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One-and-done working just fine for John Calipari and the players

From top left, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Brandon Knight and John Wall have been four of UK coach John Calipari's recent one-and-done successes. (All photos courtesy Associated Press)

From top left, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Brandon Knight and John Wall have been four of UK coach John Calipari’s recent one-and-done successes. (All photos courtesy Associated Press)

DALLAS (AP) — Everyone has an opinion of John Calipari.  He’s a pariah to some, successful only because of his ability to attract one-and-done stars destined for the NBA. They point to him as a scourge of college basketball, arguing that he’s complicit — responsible, even — in stripping “student” from student-athletes.

Then there are those who see him as an elite coach, the architect of successful programs at UMass, Memphis and now Kentucky. He’s churned out players who are making millions in the pros, and it is hard to argue that he’s let any of them down.

“He does get the best guys, but he challenges them and pushes them to be who they are,” said New Orleans Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans, who played one season for Calipari at Memphis.
“That’s the thing about playing for him,” Evans said. “You’ve got to be willing to take on the challenge, and take on him getting on you every day in practice. Some guys can handle it, some guys can’t. Before you get there, he’ll tell you that.”

Those who accept the challenge are usually rewarded.  His group at Memphis headlined by Derrick Rose reached the national title game in 2008, though the trip was later vacated. Another troupe of young stars led by Anthony Davis beat Kansas to win Kentucky’s eighth national championship in 2012.

And the latest group of fabulous freshmen has the Wildcats back in the Final Four, knocking off three of the top four seeds in the Midwest Region along the way. They’ll start five first-year players Saturday against Wisconsin, headlined by twin guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison and power forward Julius Randle, a potential lottery pick in the June draft.

“He’s tough on us,” said Randle, when asked to describe what it’s like to play for Calipari. “You may not like it some days, but at the end of the day, it’s what’s best for us.”

Calipari is hardly unique. Ohio State’s Thad Matta has churned out five one-and-dones since 2006, and Rick Barnes of Texas has produced four. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has lost a couple, and could lose standout Jabari Parker makes his stay-or-go decision.

It’s just that Calipari is the biggest offender — or opportunist. Since 2006, he’s sent 13 one-and-done players to the NBA. They’ve combined to make more than $181 million in salary alone. And if all of them play through their current contracts, that total would surpass $460 million — nearly equaling the gross domestic product of the island nation of Tonga — even with several of them playing out relatively paltry rookie contracts.

That figure doesn’t include endorsement deals, either. Throw in the millions they’re paid for hawking sneakers, apparel and everything else, and the total closes in on a billion.

“He put a lot of responsibility on us at a young age,” said Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins, who played for Calipari at Kentucky. “That basically prepared us for the next level.”

It’s important to note that Calipari doesn’t agree with the current NBA rules, which require that players be a year removed from high school before entering the draft. If it were up to him, he said last week, it would be a two-year waiting period.

“But it’s between the NBA and the players’ association. Has nothing to do with me or the NCAA,” Calipari said. “So I just think we’re all playing the hand we’re dealt. Kids are going on to the league from us and performing. And I’m proud of that. Would I like to have had them for four years? Yes. But I also like what’s happened for them and their families.”

Many rival coaches have a similar viewpoint.

“I think when student-athletes pick a school and go to college, they go to have the best chance to have the best life,” offered Kansas coach Bill Self, who had Andrew Wiggins become his third one-and-done player when the freshman declared for the draft this week.

Of course, there are still plenty of detractors. Final Four counterpart Bo Ryan appeared to take a veiled jab at Calipari this week when he said: “What I like about the Wisconsin fans is they understand these are student-athletes who actually are here for the purpose of an education first and playing ball second. That’s what I believe makes them really endearing.”

It’s not the first time that Calipari has heard that argument.

“We’ve had a 3.0 grade-point average for the last four seasons,” he said, “and they go to class. It’s not Internet, correspondence. They go to class, for four seasons. Brandon Knight was a straight-A student. Alex Poythress is a straight-A student. They all go to school.”

Besides, if college is truly about preparing kids for a career, what happens on the hardwood at Kentucky amounts to graduate-level work in basketball. Calipari is simply the professor.

“There were guys who went there before me who thought they were going to be ready for the NBA,” Evans explained, “but he’d tell them, ‘You’re not ready.'”

And if they are ready? Well, the NBA’s former rookie of the year remembers his conversation with Calipari after the final game of his freshman season.

“He said, ‘Hey, you’re a good player. I enjoyed having you. Good luck on the next level,'” Evans said. “That was pretty much it.”

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  1. Larry Pup

    The same rule applies to every coach in college basketball. I have one word, jealousy.

