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.