LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- On the night he won his first NCAA championship this past April in New Orleans, University of Kentucky coach John Calipari was subdued, understated, and almost seemed deflated, or at least worn out.
He enjoyed it, sure, and smiled through the celebration and the confetti dropping. But he was by no means ebullient.
But catch him on an NBA Draft night, and you cannot stop him, nor hope to contain him. He is energized. Two years ago he was so amped up he called it the greatest night in UK history. Last night he was bouncing off the hallway walls, according to reporters who cornered him after Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist made NBA Draft history by becoming the first players from the same college to go 1-2 in the draft.
A little while later, UK made more history by being the first school to have six players taken in the same draft since the NBA Draft went to two rounds in 1989. UNLV was the only program to do it before that.
"Win the national title, win the most games (in UK history), team had a 3.2 GPA, had 10 guys over a 3.0, graduated two guys, Darius (Miller) and Eloy (Vargas), 1-2 pick in the draft and six guys taken -- I think I'm gonna retire," Calipari told Rivals' Brett Dawson, Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal and Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "I'll say this. If the Dominican Republic makes the Olympics, I'm done, find yourself another coach."
He told those reporters that they were going to change the name of the green room to the blue room. He speculated that in three years, 10 percent of the NBA would be UK products. Back in New Orleans in April, he didn't show 10 percent of that mojo.
This is Calipari in his element. He likes the banners. I'm sure he gets a kick out of carting that NCAA trophy everywhere he goes and watching people see it. But this is what he loves. From a professional standpoint, this is what he lives for.
Yes, Calipari is a showman. He's the ringmaster of the Big Blue Circus, and revels in it. He can spin with the best of them. (Get ready. Rick Pitino started the slogan "Louisville First." Any day, I expect Cal to counter with, "Kentucky First … and Second.") But after watching him, you can't convince me that he's never more in his element, never more unvarnished in his reaction, than he is on draft night.
Think about some numbers.
-- Since the NBA instituted its draft lottery in 1985, UK has had 24 players drafted in the first round (including Enes Kanter, who worked out with the team for a season but could not play). Of those 24, 11 came in the past three years under Calipari.
-- The four first-round players drafted last night are slated to sign contracts worth $12,260,400 next season, not counting endorsements.
-- After next season, the 15 UK players Calipari has sent to the NBA will have made just some loose change under $70 million combined in three years. (The U.S. Supreme Court made a bit of news on Thursday. That august nine will pull down a combined $6 million or so in the same time frame. Who needs law school?)
Back to the basketball court, that's a life-changing amount of money. And for Calipari, who preaches "players first," it's the ultimate payoff.
"We seem to be setting standards every time I turn around, and the good news is we're setting standards for young people," Calipari told the group of reporters. "It's not just about the program. It's not about me. I didn't go 1-2 in the draft. But I got to sit there."
But it is about Calipari, too, because he's on a run of sending players to the draft unlike anything the game has seen. He's produced 20 draft picks, and three No. 1 overall picks, in the past five seasons. He's had multiple players taken in five straight drafts. He's had a point guard taken in five straight drafts.
Here's the other side of the coin. Some would tell you that he's recruited guys who were standing on third base, and then gotten credit for them hitting a home run.
Here's what I tell you. Just because a guy is standing on third base doesn't mean he always reaches home plate. It doesn't. Take a look at this year's draft. Jared Sullinger was a sure-fire top-5 guy. Where'd he get drafted? (And, let's be fair, Terrence Jones also backed up under Calipari's watch. But let's also be fair. Eric Bledsoe and DaMarcus Cousins moved forward big-time, as did Josh Harrellson and Darius Miller.)
By and large, Calipari has done by his players what he tells them he's going to do when he's recruiting them. And what he tells them is not insignificant.
"It's funny what I tell these guys in the homes is that, 'You're going to be in that green room, you're going to hug your mom, going to hug your dad, then you're going to hug me. Then I'll spin you around so the camera can see you,'" Calipari said.
They come to him to play in the NBA, and that's exactly where they wind up -- every player who has started for him at UK and declared for the draft wound up in the draft.
They don't hang banners for draft picks. But this is where Calipari hangs his hat.
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