He’s not wrong, but there is always a motive behind anything Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari says that appears on the verge of being self-congratulatory. So when he points out, following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ lottery “win,” that Cavs general manager Chris Grant was a regular at Kentucky games throughout the season, he’s not only giving Grant credit for his doggedness and scouting hustle in prepping to possibly pick Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, he’s also pointing out that the GM behind a rebuilding team with a terrible record likely to get a top pick decided to head to Kentucky over and over and over again. And why?
Because Kentucky has top overall pick-like players, and will every year. And hey kids, if you want to be a top overall pick in the NBA draft, come to Kentucky for the year! Just suggestin’ things, John is.
Here’s Calipari’s quote from his conversation with the Cleveland Plain-Dealer’s Mary Schmitt-Boyer, as tipped to us by Pro Basketball Talk:
"They haven't made mistakes,'' Calipari said in a telephone interview on Wednesday, one day after the Cavs won the lottery to earn the No. 1 pick for the second time in three years. "If they pick him, in all likelihood, history tells you something: It's not a mistake, which means it's good for my kid.
"Chris Grant has been in our building more than any other GM. That's no disrespect to any other GM. That's just a fact. He and his staff are very thorough in what they've done. That's why I say I hope he gets drafted by them.''
To Calipari’s credit, he’s basically come clean about his current gig.
The NBA banned its teams from drafting high schoolers in 2005, which forced all manner of potential top NBA picks into a year’s worth of indentured servitude at the CBS moneymaker of their choice. Kentucky hasn’t been shy about being up front in preparing its top recruits for the NBA, even if that just meant a lone season as a Wildcat for each blue chip prospect.
Nerlens Noel is such a prospect. Though he tore his ACL in February, the athletic center figures to be back midseason because, as Calipari correctly points out, an ACL tear is “not the same injury it used to be” when someone like Bernard King was going under the knife 28 years ago. The Cavaliers were a miserable defensive team even when Andreson Varejao was healthy last season, so the addition of a potential Tyson Chandler-type in Noel would seem to be the perfect fit for Cleveland.
This is a weak draft, and though we respect Noel’s game, he wasn’t the typical first overall NBA draft pick even before his unfortunate ACL tear. GMs like Grant were mindful of a lack of a go-to star in this draft well before the 2012-13 NBA or NCAA season started, though, which is why Grant (who has smartly presided over a patient rebuilding process in Cleveland, following a poor start in his first offseason running the team) took to the Kentucky campus early and often.
Or, maybe he just really likes Smashburgers. They do look delicious.
Calipari went on to provide some crucial analysis for NCAA dum-dums like me wondering how Noel compares with New Orleans Pelicans center Anthony Davis, a Kentucky product and the first overall pick of the 2012 draft:
''They're just different. Anthony had more guard skills than Nerlens would have. Their shot blocking is about the same. Nerlens is more of a four/five, where Anthony could play some three. Nerlens could guard a three, but he's not going to play that position. Anthony, if he had to, could play the three.''
So, Noel is more of your orthodox, defensive-minded stud of a center. Sounds good to Cleveland. Sounds good to any team, really.
And to any five-star high school junior still wondering about where to take your talents for that one year of college? John Calipari will let you know that Cleveland Cavaliers GM Chris Grant is a regular visitor to Kentucky Wildcats games. Wink wink. Nudge nudge.
That’s right. Going to Kentucky for college is your quickest way to get to Cleveland. Just the thing any 17-year old boy wants to hear.
(We keed, we keed. Congrats on the pick, Cleveland. Soon enough, you won’t have to scout as many Kentucky games as you did this season.)