John Calipari accomplishes his prized goal: watching Kentucky players get drafted

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The Kentucky basketball postseason media guide cover last March featured the following motto:

"All for one goal."

What the media guide didn't tell us was that the goal wasn't some silly national title. It wasn't a 40-0 season and a spot in college basketball history. It wasn't hanging the school's ninth championship banner from the rafters of Rupp Arena.

No, the goal was Thursday night. NBA draft night.

We know this because Kentucky coach John Calipari said so last month. Cal told a group he spoke to in Rupp: "Last year we started the season with a goal. You may think it was to win a national title or win all the games, [but] it was to get eight players drafted."

ESPN's Heather Cox called him on that in the green room on Thursday night, mentioning that Calipari has said the NBA draft is "more important" than winning a national title.

Cal's response (one of his five appearances on camera on the night): "I never said that."

John Calipari poses with the four Kentucky players taken in the first round. (Getty Images)
John Calipari poses with the four Kentucky players taken in the first round. (Getty Images)

Well, not in those exact words. But if there is a difference between what Cox said and what Cal said last month, it's a microscopic one.

So it must have been an immense relief to Kentucky fans to learn that winning the national title was not the goal, since that didn't work out. Now that they know the draft is the goal – watching four Wildcats go in the first 13 picks, and a record-tying six overall – they can properly rejoice.

Mission accomplished! (Well, minus an injury to Alex Poythress that kept him from going pro, plus the NBA's snub of Aaron Harrison.)

I didn't check the police scanner, but I have to believe there was joyful civil disobedience in the streets of Lexington, Ky., right? Couches on fire? Moderate vandalism?

The celebration may rage for days. Certainly, the fans who camp out for days to get into Big Blue Madness in October are not out there dreaming of a Monday night in April. They're dreaming of a Thursday night in June, when the next raft of Wildcats shows up gripping and grinning with Adam Silver.

The fans whose ticket purchases and donor contributions pay Calipari's seven-year, $54 million contract – they're in it for the draft, right? If a national title should happen to go along with a big showing in the draft, that's a little icing on the cake.

Undoubtedly, this NBA draft will draw higher TV ratings in the state of Kentucky than did the Final Four broadcast of the Wildcats vs. Wisconsin. Even though the Final Four semifinals drew a 33.1 rating in Louisville, Ky.

Whatever. The draft number will dwarf that I am sure.

Calipari also said this at that appearance in May: "The mission for me is to be a vehicle to help others reach their dreams, to be the stone that creates the ripple in their lives that goes on and on and on. Now in our state, they want my mission to be, 'win national titles, win national titles.' My mission is bigger than that."

Fortunately he has educated the Kentucky fans on the miniscule nature of the national title mission. They now see the bigger mission: helping guys like Karl-Anthony Towns get drafted No. 1, because he surely wouldn't have had a chance at being the No. 1 pick if he'd been coached for six months by a lesser man and smaller stone than Calipari. Imagine if Towns had made the monumental mistake of playing for Mike Krzyzewski, Bill Self or Roy Williams – he'd probably be an undrafted free agent.

Aaron Harrison (left) was not drafted while Andrew Harrison was taken 44th. (AP)
Aaron Harrison (left) was not drafted while Andrew Harrison was taken 44th. (AP)

But then there is Lake Harrison, a place where the Calipari stone didn't ripple the way it was expected to. Twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison came to Kentucky as projected one-and-done, top-10 picks. Two years later they slid out of the first round, with Andrew being selected 44th and Aaron going undrafted.

Calipari had his two-minute recruiting pitch/interview with Cox during the first round, aiming his comments at future lottery picks. He probably won't be bringing up the Harrison twins on the recruiting trail going forward.

They stayed two years in school, saw their stock drop and didn't win a title. Although that's certainly secondary in the Calipari philosophy.

"We want to win," he told Cox, "but not at the expense of the kids."

Who said winning and getting your players drafted are mutually exclusive? Duke won it all and had three first-round picks Thursday night. Wisconsin played in the title game and had two in the top 20. Yet neither Krzyzewski nor Bo Ryan feel compelled to sell their fan base on the dubious premise that the draft is a higher goal than a national championship.

Actually, this year wasn't the first time Calipari tried that line. Five years ago, he said the 2010 NBA draft was the greatest night in Kentucky basketball history, after five players (including John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe) were picked in the first round. That didn't go over too well with the Big Blue old guard.

Of course, that team had something in common with this most recent team: it was by far the most talented team in the nation, and it didn't win the title. That's certainly a good time to elevate the draft to Program Goal No. 1.

More NBA coverage: