Kentucky had five players selected in the first round of the 2010 NBA draft, but Kentucky coach John Calipari says he is just as excited about the upcoming draft.
Calipari even noted in his “State of the Cats” column on http://www.coachcal.com that he feels Enes Kanter, who was deemed ineligible by the NCAA last season and not allowed to play for UK, could be the No. 1 pick in the draft based on conversations with “several of the decision-makers for almost all of the NBA teams” that allow him to have an “educated” guess on where Kanter, Brandon Knight, Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins may fall in the draft.
Calipari admitted he was “biased” about Kanter.
“This one is so hard for me because as more and more people see what we saw all year at the Joe Craft Center with Enes, I can’t help but think how much more special last season could have been if our big teenager had been able to join us for our Final Four run! He just turned 19 a few weeks ago,” Calipari posted on coachcal.com. “There is a strong possibility that Enes could be the No. 1 overall pick. If it were my decision, Enes is who I would pick at No. 1.
“Here’s why: he can truly be a dominating kind of player; he can be a Karl Malone-type big man. As the league gets smaller (size-wise) his ability to dominate his position will grow. He’s got a position and a true size. If he doesn’t go No. 1 he will go shortly thereafter and the teams that passed on him will look back and wince at that decision.”
That should eliminate any doubt about whether Calipari thinks UK¿would have won the national title if Kanter had been eligible.
What about Knight, the talented freshman point guard who didn’t let John Wall’s shadow overwhelm him and is projected as a certain lottery pick?
“Brandon’s work ethic has never been in doubt but teams have now been able to see just how high his skill level is when they get him in for workouts,” Calipari posted. “He’s bigger, faster and more skilled than any of these teams thought. And the kicker in all this becomes the one-on-one meetings teams have had with Brandon. One team even said it was the best meeting they’ve ever had with a prospect. Without knowing particulars, I imagine his psychological tests will be off the charts also. He will be drafted within the first 25 minutes of the draft. I’ve made one comment to all the teams, whatever you think his upside is within three or four years, he will become that because of his work ethic.”
Again, that’s a strong endorsement. Considering Calipari has sent Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose and John Wall to the¿NBA, and all have been successful point guards, that’s an endorsement NBA folks are going to listen to.
Liggins is more intriguing. His decision to bypass his senior season surprised many, but then he was suddenly projected as a potential first-round pick in some mock drafts. Other mock drafts don’t have him even listed as a second-round pick.
Calipari says Liggins can fill the same role as Tony Allen of Memphis.
“What DeAndre will add to a team, physically, defensively and in terms of toughness, is exactly what happened with the Memphis Grizzlies and Tony Allen this year. What everybody was surprised about was his ability to make an open NBA 3-pointer. What they are seeing is that he can guard the 1, 2 or 3; will scrap like crazy and if he’s open, he’s making that 3 – just like he did vs. UNC (North Carolina),” Calipari said on coachcal.com.
Calipari says he will “be gone” by the middle of the second round and could go at the end of round one. Either way, it will mean Liggins likely made the right decision to put his name into the draft now.
That leaves Harrellson, one of the nation’s most improved players last year. He has size and proved he could rebound with the best in the Southeastern Conference. However, he was not invited to the NBA combine and is not mentioned on most mock draft lists even though Calipari says his workouts have gone well because of his skill level and understanding of how to play.
“I could definitely see a late-round team like Miami grabbing him. Josh brings a great mentality with him to his next team — he’s been both a reserve and starter and he goes about his job with a blue collar attitude that championship organizations love. Every team is looking for a big man who can rebound and make open shots,” Calipari posted.
Hopefully Calipari is right about Harrellson. However, the popular UK¿center may have to decide whether he wants to wait out the upcoming NBA lockout and try to make a team as a free agent or go to Europe and play immediately.
Still, Calipari’s informed outlook on the draft makes it clear the former Wildcats have done all the right things to impress NBA personnel.