Wow, what a night in Newark.
Big Blue Nation, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I was nervous and anxious Thursday night as I got to the arena for the NBA Draft. I wasn’t worried about where our players were going or if they were going to get drafted, but I couldn’t help but be excited for our guys.
When we talk about a players-first program, we’re talking about nights like last night. Everything we do is to help these young men realize and reach their dreams.
Not only did we do that last night, we changed the lives of the families of those six young men. Those families will never be the same after Thursday. Yeah, we’re trying to hang banners and compete for championships every year, but in a players-first program, it’s about helping those young men pursue their dreams and helping them create new lives for their mothers, their fathers, their brothers and their sisters.
When I saw the looks on the faces of Anthony’s and Michael’s parents, I knew we did that.
After Thursday night, every full-time starter and every sixth man we’ve had at Kentucky has gone on to the NBA. Think about that. But as proud as I am of three No. 1 picks in the last five years, I’m just as proud of players like Darius Miller, Josh Harrellson, DeAndre Liggins or even Eric Bledsoe who developed into outstanding prospects. We are talking about 15 players – 15 families – who have come to the University of Kentucky and left in better shape.
Not all of them leave after one year. Some of them leave after two, some after three, and we’ve had others that leave after four. The bottom line is it’s a players-first program and they leave on their terms.
Why can’t you get an education, win a championship and go to the NBA on your own terms? Why can’t it be done? We’re proving it can.
Yes, we’re doing it on the court and in the green room, but we’re also doing it in the classroom. We had 10 players this last semester with a 3.0 average or better. Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas graduated, joining Ramon Harris, Perry Stevenson, Mark Krebs and Josh Harrellson as four-year graduates. Patrick Patterson got his degree in three years.
We’re setting standards for young people. It’s not just about the program. It’s not about me. It’s about those young men. I didn’t go 1-2 in the draft.
What I don’t understand is, why is it exciting when other programs have underclassmen leave early and make it in the NBA, but when we do it it’s the end of college athletics as we know it? This isn’t about being a minor-league system for the NBA. It’s about being dream makers. It’s about changing cycles in families’ lives. It’s about preparing these young people for life after basketball.
A couple years ago I said it was the biggest day in Kentucky basketball history when we had five players selected in the first round for the first time in NBA history. Some of you didn’t like that, but look what it did for us. We won the national championship this year because we’ve made this program about those kids. We continued that Thursday night by putting another six guys in the league, the first time six players have been picked in the same draft in the two-round format.
When I took this job, I said I wanted this program to be the gold standard, but I also said I wanted every kid to grow up dreaming of playing for Kentucky. We may not be there yet, but we’re darn close after Thursday. Thursday night was another step in that direction.