Most Recent Posts
- Neal Brown would like one running back to emerge, but okay with running back by committee
- Julius Randle “can’t speak” on what Harrisons will do, but expects UK to have “amazing team” again
- After postseason run, Julius Randle “at peace” to leave Kentucky for NBA
- Julius Randle announces he’s leaving Kentucky to enter NBA draft
- Kentucky Wildcats TV: Julius Randle press conference on April 22
- Guest post: John Calipari book signing draws crowd, interesting tidbits on recruiting, pasta and more
- Guest post: NCAA has power to negate one and done if it wants
- John Wall says John Calipari “loves Kentucky too much” to leave for NBA
By LARRY VAUGHT
Don’t expect a decision quickly from guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison about the NBA draft. The Kentucky freshmen have until Sunday to declare for the draft or stay at UK and based on what their father told Houston’s Fox 26, it looks like a decision is several days away.
Aaron Harrison Sr. said the family is “probably midway” through the evaluation process and is still waiting official word from the NBA on the guards’ evaluations. Some mock drafts have both players projected as late first-round picks, some mock drafts have both going in the second round where there are no guaranteed contracts.
“I talked to a gentleman at the NBA and he said he would get it (the paperwork on the evaluations) to me as fast as possible and then we’ll go from there,” said Aaron Harrison Sr. “It’s important. You’re trying to find out what the prospects are for them and where they’ll be drafted and all those things.”
Sporting News’ mock draft has Andrew Harrison No. 21 pick and Aaron Harrison No. 25. Ed Isaacson of NBADraftblog.com also said he would put both in the first round.
Aaron Harrison Sr. told Fox 26 that his sons are not leaning either way. The twins told the station that they are thinking about “all the angles” and that the decision was tough on them and their family.
If both Andrew and Aaron Harrison return, the Wildcats will be a legitimate national title contender again — and perhaps the No. 1 team going into next season. Kentucky would have the Harrisons, Wilie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee, Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis definitely returning along with incoming freshmen Karl Towns, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker. With Alex Poythress also likely returning and possibly Dakari Johnson as well, that’s another talented roster for coach John Calipari with depth and experience.
On top of that you add talented freshmen in pure point guard Tyler Ulis, skilled low-post scorer Karl Towns Jr., big-time jump-shooter Devin Booker and versatile power forward Trey Lyles. You’ve got a deep, talented and mature roster that actually has what it’s been missing in a locker room voice.
If the Harrisons continue to play the way they did in the postseason and can improve with a push from Ulis and Booker daily, UK could be a much better team next year than this season’s team that make the national title game.
If the Harrisons don’t return, the Hawkin-Ulis combination will be solid at point guard because Ulis has great court sense and is special at the game’s intangibles. Booker is also a knockdown shooter, much like former Cat Doron Lamb.
By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — When John Calipari had his postseason meeting with sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein, the Kentucky coach said he “never even talked to him about coming back” to UK for another season.
Calipari had been in touch with 19 NBA general managers gathering information on the draft stock for his players after their NCAA title game loss to Connecticut and the consensus was that Cauley-Stein, despite the ankle injury he suffered in the NCAA tourney that ended his season, would be a mid-first round draft pick and likely lottery choice.
That’s why Calipari admitted Thursday he was a bit surprised when Cauley-Stein told him he would return to UK for his junior season.
Calipari said he reminded Cauley-Stein that when he came to see him in high school that one time he had a tennis racquet, another time he was playing wiffle ball and a third time he was playing kickball.
“I saw him play two football games with a 7-foot wide receiver and defensive back,” Calipari said.
Yet Cauley-Stein had reasons Calipari understood for wanting to return to UK.
“When he came back he said, ‘Coach, I am in no hurry to leave. I love going to school. I will be close to my degree (in another year). I still have to grow as a player and we left something (a national title) on the table.’ That is a good answer for me,” Calipari said. “There is a reason you do this and I want to make sure they are all thinking this through.”
Calipari’s press conference Thursday was to promote his new book, but it focused on what players might be back at Kentucky. Freshmen Julius Randle and James Young, the two players considered most likely to leave for the NBA, were not at the press conference and Calipari did not mention them or any player other than Cauley-Stein by name.
He said again he met with his players to ask them if they wanted him to explore their NBA options. He noted a “couple” said no but he received feedback on one from general managers that he might potentally be a first-round pick. That’s when Calipari told the player — presumed to be freshman center Dakari Johnson — that he needed to “get with his mother and needed to know what you are passing on if you come back” for another season.
“I have to live with myself. I think you need to come back, you I want you to know is out there,” Calipari said he told the player.
Calipari said he talked with NBA sources again Wednesday and his information he wants to go directly to parents.
