connected to our fans, just like past players. They’re connected to this university and they’ll come back.”
2011-12 stats: 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.7 blocks
Career stats: Same
Additional notes: Won six of seven major national player of the year awards; set UK single-season, NCAA freshman single-season and Southeastern Conference single-season blocked shots record; consensus first-team All-American; SEC Player of the Year (coaches and Associated Press); ranked third in country in field-goal percentage; tied UK freshman record for double-doubles with 20; 2012 All-SEC first team, All-Defensive Team and All-Freshman Team.
Why Davis chose to go: “I’m up for the challenge. I want to go in there, play hard, have fun and do the same thing I did here. Just work hard and whatever the team wants me to do and the coach wants me to do, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have veterans on the team. I’m going to listen to them, get some advice from them and see how I’m going to be successful how they were.”
Cal’s advice: “He didn’t say anything to me,” Davis said. “I told him I just wanted to sit down and have a talk with my family. That’s all it was. He didn’t wrestle me, but he kind of said like, ‘Alright, don’t kid yourself.’ But you know if I wanted to come back he would have been totally fine with it.”
Coach Cal says: “You are talking about a man that had no idea how good he was. We didn’t either. We knew he had a chance, but he didn’t realize, and either did we. You are talking about a man who would also defer, was a great servant leader, was a young man that said ‘Whatever I have to do to make the team better.’ Here is the player of the year that took the fifth-most shots on our team. Blocked shots, rebounds — he did whatever we needed to win and always had a smile on his face. None of these guys got rattled at any point and every team we played took runs at us.”
Chad Ford says: ”Big man Anthony Davis is a lock as the No. 1 pick in the draft. The college basketball player of the year is the rare prospect who has virtually everything you want in a player. He’s got elite size, length and athleticism. He produced at a high level on the court (he led all NCAA players in PER this season) and still has tremendous upside going forward. He’s a great kid and a hard worker. Yes, he needs to get stronger and he’ll need to continue to improve his offensive game, but at this point he’s considered a can’t-miss prospect by every NBA scout and executive I’ve spoken to.”
Draft Express: 1
2011-12 stats: 11.9 points, 7.4 rebounds
Career stats: Same
Additional notes: All-America selection by multiple media outlets; NCAA Tournament South Regional Most Outstanding Player; second on the team with seven double-doubles, including three against top-20 teams; 2012 All-SEC first team, All-Defensive Team and All-Freshman Team.
Why Kidd-Gilchrist chose to go: “I’m very young still, but this is my dream, my dream come true.”
What Kidd-Gilchrist will miss the most: “There’s going to be a lot of stuff, from y’all guys. I’ll miss seeing y’all faces. I think the brotherhood. I think the brotherhood in general. … I got friends for eternity here, I think, just everybody here. That’s why it’s so hard.”
Coach Cal says: “Fourth-leading shot taker on our team. The fourth-leading shot taker. Defends, high motor, plays multiple positions, can guard all five positions. The things that he does as a teammate, dragged practices, even in games would take over games with an emotion of how he played. Skill level has absolutely improved from the beginning to the end.”
Chad Ford says: ”He doesn’t have Davis’ size or athletic ability (though he’s a great athlete in his own right), but he brings all the intangibles of a winner. He has the highest motor of any player in the draft, can lock down players at three different positions, is one of the most efficient finishers in college basketball and is a leader on and off the court.”
Draft Express: 3
2011-12 stats: 12.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks
Career stats: 14.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.8 blocks
Additional notes: 59th member of UK’s illustrious 1,000-point club, finishing his career ranked 52nd on the Wildcats’ all-time scoring list; only the 34th player in program history to tally 1,000 points and 5,000 rebounds; only five prior UK players recorded 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 140 blocks; 2011 SEC Freshman of the Year; 2011 All-SEC first team; 2012 All-SEC second team.
Why Jones chose to go: “Just because of how much love I have for the school and the staff here and just how much of a great opportunity it is to play at Kentucky, but I felt I was ready to make that next move, and hopefully it will be the best one.”
Jones on his relationship with Cal: “Me and Cal, I don’t feel we ever bumped heads. He just told me how he felt about everything and I always accepted it and took it in however he told me. I knew that he knew a lot more about the game than me. I respected that and listed to however he told me something, just listening to what he was saying, not how he said it. I just think he helped me become the player I am today.”
