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Jeff Eisenberg

Ex-Kentucky players irked by John Calipari's draft-day comments

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When ESPN's Heather Cox interviewed John Calipari just before the start of Thursday night's NBA draft, he called the potential for five of his players to be selected in the first round "the biggest day in the history of Kentucky's program."

Not surprisingly, that didn't sit well with some former Wildcats.

"The dumbest thing I've ever heard," Kentucky's all-time scoring leader Dan Issel told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "If the goal is to be a feeder team for the NBA, maybe that was the greatest day. I thought the goal was to win a national championship."

Added former All-American Kevin Grevey: "(The draft) was special, but it doesn't top a championship."

Calipari had to be experiencing brain lock to proclaim that draft night was more significant than any of Kentucky's seven championships, but the statement was all part of his recruiting philosophy. Whereas other coaches try to keep their elite players for as long as possible, Calipari practically pushed his five draftees out the door because he knows that building a reputation for producing NBA talent draws the interest of other players of that caliber.

"To be honest, I didn't think I was coming out this year," DeMarcus Cousins told reporters in New Jersey last week. "But we had the talk with Cal and he said, ‘If you want to feed my family, help support my family, you stay. But if you want to help your family, (you leave).'"

It was no accident that Calipari was the only college coach who received face time during ESPN's draft telecast. The entire event was a four-hour infomercial for the Kentucky program, one that surely caught the attention of future recruits looking for the right coach to help them achieve their NBA dreams.

Calipari certainly won't alter his recruiting philosophies anytime soon, but he did hedge a bit when asked about his outlandish statements the next morning on Dan Patrick's radio show. He admitted it "depends on your frame of reference" whether producing NBA players or winning the national title was more important.

"I know this may be aggravating for some of the old guard at Kentucky, but last night for me emotionally, it was like winning the national title," Calipari said. "For these young people, their lives and the direction of their entire families changed last night, and for me that's huge."

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