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.