Calipari would love Kentucky trio back

BY foxsports • April 20, 2011

It’s a load of crap, the premise that John Calipari wants his guys to go to the league after just one season.

No one wants to have to start over year after year.

Not even Calipari.

Sure, Kentucky’s head coach has plenty of talent coming in this fall, but trust me — he’d love to have back a couple of these guys who decided to declare for the NBA Draft on Wednesday.

He’d love to have talent and experience in Lexington.

Calipari played the martyr last year, the nurturing father who wanted his children to do the right thing, when he told John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson to go to the NBA.

Let’s face it, there was no sense in persuading Wall or Cousins to come back. No matter how much they enjoyed Lexington (which they truly did), it would have been foolish since everyone knew Wall was the No. 1 pick and Cousins would go somewhere near the front end of the lottery.

Sure, the enigmatic and immature big man could have used another year in college from a maturity standpoint, but Calipari knew that was a difficult battle to win — and one that wasn’t worth fighting.

Calipari was fortunate just to get a year out of Patrick Patterson. In fact, it was almost a verbal agreement when he took the job, so Calipari bid adieu to the big fella — who was considered a near-lock to go somewhere in the lottery.

Then there was Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton. Let’s start with Orton: Numerous sources told that Calipari didn’t want Orton back in the fold. His talent wasn’t worth the baggage. Bledsoe was a different case, a kid whose background suggested the lure of first-round money would be too much to pass up and also one who needed to play point guard in order to develop.

That wasn’t going to happen with Brandon Knight being promised the ball in his hands this year.

Now Calipari and Big Blue Nation will wait until May 8 — the deadline for those who declared for the NBA Draft — to learn the fates of Knight, fellow frosh Terrence Jones and junior wing DeAndre Liggins.

All three announced they have declared for the June 23 NBA Draft, but none has committed to hiring an agent.

Knight and Jones are considered by nearly every NBA executive as lottery picks. Liggins, who could stick in the NBA because of his ability to defend, is a likely second-rounder.

But this scenario is far different.

There’s that looming threat of an NBA lockout.

And if anyone can take advantage of it, it’s Calipari.

If these three guys all return to Lexington, it’ll be Kentucky and not North Carolina that goes into next season as the No. 1 team in America.

Just imagine a starting lineup that looks like this: Knight and stud freshman Marquis Teague in the backcourt with, let’s say, Liggins, Jones and the top-rated frosh in the country, Anthony Davis, in the middle.

That leaves senior wing Darius Miller, sophomore guard Doron Lamb and a pair of highly touted freshmen — Michael Gilchrist and Kyle Wiltjer — coming off the bench. Trust me, Gilchrist wouldn’t be coming off the bench for long.

This team could be loaded.

Undefeated loaded.

You’d be talking about a group with at least five first-round picks and the rest who will be making money playing, whether it’s in the NBA or overseas.

Knight is the one with the most to lose. He’ll likely be the second point guard taken, behind Kyrie Irving, and he won’t have the ball in his hands nearly as much with the arrival of Teague — a pure point guard.

It’s unlikely that he returns, especially knowing full well that Teague will be running the show for a significant portion of the game.

Jones is a more difficult decision. He’s up-and-down, sometimes with the look and feel of a superstar and other times dazed and confused as a boxer struggling to regain his legs.

But the NBA drafts on potential, and Jones isn’t lacking in that department.

Jones will almost certainly be taken in the top 10 — according to just about every NBA type I’ve spoken to — and there’s no guarantee his stock won’t drop next season with the return of guys like Harrison Barnes, Perry Jones III and Jared Sullinger, plus the arrival of a freshman class that’s led by Davis and Duke-bound guard Austin Rivers.

Liggins’ decision to leave now makes as much sense — if not more so — as either of his teammates. It’s not as if he’ll have an opportunity to expand his offensive role next year, and this draft may be the weakest in decades.

Calipari has made no secret of his desire to put kids into the NBA.

But for this group, he’s hopeful it’s just not quite yet.

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