Kentucky coach Calipari awaits players’ decisions
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari has been too busy promoting his latest book to reflect on last week’s NCAA championship game loss to Connecticut.
Calipari must first deal with several issues, the most pressing of which is the futures of several of his highly touted freshmen. The coach offered no indication Thursday whether Julius Randle, twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison or James Young will leave for the NBA as speculated or return for another season. He has provided them enough information to make a decision.
Regarding last week’s tweet from ex-Kentucky player Rex Chapman that Calipari was headed to the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, the coach told former Wildcats star Anthony Davis he wasn’t, but also joked “unless you’ll come with me.”
The coach conceded that Kentucky’s surprising recovery from a shaky stretch run to reach the NCAA final — where the Wildcats lost 60-54 to Connecticut — ratcheted up discussion about his and players’ pro prospects. As Calipari downplayed his NBA possibilities, he mentioned options to several players during the Final Four.
“All of them I met (with), I said, ‘Do you want me to explore the NBA stuff with you?’” said Calipari, adding that he talked with 19 NBA general managers. “A couple of them said ‘no,’ and the majority of them said ‘yes.’ “
The coach didn’t mention specific players, adding that one who declined information was later told he could be a potential first-round selection.
Randle, the Harrisons and Young, meanwhile, face less-complicated decisions, all eagerly awaited by Calipari and Kentucky’s fervent fan base.
Randle has been considered a lottery selection since arriving on campus, while Young is viewed as a mid-round pick. The Harrison twins have also gotten first-round mentions, particularly after both matured during the tournament with Aaron winning two games with clutch 3-pointers in the final seconds against Michigan and Wisconsin.
Calipari said he has received additional feedback from his NBA contacts to give parents.
“I don’t want there to be any filter,” he said. “I told all of the kids that whatever decision you make to leave, to come back, this basketball program 50 years from now will be fine, and so will this institution. You don’t make this decision because of me; you make it because it’s right for you.”
The process resulted in a nice surprise for Calipari on Monday when center Willie Cauley-Stein announced that he would bypass the draft and return for his junior season. The 7-foot shot-blocker recently had surgery on his left ankle injured during the tournament and is expected to recover within a couple of months.
Cauley-Stein’s return potentially gives the Wildcats several big men if 7-footer Dakari Johnson stays along with 6-11 Marcus Lee (who’s back) and recruits Karl Towns (6-11 and growing) and 6-10 Trey Lyles.
“I never even talked about him about coming back,” Calipari said of Cauley-Stein. “I said, ‘Right now, you are in the middle of this draft, maybe as (high) as the lottery.’
“That was our talk. When he came back, he basically said, ‘You know, Coach, I’m in no hurry to leave. I love going to school. I’m going to be really close to my degree. I still have to grow as a player, and we left something on the table (at the Final Four) that I’d like to try again.’”