Kentucky Stars Declare for NBA Draft

By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer

April 8, 2010

LEXINGTON,

Ky. (AP) — John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins delivered on their promise

to help coach John Calipari return Kentucky to national prominence.

Next stop, the NBA.

The

freshman All-Americans are among five Kentucky players who declared for

the NBA draft on Wednesday, an exodus that includes freshman guard Eric

Bledsoe, freshman center Daniel Orton and junior forward Patrick

Patterson.

Wall and Cousins are expected to be among the first

few players selected after leading the Wildcats to a remarkable

turnaround season in Calipari’s first year on the job.

Kentucky

went 35-3 this season — Calipari’s first as Wildcats coach — winning

the Southeastern Conference regular season and conference tournament

titles before falling to West Virginia in the regional finals of the

NCAA Tournament.

Calipari met with each player individually and encouraged them to gauge their draft prospects.

“It’s

extremely unusual for four freshmen from the same team to have this

opportunity, but it’s my job as a coach to prepare these young men for

such opportunities,” Calipari said.

Players have until May 8 to

change their minds, as long as they don’t hire agents. It’s highly

unlikely any of the five players will come back for another season with

the Wildcats.

Certainly not Wall, who was the SEC player of the

year after averaging 16.6 points, 6.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds while

becoming a highlight-reel staple for his breathtaking play in the open

floor.

“I’m not the same player as when I arrived at UK,” Wall

said in a statement. “I believe I’m ready for the next challenge as

Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans were the last two years under Coach Cal.”

Calipari

said early in the season that Wall was more evolved as a freshman than

either Rose and Evans — both of whom starred as point guards for

Calipari at Memphis before heading to the NBA.

Wall is a good bet to be the first pick in the draft, the way Rose in 2008.

The

6-foot-4 Wall then spent the next five months largely living up to the

hype. He hit a jumper at the buzzer to lift Kentucky to victory over

Miami (Ohio) in his first regular season game but did his best to share

the spotlight. His 241 assists set a Kentucky single-season record.

Many

of those assists came courtesy of baskets by Cousins, the SEC freshman

of the year who will likely join Wall as one of the first players

drafted. The 6-11, 270-pound center averaged 15.1 points and 9.8

rebounds, numbers that could have been significantly higher if he

hadn’t struggled with foul trouble and his temper early in the season

that severely limited his playing time.

When he was on the

floor, Cousins was often the team’s most dominant player and once he

learned to control his emotions, he became borderline unstoppable.

“Coach

challenged me to grow on and off the court this season,” Cousins said.

“I believe my game expanded along with my maturity. This year was the

most fun I’ve ever had playing basketball.”

It certainly looked

like it while the player nicknamed “Boogie” helped Kentucky return to

its place among the national elite. The Wildcats won their first 20

games and briefly rose to No. 1 in the polls.

It’s a rise that

seemed hard for Patterson to fathom during his first two years with the

team as the program slumped under former coach Billy Gillispie.

Patterson

could have gone to the NBA last spring but opted to stick around to

expand his game in Calipari’s “dribble-drive” offense while also

finishing his degree. He averaged a career-low 14.3 points but became a

better shooter and fit in with his less-experienced teammates.

If

the departure of Wall, Patterson and Cousins was expected, Bledsoe’s

and Orton’s decision to join their teammates in the draft came as a bit

of a surprise.

Bledsoe averaged 11.3 points and proved to be

just as fast as Wall in the open floor and an even better long-range

shooter. Bledsoe’s 49 3-pointers were second on the team and he made

eight 3-pointers in a romp over East Tennessee State in the opening

round of the NCAAs.

“I never thought I’d be in this position

after one year,” Bledsoe said. “Coach Cal pushed us all to be the best

we could be and he believes I’m prepared to take my game to the next

level.”

Orton, thought to be a project when he came in, instead

became the team’s best defender while filling in for Cousins. He

averaged a modest 3.4 points and 3.3 rebounds per but also finished

among the leaders in the SEC in blocks (53). Orton said going against

Patterson and Cousins in practice each day helped him believe he could

make it in the NBA.

If they all leave, it leaves Calipari with a

rebuilding project on par with the one he inherited a year ago. The

departure of Wall and company combined with the graduation of Ramon

Harris, Perry Stevenson and Mark Krebs leaves Kentucky with just five

players returning next year, only three of whom — guards DeAndre

Liggins and Darnell Dodson and forward Darius Miller — played

significant minutes this season.

Calipari will try to replace

them with another highly ranked recruiting class, though one that will

find it difficult to duplicate the magic Wall and company brought to

Rupp Arena.

The Wildcats already have commitments from center

Enes Kanter and Stacey Poole and are considered to be in the mix for a

handful of elite recruits, including guard Brandon Knight.