  2. Barry

    Coach Ryan makes a good point. This is college basketball and the concept of student athlete suggests that getting an education should be the first order of business. The problem is how everyone is using these kids to get what they want. Dollars and entertainment. We need to stop for a minute to consider what’s going to happen to these kids after their time in college. Some will go on to play in the NBA, a few overseas, but most will end up doing something other than playing basketball after a few years. Those who get their degree are, or should be, in a better position to find a good job and have a good life than those who don’t get that degree. Are we so selfish to satisfy our need for entertainment and rake in all of this money at the expense of these kids’ futures? I would hope the answer to that is no, but so far the NCAA has chickened out (or worse yet, are just too greedy) of taking the lead on this issue. They don’t have to wait for the NBA or it’s players association to address this. The NCAA can effectively address it through the issuance of scholarships. If you want to play at an NCAA school on scholarship, you have to stay a minimum of 3 years. That gives the student athlete at least a chance to earn a fast track degree or be close enough to having one so it will be easier to pick it up later on. If the kids leaves early, they have to repay the scholarship in full within 6 months and the school can’t replace that scholarship until its initial term has elapsed. That means if the kids leaves after one year, that scholarship is vacant for 2 more years. This would put the onus on the school and the coaching staff to do the right thing by these kids or pay the price with fewer scholarship players. CBS, TBS, and ESPN may cry foul, but these kids deserve better than what they’re currently getting from college basketball. It didn’t hurt Tim Duncan or Larry Bird to stay in college, in fact, they are and were better players for it. It didn’t hurt the NBA or CBS, and it didn’t hurt all of the rabid fans who scream for more competitive programs. These basketball players are kids who don’t know any better. Aren’t the adults supposed to be the ones who do?

  3. kyjohn

    If you want to see student /atletes play,go watch Transy,Georgetown,Union, some Mid-Majors ,etc.If you want to watch athletes go watch the top programs like UK,Duke,UNC,Florida,and other high profile conference programs.

    Many of the one and done players who have played for Cal have earned more in signing pro contract bonuses than most college graduates will ever earn in a lifetime.After all is said and done kids go to school to develop their ability to earn a decent income,some are able to do it sooner than others.

  4. Theresa

    I agree with kyjohn “…kids go to school to develop their ability to earn a decent income…”. A college degree is about preparing you for life. If a basketball player can get that done in one year, then who am I (or you or the NCAA) to hold that person back and say that he has to stay in school. For whom is he staying in school–not himself.

    As to Barry’s comment above about the NCAA making the ruling about having the kids choose between 3 years of college or 1 year of Europe/sitting out before the NBA, I think that is a TERRIBLE IDEA. You are talking about having 16-17 year olds make a decision that will affect the rest of their lives! Obviously, Barry has never raised a child through those years and is not familiar with the trials and tribulations into which they get caught (emotions reign–not intellect nor sanity). What if the player is injured in year 2 and never makes it to his dream job in the NBA when without the rule he would have been playing the NBA in year 2 instead? I am a college graduate (with a master’s degree even), and I do not think that anyone should sit back and deny a player who has the opportunity to go to the NBA after 1 year (provided the rules are such that the player can go after 1 year) to do so. I also do not think that in the world today with so much money riding on these players, the school and the NCAA has any right to make the rule so that they can make money for 2 more years on these kids…talk about a self-serving rule!

    Yes, I would love to see these players stay longer than 1 year–but that is my dream (not necessarily theirs) and it is a selfish one. I would rather that they live their lives according to their needs not my wants. If the NBA & players union changed the rule tomorrow to 2 years, then I would be all for it but if not, then I want for each of these players to succeed as soon as practical just as much as I want success for my own child in a timely manner. If that success can be had after 1 year ( or 2 years) of college, then so be it.

  5. Barry

    My point was the majority of these kids are just being used. Only a very few will ever play professional basketball at any level for more than a few years. Most of those kids aren’t going to have guaranteed contracts for millions, so what do they do after basketball? You USERS don’t seem to care about that as long as you get you entertainment fix while they are able to give it to you. We want what we want and we want it now…who cares about these kids after they are no longer any use to US. You’re right Theresa, I’m not a parent. I guess God knew I would be too responsible to be one in the Me Me Me world that our country seems to be overrun with.

    1. joe

      Getting a free education with room and board is not being used. Some of these schools tuition is so far out that the average student athlete couldn’t dream of going there without a scholarship. So how is it that a student gets everything paid for with unbelievable perks being used? I would love to here what the athletes have to say about it. I know what Randle said. He called it a blessing to play at Ky. I wonder if Polson or Hood thought they were used.

  6. Dandrwolfe

    “Offender”, really! The purpose of an education is to prepare you for a productive professional life, regardless is that life is in academic pursuits or elsewhere. I believe Cal prepares these young men better than I have seen the academic pundits do. That has nothing to do with the monetary difference they receive. If UK doesn’t develop these guys, they go elsewhere and still go one and done, if their coaches are straight up with them. I hope they stay, but if it best for them, go and come back to finish when ball careers are over.

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