CRAWFORD | Calipari wants UK platoon plan to produce eight draft - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Calipari wants UK platoon plan to produce eight draft picks in one season

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- University of Kentucky coach John Calipari isn't talking about 40-0, or landing the plane, or tweaking anything. This year's vocabulary words, class, include "platoon" and "watershed season."

What do they mean?

An NCAA championship, he believes, would be a by-product, if what he does is successful. But he's not thinking about a ninth NCAA championship for UK.

He's thinking about producing eight NBA Draft picks. That's the goal this season. And a groundbreaking goal it would be. Eight draft picks from a single team in a single season? It's never happened. But it could.

Making it happen, however, will be tricky. Calipari believes he has cleared the first obstacle in that -- the buy in.

"I came into the locker room the other day and told them, I'm on a mission, what do you think that mission is," Calipari said in a sit-down with WDRB on Tuesday. "Now the Big Blue Nation would say, he's on a mission for the ninth national title. But the players who play for me know that's not how I think. So Alex (Poythress) who played for me chimed in and said, 'You're on a mission to develop us.' I said, 'You're right. But more than that, I'm on a mission to get eight of you drafted. I want eight guys in this room drafted.'"

To do that, Calipari experimented in the Bahamas with a platoon system -- two separate units of five players each, playing in shifts.

It worked. The second group complemented the first. It kept fresh players on the court. It was fun. The players seemed to enjoy it.

A fun thing, everybody said. But Calipari would never keep that up for a whole season, would he? Could he?

He's going to try. And here's why this platoon deal could be another winning idea for Calipari: The elite college players he wants have one guiding desire -- to get to the NBA. (That's not a knock, it's reality. They want to be pros as quickly as possible, without complications or road blocks.)

Now imagine you're Calipari in his current situation and you can sell this to a recruit: You can come to college and play with nine other like-minded NBA-bound players. You can compete for an NCAA championship with all of the exposure and perks that goes along with that. And you can do it without wearing yourself down. You'll have to give full effort, but not for 36 minutes a game. I'll put you in position to look good, to succeed, and you are, by virtue of playing less, minimizing your risk of injury.

I'm sure Cal could say it better, but you get the picture.

That's why Calipari calls it "watershed." It is a different way of looking at a college basketball team, with an entirely different stated goal.

"They eat first," Calipari said. That's another phrase you better get used to. It's players first, but with imaginary food, or whatever it is they're going to eat.

What began as just an exercise to see all of his players for equal periods of playing time has evolved into a major component of what Calipari is trying to build. He puts on a combine. What college coach does that? One who is trying to get eight guys drafted -- and trying to have recruits see him trying to get eight guys drafted.

"Why would you do a combine? I want eight guys to eat," Calipari said. "Well, we're going to have 12 guys going to get looked at, and all of them are going to get evaluated.  Why'd we do the Bahamas? So they would buy into the two platoon. Well why'd you bring in really good teams? Because they never would've bought in, they would've said you can do this against bad teams, but if we ever played anybody -- well we played pro teams and did it. They eat first in this, and they're looking at this now saying we can share because Cal has our back."

Can it work? Why not? The main thing it will try is Calipari's patience -- and perhaps his willingness to drop a game or two, a possibility he broached with the Big Blue Nation (Louisville chapter) when he spoke at the program's Tipoff Luncheon in Louisville this week.

"We have a chance of being really good but we're doing it a different way," Calipari said. "What we do early may be at the expense of winning some games, making sure we're figuring this out. If that happens, I'm telling you, I'll be fine with it. You will not. Some of you will jump off the bandwagon again early. And if you do, if you're the neighbor, call and say, 'You did this last year you know.' And tell them, 'He let you back in last year. He may not let you back in this year.'" 

Sprinkled amid all this is the Cal-vs.-The World scenario that the coach likes to depict. In this case, I haven't seen it. I don't hear many people saying it can't work. I hear some doubts about whether Calipari will have the stomach for it. In a post to his website, he referenced, "writers with agendas to another program or coach ... pitting player against player, platoon vs. platoon."

I'm not sure where that's coming from. Certainly not from here.

Calipari has also said that one reason his system is revolutionary is that it's the first that truly benefits the players and not the coach or program. That's really not necessary. I think guys who played for Adolph Rupp at UK would say they benefited. College players from the beginning of the game have benefited. Guys have gone to college and earned NBA Draft slots before.

But all of that is just Calipari's way of giving himself a sales pitch -- and an edge. It's who he is. I remember last season at some point he looked out at reporters after saying something he knew would raise controversy and asked, "Why do I do that?"

He can't help it. At least it's not boring. 

In the meantime, opposing coaches are basically going to have to scout two different units with different strengths and weaknesses, and not necessarily with the same playing styles, but both loaded with NBA talent.

This platoon business has potential for Calipari, far beyond the results on the court.

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