Kentucky did not win the National Championship, as expected by many, and that failure is magnified by yesterday’s never-before-seen press conference where seven—seven—underclass teammates declared for the NBA Draft.
There are NBA teams without seven NBA players on their roster. See: Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks, for starters.
But with all that next-level talent, Wisconsin conquered Kentucky in the Final Four, a feat that inspires a question: Is all that talent on one team really necessary?
Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, Dakari Johnson, Karl Anthony Town and Devin Booker—all gone to seek an NBA career.
There is no guarantee all seven will get drafted, much less make an NBA roster. But they clearly represented the most talented program in the country.
In the NBA, at least two superstar players are required to win a championship. Guess what? It’s the same in college. Kentucky with its band of seven NBA prospects proved it.
“I think this is all of our dreams,” sophomore guard Aaron Harrison said. “We just want to chase our dreams, really.”
Their college dream of winning it all—and going undefeated in the process—imploded almost a week ago to a team in Wisconsin with maybe two NBA players. Coach John Calipari got out-coached—by himself. Actually, he out-recruited himself.
Year-after-year, Calipari and UK sign a handful of the country’s top-rated players at various positions, the philosophy to stock pile talent and work it out once they get there.
It seems an unfair advantage to some, but the reality is there is so much talent and so much strong coaching that a team of five-star recruits can be beaten with masterful team play. The problem with having so much talent is that the coach feels compelled to use it all, which sometimes does not allow a player to establish a rhythm to take over a game. That element is needed on a team, especially in the Final Four.
What’s needed to win it all is a team of role players: three who can be explosive and carry a team, two who are capable of erupting for a big night and a handful who understand their role is to defend, rebound, pass, play hard, set screens, dive for loose balls, practice hard, lead, cheer and score when the opportunity is there. A team of eight players with realistic NBA aspirations leaves room for disenchantment at lack of extended playing time, pressure on the coach to play everyone near-equal minutes. . . stuff that inhibits flow and heightens pressure.
In Kentucky’s loss to Wisconsin, the Badgers should first get credit for their strong and forceful play and execution. On the other side, Calipari was shuffling players in and out, searching for a combination, even late in the game. Pat Riley, the former great NBA coach who played at Kentucky, said when he led the New York Knicks: “You play eight, believe in seven and trust six.”
Hard to do when eight are primed for the NBA and another one or two deserve to play, too.
Calipari seems to believe in the best talent wins mindset. He did not seem bothered that most of his team bolted. Why? Because he already has another No. 1-ranked recruiting class lined up to come to Lexington.
It includes five-star center Skal Labissiere (No. 3 overall) and point guard Isaiah Briscoe (No. 13 overall), along with four-star wing Charles Matthews. Briscoe is the top point guard in the 2015 class, Labissiere is considered by those who follow closely high-school basketball a talent of immense upside.
And there are a bunch of top players who have not committed that are considering Kentucky, according to reports. So, now that seven have cleared out, they know there is room for them to come in. And you can bet they will think long and hard about UK when you consider these numbers: Since Calipari’s arrival before the 2009-10 season, the Kentucky program has produced at least two first-round selections in each of the past five years. In the 2010 draft, five of the 30 first-round picks were Kentucky players. In the 2012 draft, four Wildcats were selected in the first round, including the No. 1 and No. 2 picks over all, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. John Wall went No. 1 when he came out.
So, when looking for reasons why kids flock to Kentucky, stop right there. It’s not necessarily for the Wildcat tradition, playing in always-packed Rupp Arena, a chance for a National Championship. It’s the prospect of the NBA. That’s the dream, with a stop over in Kentucky just a nap.