Kentucky’s Calipari busy on recruiting trail
AP Sports Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Kentucky coach John Calipari isn’t wasting any time trying to fill the massive holes in his roster after freshmen All-Americans John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins opted to leave for the NBA.
Calipari spent Thursday in Virginia and North Carolina. He will split time this weekend between the West Coast and New York City in efforts to restock a team decimated by early defections to the pros.
Wall, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, and Cousins, the SEC Freshman of the Year, were among five Wildcats who declared for the NBA Draft on Wednesday. The quintet also includes junior forward Patrick Patterson, freshman center Daniel Orton and freshman guard Eric Bledsoe.
The group combined for 57.7 points a game and comprised the backbone of a team that went 35-3 and won the SEC regular-season and conference tournament titles before falling to West Virginia in the NCAA regional finals.
Calipari bristled at the notion that inexperience cost Kentucky – which started three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior – a shot at the title. He pointed out that only Wall and Patterson were considered surefire NBA picks when the season began while Cousins, Bledsoe and Orton played their way into the draft.
“I’m going to keep recruiting the best players I can find,” he said in an audio post on lexy.com.
He’ll have to do it again to keep the Wildcats competitive, a task he’ll eagerly tackle every year if it means he can produce NBA-level talent.
The Wildcats will bring in seven or eight freshmen next fall, including forward Stacey Poole Jr. and center Enes Kanter. Kentucky is also in the mix for high-profile guard Brandon Knight. Though it’s unlikely he’ll face a scenario next year where four freshman jump to the NBA, he won’t try to keep underclassmen on campus if he believes they have a legitimate shot at competing at the next level.
“If they have a chance to leave, I will encourage them like I did these five,” Calipari said. “I will encourage them to do it. I’m not going to try and convince them, but I will help them be more prepared.”
Calipari took a brief break from recruiting on Friday morning to sign 1,200 commemorative bottles of Maker’s Mark bourbon at Keeneland Race Course. The special bottles are covered in blue wax and feature a white silhouette of Calipari’s face.
There were 24,000 bottles made, and additional orders for empty bottles are being accepted. Proceeds will benefit the UK Symphony Orchestra and the School of Music’s outreach program.
“I’m in the middle of recruiting, I know people would like me to sign bottles for five hours,” Calipari said in between signatures. “But for people to wait outside from three in the morning, then it’s like ‘OK, let me spend a couple hours here, sign some bottles and do the thing they need me to do.”
What the fans would like him to do is find a way to duplicate the success he enjoyed in his first year at one of the most demanding jobs in the country. He says he’s trying.
“Let’s keep the bar raised,” he said.