Calipari and the new NBA nexus
Posted on: August 9, 2011 9:11 pm
By Matt Moore
Let's get right to the point. In the list of people who influence the NBA, John Calipari isn't at the top. But the empire he's built and transferred to Kentucky to expand may be the center of the NBA universe outside of New York and Miami. And if you want proof, you only need to look at what's going on in Lexington this summer.
We start with the expected, another stellar team from Calipari. But this one, it's a little bit more than even the normal outstanding classes of prospects Calipari produces each year. In addition to Terrence Jones, who would have been a first-rounder this year had he elected to jump, the 2011-2012 Kentucky Wildcats feature three players CBSSports.com placed in the top ten of a 2012 mock draft, and four in the first round. Anthony Davis is considered by many to be the number one overall pick next year, Michael Gilchrist is talked about as being potentially just as good. Marquis Teague is plotted as a mid-first rounder (which means he could very easily wind up in the lottery). Only Doron Lamb, who Calipari has called the best player on this year's Kentucky team, isn't expected to go in the first round.
It won't happen, but we should note that it's possible that the entire starting five of UK this fall could go in the first round, and that four of the five could go in the lottery. That's absurd. For a coach known to pull in talent, the addition of Jones for his sophomore year has made this year's squad of prospects out of this world. Essentially, every Kentucky game needs to be a must-watch for NBA draftniks.
But that's not all. As the lockout drags on, some familiar faces are showing up in and around Lexington. Calipari offered early on to let locked out former members of the Wildcats use the facilities. In addition, several former Wildcats have decided to finish their degrees at UK should the lockout cost the whole year. Now, no one thinks this is about the family approach or goodwill and interest in supporting former members that Cal and the Blue Nation would say it is. And that's right in line with Calipari's approach. He's brazenly manipulative of NBA ties while all the while putting the most friendly of faces forward. It's made him the scourge of many college basketball pundits, while NBA guys? We tend to nod appreciatively. Calipari filters good talent into national television appearances, raises their draft profile, and then sends them on their merry way to where they belong: the NBA, making money to play the game they're at the elite level of already. The transparent slime may put some off, but the fact remains: Calipari has become a first-round gold mine.
Tyreke Evans, ROY. John Wall would have been ROY if Blake Griffin hadn't entered the fray as an actual sophomore. DeMarcus Cousins could have been a candidate if he'd kept his head on his shoulders. And all of that is before you factor the MVP Derrick Rose and his time with Calipari in Memphis. And with all those players hanging around campus, word will continue to get around to future prospects. It's not just cool to go to Kentucky. It's part of the NBA factory.
LeBron James is a "close personal friend" of Calipari. And while the rest of the universe may hate James, kids are still flocking to him as an idol, evidenced by both Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson's realtionship with him. Jay-Z? Visiting the locker room. The link here in all of this is, of course, Worldwide Wes, William Wesley, who is also, surprise! Calipari's agent representative with CAA. It's a whole little machine that makes collegiate moralists squirm, even as Calipari has done more to produce revenue for young players than any coach in the country. If it's all about him, so what? The effect is the same.
UCLA hosts the most famous and well known private pickup games. But with Cousins, Bledsoe, and Wall on campus along with Rondo and whoever else conceivably shows up, Lexington is going to be a virtual nexus of NBA workouts. It'll make the machine stronger, even as a class that some consider to have a higher total ranking than the Fab Five makes its way to play in the SEC.
Calipari is coaching the Dominican national team against a collection of former Wildcats. Cal has used every edge in keeping the factory rolling. William Wesley's close associate, LeBron James, and his brand will be sponsoring gear for UK this year. All-Stars are hanging out on campus and could be hired as special assistant coaches.
The reality is that with New York a tar pit where both the players and owners are stuck drowning in their own stubbornness, and Miami evacuated as the Triad go about their globe trotting ways, there's a new center of the NBA universe. Maybe Calipari isn't emperor of this kingdom, and he's just the friendly father figure he makes himself out to be. It doesn't change the fact that the future of the NBA flows through Lexington, and it's Calipari tending the waters.