Not so much the Kentucky Effect as the Calipari Effect

(H-L photo)

It’s not so much the Kentucky Effect.

It’s the Calipari Effect.

John Calipari has been spinning Kentucky’s tremendous NBA Draft numbers back to the brand. He’s calling it “The Kentucky Effect.” That’s nice of him. It’s part of the sales pitch. The message: Come to Kentucky and we will get you in the NBA.

All four available Cats were drafted on Tuesday night in Newark. That makes nine players over the last two years. Four of those have been among the top 10 players chosen, six have been among the top 20. Those are incredible numbers.

But truthfully, those are Calipari numbers. Before UK lured Cal from Memphis, the Cats had just six players drafted over the previous 10 years. Good, not great. The Kentucky Effect wasn’t working quite as well then, was it?

True, Calipari didn’t recruit all nine of the Kentucky players who have been drafted over the past two years. (He only recruited five of the nine. Not a bad percentage.) But arguably he was the one who coached at least three of the remaining four into their draft positions.

Patrick Patterson would have been an NBA draft selection regardless, but Calipari helped the 6-foot-9 forward develop more of a perimeter game. Under predecessor Billy Gillispie, Patterson was a post-up producer. Billy G.’s drill sergeant style of play was to feed the post. He had no one to play down low but Patterson. Conversely, Calipari’s style, plus the addition of DeMarcus Cousins, allowed Patterson to roam.

Daniel Orton was truly a potential pick. He did little on the floor his freshman year to make you think he was NBA worthy. But Orton has that body. He looks like an NBA player. And he’s athletic. Orlando saw what Gillispie saw of Orton in high school. We won’t give Calipari credit for that.

Josh Harrellson, completely different story. Yes, Gillispie recruited Harrellson, but he also put him in circumstances that found Josh in a bathroom stall at Vanderbilt. You know the story. Harrellson barely played last season, Calipari’s first at UK. Josh would have played a lot less this season had Enes Kanter been eligible. But the reality is Kanter was not eligible. Opportunity knocked. Harrellson answered.

Not at first. Josh being Josh, or the old Josh, the center got in trouble with an early-season tweet. Calipari resisted the urge to boot him, however, and instead decided to coach him. Harrellson responded. Calipari said he learned a valuable coaching lesson. A true legend was born. To see Harrellson taken as the 45th pick on Thursday night was one of the more gratifying things of the entire night.

Now, DeAndre Liggins. He was a Gillispie recruit. He was also the kid who refused to come off the bench and enter the game his freshman year at Las Vegas. A head case. Problem child. Not a bad kid. But an immature kid. Calipari took over last year, and Liggins missed the first nine games for what we now think to be eligibility issues. Calipari won’t say. He never does about such issues.

But this year, Calipari gave Liggins a defined role and DeAndre accepted. No, he did better than that. Liggins flourished. He was the lock-down defender. He was the man who stopped the “man” on the other team. When Orlando GM Otis Smith talked about Liggins on Thursday night, he talked about Liggins’ ability to guard.

Coming to Kentucky no doubt helped all nine of the players drafted over the past two years. It’s a big stage. It’s a huge fishbowl. Everybody’s watching. That’s good preparation for the bigger stage that is the NBA.

But playing under Calipari is the biggest help. He runs a pro-style program. He employs a pro-style offense. Considering the talent Calipari has managed to bring to Lexington so far, he also runs pro-style practices.

The daily competition has to be incredible. You think Josh Harrellson may have benefited from practicing against Enes Kanter every day? You think DeAndre Liggins might have learned some things about defending when he was trying to contain John Wall or Eric Bledsoe or Brandon Knight in the Craft Center on a regular basis?

You think maybe Terrence Jones will pick up a few tips when trading elbows with Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist and Kyle Wiltjer next year? And vice versa.

It’s why incoming freshman point guard Marquis Teague says he can’t wait to go up against transfer point guard Ryan Harrow in practice every day. Teague knows the competition will make him better. It will make Harrow better.

And it will put all involved in a better position to be drafted.

That’s the Calipari Effect.

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  1. Hodge says:

    I would call it more the Kylipari Effect.

