NBA moves may cause Kentucky basketball to change formula


Justus: Kentucky a place where you get better and play around great players

Kentucky basketball assistant Joel Justus offers a recruiting pitch of sorts, saying that Kentucky isn’t just for the one-and-done type players.

Kentucky basketball assistant Joel Justus offers a recruiting pitch of sorts, saying that Kentucky isn’t just for the one-and-done type players.

Fresh from a highly successful 10 years as Kentucky coach and newly armed with a so-called lifetime contract, John Calipari did not speak of a steady-as-she-goes plan for the future. Instead, he saw new challenges looming and his UK program needing to be ready to adapt.

“We’re on our second tour of duty,” he said this month. “Those 10 years are done. And you can almost see I’m feeling kind of rejuvenated. Here we go. Let’s go on another 10-year run. Let’s see how we can do. Let’s see if we can do better. Let’s see if we can continue to change.”

The big change possible in the next few years is the expectation that players will be again allowed to go directly from high school to the NBA. And, of course, these players have been the foundation of Kentucky basketball under Calipari’s leadership.

Of the brave new world ahead, Calipari said, “How do we stay on top?”

Calipari said he guessed that only five or six players a year will be capable of going from high school directly to NBA contracts. His concern is that other players will see themselves following that path. These players will see high school classwork as unimportant. When the NBA door closes, they will feel abandoned.

“None of us wanted to go to school,” he said. “We wished we didn’t have to go to school. But we went. I went because my parents said you’re going to school because it’s the only way you’re making it.”

He and his sisters were the first family members to get a college education, Calipari said.

Players who fall short of fulfilling their basketball dreams will find it difficult to turn to academics since they invested their futures in athletics, Calipari said. In terms of basketball, a season playing for Kentucky made the NBA more realistic.

“Was Anthony Davis ready to go from high school to the NBA? No,” Calipari said. “No. Was Karl Towns? You saw him early in the year. Maybe John Wall was. Was Eric Bledsoe? Was Brandon Knight? I can go through all of our lottery picks, and tell you 90 percent of them were not ready to go to the NBA (out of high school).”

Penny wise, pound foolish?

But the lure of big money and NBA glamour is strong. Calipari suggested this can be an illusion.

“If they do draft them late in the first round, they’re sticking them in the G League,” he said. “And they’ll have two years to prove themselves. Now, they’ll have a little more money, but at the late first round (level), it’s not much.”

That can be true relatively speaking. According to the NBA’s rookie salary scale, the 30th pick in this year’s draft was guaranteed $5-plus million over the next three years. But Calipari suggested these guaranteed contracts at the end of the first round do not set up players for life.

“Half goes to taxes,” he said. “Let’s say you get two and a half million. Say you get three million. You’re at 1.5 million. How do you think that dude is living for those two years? You think he’s living like he has nothing? He’s going to save everything? Are you out of your mind? They spend it like they’re making 50 million.”

Calipari spoke of a “lost generation” of players who jumped at the money offered to turn pro after high school. Then they will find themselves in the G League.

“Take a risk and say my life ends in two years if I don’t make it,” he said. “Hard to make a jump shot when that is what your case is. Hard to play. How about you’re 17, 18, and you’re on your own in a motel with a (G League) coach who was never a head coach. Was a video guy or whatever he was. Or was maybe a former player who’s learning to coach. And you’re a 17-, 18-year-old, and you’re in Des Moines.”

Cal’s solution

Calipari said he had a solution that is linked to the proposal that USA Basketball decide which high school players are eligible to jump to the NBA. So, Calipari said, let USA Basketball include an academic component in the formula for determining eligibility for being part of future USA Basketball events.

Calipari acknowledged that critics will see him as a coach looking to largely preserve UK’s pool of potential recruits. High school players who choose to bypass a jump to the NBA could still play college basketball and continue to have the option to turn pro after one season or any season.

“That’s me sitting on my soapbox giving you what I believe,” he said. “And I want to be the one that they look back and say, he said this 10 years ago. And no one listened to him. And said he’s only doing this because he wants kids in college. He’s only doing it for himself. He doesn’t care about the kids either.

“Uh, jeez, maybe he did (care). It was about that.”

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Important upcoming dates

Sept. 25: Big Blue Madness campout begins

Sept. 27: Big Blue Madness ticket distribution

Oct. 1: Media Day

Oct. 6: Pro Day

Oct. 11: Big Blue Madness

Oct. 16: SEC Media Day

Oct. 18: Blue-White Scrimmage

Oct. 27: Exhibition opener vs. Georgetown College

Nov. 1: Exhibition vs. Kentucky State

Nov. 5: Season opener vs. Michigan State

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