Coach Cal says: “Terrence Jones, again, made a good decision to come back. It was his decision just like Doron (Lamb’s). Had an opportunity to leave, decided to come back. He has taken his game to another level. You are talking about a 6-9 athlete that can play and guard three positions and put his head on the rim. I think the things he has done this year to take his game to another level, phenomenal.”
Chad Ford says: “Jones is one of the most well-rounded prospects in the draft, has all of the physical tools to succeed, and when he’s on, he looks like a potential All-Star. For Jones, the question marks are consistency and maturity. He can disappear for long stretches. Calipari has sometimes struggled to get him to play hard all of the time. Teams don’t always like his body language on the court. All of those issues seem to have lessened over the course of the past month. If teams are convinced those issues are over, he could go even higher than we currently have him ranked.”
Draft Express: 11
2011-12 stats: 10.0 points, 4.8 assists
Career stats: Same
Additional notes: Ranked second in the SEC in assists per game; finished with the fifth-most assists (191) in UK history; his 2.0 assists-to-turnover ratio in conference play was the best by a UK point guard under Coach Cal at UK.
Why Teague chose to go: “We felt like when we won it all, we set out to do everything that we wanted to do. We felt like that was our main accomplishment and we all felt like we all played pretty good this year. Winning a championship just boosted it for us. Everybody was like, ‘OK, we ready. We feel like we can go to the next level.’ ”
Teague’s advice from his older brother (NBA guard Jeff Teague): “I talked to him a lot. He just told me whatever I feel comfortable with, make the decision that’s best for me. I felt like I played good enough. I won a championship as a point guard for the top team in the country. We did a great job this year. If you feel like you’re ready, go ahead.”
Coach Cal says: “Early in the year, (he) was shaky. By the end of the year — and I have never watched the last game of our season in all of my 20 years of coaching; until this year, I have already watched this one — let me tell you something, we won those last two games in a large part because of how Marquis Teague played. Assist-to-turnover ratios … in the pick-and-roll defense and offensively, the courage to make shots and not be afraid, the athleticism and speed. I say he’s got Tong Parker speed.”
Chad Ford says: “He has lottery-type talent. He’s super quick and can get to the basket whenever he needs to. His decision-making skills improved all season, but they are still not NBA-caliber. And his jump shot is still very much a work in progress as well. Based on what he produced this season, he’s a bubble first-rounder. However, given the upside, I think he’s probably a lock to go somewhere in the late teens to late 20s.”
Draft Express: 18
2011-12 stats: 13.7 points, 76 3-pointers, 46.6 3-point percent
Career stats: 13.1 points, 144 3-pointers, 47.5 3-point percent
Additional notes: Became the 60th member of the UK’s prestigious 1,000-point club, finishing his career 57th; concluded his career as the top 3-point shooter in school history, hitting 47.5 percent of his 3-pointers; named to the 2012 Final Four All-Tournament Team after scoring a game-high 22 points in the national championship game; 2012 All-SEC second team.
Why Lamb chose to go: “I think this all goes to my mom. My mom always makes choices for me. Every time she makes a choice for me, it always comes out good. She wanted me to go to Oak Hill and that came out good. She wanted me to come here and it turned out good. I had a great two years here. She’s the one that told me to come back (last year) and she’s the one that told me to leave (this year). She thought it was the best for my family and myself. She just thought I’m ready for the next level. I had a great time here. It went to the Final Four and won the national championship, so she knows there’s nothing better than that. She told me I’ve got to finish school though.”
Lamb loves the fans: “When I first committed, people told me the fans were crazy, but I didn’t know they’d be like that though. I think my third game in my college career was in Maui. The fans were going crazy. After that tournament I knew it was going to be unbelievable the whole season. I love the BBN.”
Coach Cal says: “I’ll say it again, with his motor running like it was in the championship game, there is no better guard in the country. He can play both positions. Made a great choice to come back to school. Had an opportunity to leave last year, decided to come back, worked on his game, got stronger, got more confident and I’ll say it again, defending better and doing all the things he needed to do to help himself at that next level.”
Chad Ford says: “Doron Lamb isn’t the all-around talent that the other four are. However, he’s one of the two or three best shooters in the draft. Later in the first round, teams often opt for specialists over upside and Lamb could prove valuable to a few veteran teams that really need a jump shooter.”
Draft Express: 33 (second round)
MyNBADraft.com: 31 (second round)
2011-12 Official Kentucky Basketball Season in Review