  2. Alan says:

    You are missing part of the equation of the “Kentucky Effect”. Cal is also defining the rewards players get outside of the NBA. TV Commercials (locally & Nationally) and other benefits. Yes he gets more players to the NBA, but you add the Big Blue Nation to it…well then you have the Kentucky Effect.

  3. Tim says:

    I disagree. You make valid points, but you’re being slightly too cynical, an urge no doubt prompted by a commendable willingness to pull back the curtain on Calipari’s wizardly marketing.

    The point that bears greater stress is that he is the coach at Kentucky. He did everything you mentioned at Memphis–ran the same player’s first program, conducted the same pro-style practices, and played the same skill-showcasing offense. But he turned down more money to stay there because he saw what was possible at Kentucky.

    Using your logic one might as well exclusively discuss the jockeys before the Kentucky Derby, because in that light a masterful jockey could win the sport’s greatest race with any old nag.

    None of which is to say it’s all UK. It’s not. It is to say that it takes the right person in the right situation to create something special, which Cal has done at Kentucky.

  4. Dan says:

    Obviously, being Kentucky is a substantial part of the equation, but Calipari was bringing in and churning out recruits at Memphis.

    Kentucky is a better brand name than Memphis, so it is more marketable and gets more attention, but let’s be honest. Without Calipari, there is no “Kentucky Effect,” at least when speaking about taking college recruits and turning them into NBA players.

  5. John Clay says:

    I agree with Hodge.

  6. bmt22033 says:

    I agree with John Clay 100%. I was born and raised in KY. I’m a UK grad and I’ve been a fan since I was a kid (primarily because my dad was fan). Back “in the day”, I think it would have been more appropriately called the “Kentucky Effect”. It still might be for kids like me who grew up in KY or grew up with parents who were KY fans. But today, the kids that are coming into the program are *ultimately* attracted by the fact that a lot of Calipari’s recruits find their way into the NBA sooner rather than later. That’s not to discredit the rich history of the program or BBN. *We* know that UK is the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball. And certainly we bestow rock star status on our players which is something that no kid is going to complain about. But to believe that kids aren’t primarily wanting to come here mostly because of what they’ve seen happen to a lot of John Calipari’s players would be dishonest with yourself, I think.

  7. Mark Liptak says:

    I agree with those who say it’s a combination.

    Think about it, Tubby Smith had the same marketing / branding opportunities as Calipari….Billy G. had the same….well wait a minute Billy was just trying to stay sober and not make a fool of himself, but my point is that it took the right guy, at the right place at the right time to make it happen.

    Calipari was the right guy at the right place at the right time. Pat Forde, one of Calipari’s most vocal and unabashed critics conceeded the same point when he was asked about the hiring by ESPN the day it happened.

    Just one of those fortunate circumstances and UK and the program is all the better for it. Maybe fate felt they owed the fan base a break after the fiasco known as Billy G.

    Mark Liptak

  8. oldkentucky says:

    The school needed the right coach and the coach needed the right school. They came together and Wowpopadowop! “The Kentucky Effect.”

  9. JackB says:

    It is a combination and the evidence is clear. Business lingo types call it synergy. UK and a great personality coach will always produce synergy – they are better together than the simple sum of their parts.

    Pitinio was/is a good recruiter and coach. He never recruited better, however, than when he was at UK. He put 7 in the NBA in 2 years – hasn’t put 7 in the NBA in all his years at U of L (I think).

    Same with Smith, at times anyway. Smith was very inconsistent at recruiting, but his best classes are at UK, not UGa or UMinn or Tulsa.

    Same with Cal – but on steroids. Yes, Cal was an exceptional recruiter at Memphis, and had 1 or 2 number 1 classes. But he had never had a class like the 3 (in 3 years) he has at UK. It is mostly Cal, but I think it is easier to sell the Big Blue Nation with Cal than Cal with a different brand. Cal would succeed recruiting Hawiians to the University of Alaska, but he has never enjoyed the recruiting success he has had the last 3 years anywhere before.

    And the discussion about marketing – that truely is a Big Blue situation. Life after college is pretty good for UK players if they want or need to take advantage of the Big Blue Nation. And that includes selling jerseys and shoes at the next level – as we will find in unprecedented numbers thanks to Cal.