By LARRY VAUGHT
I’m not sure who had the idea for former Kentucky star Jodie Meeks to do a press conference Thursday because he will be participating in graduation ceremonies this weekend.
Maybe that doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but remember Meeks left UK after his junior season — who could blame him after the way he was treated by former UK coach Billy Gillispie when he was injured — and did not hold a press conference because of the timing of his decision to leave UK rather than stay and play for new coach John Calipari.
However, Meeks did say at the time he had promised his parents, both college graduates, that he would eventually finish his marketing degree and now he’s done just that and is willing to share his story/experience with media members — and UK fans — on Thursday.
Meeks is following the path two other former Wildcats — Wayne Turner and Marquis Estill — have taken in recent years with Calipari’s help even though they did not play for him, either. It’s one reason one has to believe that many of the players who played under Calipari and left early for the NBA will also eventually find a way to complete their degrees.
“The NBA’s all about marketing and branding yourself, so I’ve seen a lot of good ideas from players and organizations about marketing,” Meeks told Eric Lindsey of coachcal.com a year ago.
Meeks just finished his second season with the Los Angles Lakers and injured teammate Kobe Bryant, one of the league’s elite players. He had been on back-to-back successful teams in Philadelphia before the Lakers fizzled in the first round of the 2013 playoffs and never were in contention for a playoff berth this year.
Meeks averaged a career-high 15.7 points per game, and made a career-best 40.1 percent of his 3-point shots. He made about $1.6 million last season, but is now a free agent who should command a much larger salary.
Meeks is scheduled to become a free agent this summer, and after earning a mere $1.6 million this year, he will likely see a big payday.
“It was a blessing to have a good year in a contract year,” Meeks told Will Hammock of the Gwinnett (Ga.) Daily Post. “Obviously, I wish the team could have done better but it was a good year for me. I got a chance to show what I can do more because we had a lot of injuries. I got a lot of playing time so I could show what I can do.”
Kentucky fans never doubted what he could do and still remember that historic 54-point game — a UK single game record — he had at Tennessee. And for UK fans with good memories, that was the game where Meeks was not feeling well before it started. It was also another perfect example of how Gillispie treated players because he waited weeks to give Meeks the game ball — or at least that is what I was told.
I also remember Meeks being injured when UK was getting blown out at Vanderbilt and not playing the first half. In the second half with no chance at winning, Gillispie put an obviously hobbled Meeks into the game. That was the same night he had Josh Harrellson sit in the bathroom stall at halftime because he was upset with his play.
But Meeks put that behind him, has blossomed into a superb NBA player/scorer and now is getting his degree at Kentucky. Better yet, he will share his story Thursday and I am guessing let UK fans know how much he appreciated them and how much playing at UK still means to him.