Losing Four Freshman, John Calipari Takes on NBA Eligibility Rules

April 12, 2010 – 6:00 am by Paul Bessire

Starting three freshman – John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe – one sophomore – Darius Miller – and one junior – Patrick Patterson – Kentucky won 35 games in its first season under John Calipari. The team featured mostly underclassmen, with no senior averaging more than 11 minutes a game. Clearly, UK will be the favorites next year, right? Well, maybe.

The Wildcats may win 35 games again next year, but Miller will be the only one of those starters to enjoy that. Wall, Cousins, Bledsoe, Patterson and 6’10″ contributor Daniel Orton declared for the NBA Draft. Collectively, those five players accounted for 78% of the team’s points and assists and 68% of its rebounds.

The exodus and NBA rule allowing players to declare for the NBA Draft after a year away from high school has created a phenomenon among incoming recruits where many of the best high school players are remaining undecided until after the underclassmen college players have declared their intentions.

So Calipari, who has chosen to go this route, is back out on the recruiting trail trying to reload among the remaining McDonald’s All-Americans. He’ll probably get another championship worthy team and lose most of it again next season. For a tradition-rich program like Kentucky, where wins and the name on the front of the jersey means far more than the name on the back, that’s probably OK. But, is it good for either game?

John Calipari joined Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio to discuss this season’s team, the NBA eligibility rules, and Duke’s intentionally missed free throws.

On coaching his young Kentucky team this year:

“I had a ball coaching them. Now I am going to be honest with you, at times it was like coaching eighth graders because we were so young. They were a ball to coach. We won 35 games. We took everyone’s best shot. We did not play in beforean empty seat in any arena that we played in. We were the Super Bowl for every team we played. We hit that one game to go 0-20 from the three point line. Coach Thompson came up to me at the Final Four and said, ‘My best team did not win the national title.’ That happens in this one-and-done. But it’s kind of like being a father, you’re teaching, you’re working and you are sad to see them go, but you are proud of them.

On the players he is losing to the NBA Draft:

“We just lost four freshman. And you talk about Eric Bledsoe wasn’t thought of to be a one and done or Daniel Orton who didn’t even play his senior year in high school because of a knee injury. DeMarcus Cousins, more emotionally than as a player, came around. John Wall was always thought of, but he changed his game and now becomes that guy everybody covets. Patrick Patterson changed his position and goes from a center to a wing and all of the sudden, he’s now a lottery pick. I’m proud of them. But I wish they were staying for two more years!”

On the NBA eligibility rules:

“Oh my god. Let me tell you this, I don’t agree with the rule now. I think that one, kids should be able to go directly to the league if that’s what they choose to do and if they go to college, they should stay two years or maybe three. The way it is right now, it’s really hard. You think about my team next year. I’m going to coach all freshman again next year. The team I have that will be next year. I will have four returning players, two have experience, two have not much experience. That’s the way it is. It’s hard.”

And on Duke missing a free-throw intentionally at the end of the national championship:

“What you are saying is, the best they’re going to do is a heave. And if you lose that way, fate was working against you. I agree with what he did. But if that shot would have gone in, it would have been the wrong move… When you are coaching, whatever you do, if it works, it was right and if it doesn’t work, you were wrong.”

Listen to John Calipari on Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio (22:30 into Podcast).

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