“I don’t want any filter. This is it (accurate information),” the coach said. “I told all the kids when I met back on campus that whatever decision you make to leave or come back, this basketball program 50 years from now will be fine. Don’t make it for me, make it for you. Whatever is right for you.”
Calipari wants his players, and others, to understand it is not a sign of failure to come back for a second year — or a third year as Cauley-Stein has done. He noted how Patrick Patterson returned for his junior season in Calipari’s first year at UK and is now in line to sign a lucrative NBA contract because of his recent play.
“You have to convince each kid that everyone is different and we have your back. You have to trust the process. The bottom line is developing people and players. Some are mature physically. Some are mature emotionally,” Calipari said. “If you are emotionally ready (for the NBA) and not physically ready, you are out of your mind (to leave school). If you are both, you are the number one pick in the draft like we have had before (with John Wall and Anthony Davis).
“You have to look at each of these situations and I am even doing it in homes when I am recruiting. One thing I am saying is you are not a failure if you come back for two, three or four years. Do not plan on coming to Kentucky for year. But it can’t just be me doing it. It has to be everybody out there. Staying in school more than one year is not a failure.”
He says Cauley-Stein is not back because of any concerns about his ankle. He had surgery last week by “the best doctor in the world,” according to Calipari.
“Willie still has a couple of months to go (before he can be full speed), but he will be fine,” Calipari said.
With Cauley-Stein set to return and sophomore Alex Poythress also likely to return, that would give Calipari two veteran players with national championship game experience to build on next season. Freshmen Dominique Hawkins and Marcus Lee both played in the game and will be back as well. If Johnson and along with freshman guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison returned, it would give Calipari his most experienced — and deepest — team in six years at UK.
“Obviously it makes my job different (if those players return) than it has been the last four years,” Calipari said. “That means everyone of the kids needs me in a different way. It will be more of a challenge in having juniors, sophomores and freshmen that all need something different.
“Our young kids coming in want guys to come back. Some say someone should maybe leave because of who is coming in. You think it would be easier against NBA guys than high school guys. That’s nuts.
“What you have to do is accept their decisions. They have gotten the information. They know the downside because I have given it to them and when they make that decision you live with it.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Sophomore Alex Poythress and freshman Dakari Johnson are two Kentucky players that didn’t seem likely to put their name into the NBA draft when the NCAA Tournament started. However, both played well during UK’s tourney run and now continue to evaluate thei draft stock.
Ed Isaacson of NBAdraftblog.com, who has a terrific analysis of the Portsmouth Invitational at his website now, offered these insights on both Wildcats and their draft potential.
Poythress: “Poythress had some impressive moments this year when he stuck to the limited role of an energy guy off the bench. I’m not sure if he will really be able to provide much more next year, thus I don’t know if coming back for another year really helps him. There is still some untapped potential to go with his athleticism, and I think teams would take him in the top half of the second round this year or next.”
Johnson: “Johnson had some good moments in the second half of the season, but he also had as many moments where he looked lost. NBA teams will like his size no matter when he decides to come out, though his skill level on both ends of the floor still needs a lot of work. If he was to come out this year, even if he went at the end of the first round, he won’t get the playing time and attention he needs to develop quicker than he would with another year at Kentucky where he will likely be a key player next year. I’m just not sure he has shown enough to guarantee he is in the first round of this draft.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky coach John Calipari started a national media tour Monday to promote his new book, “Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out,” and admitted he had no idea how many players would leave UK early for the NBA draft and denied reports that he had any interest in coaching the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I don’t know. I really don’t know right now,” said Calipari on the Dan Patrick Show when asked how many players might leave UK. “We had great conversations. They all have the information. I am not going to meet with them nine times. This is it. Tell me what you want to do so I can help you.”
He later when on Kentucky Sports Radio and said he called 10 NBA general managers the day after UK lost to Connecticut in the national championship game to gauge where his players might land in the draft. He said he even had one player on the way to the airport in Dallas after the title game he told him he didn’t want to leave UK.
“As I was doing all of the other research, they were throwing his name in, and a couple of them told me he could be a first round pick. So, I had to call him back in and say, ‘I know what you said to me, but you and your mom need to sit down and talk about this because here’s some of the information I’m getting,’” Calipari said.
“If you’re in the first round, you’ve got to go do this, if you’re in the lottery, you’ve got to go do this.” In fact, if a player wants to come back, he has them sit down and explain why, like Patrick Patterson did back in 2009,” Calipari said.
Calipari said he doesn’t see any way all eight players that might consider leaving early would do that. He noted they have until April 27 to make a decision to put their names into the draft and that they are “not hurting” him or UK by waiting to make a decision.
“You obviously know that there’s a couple, they’re going to go, and then there’s three or four that are like ‘what will you guys do?’ At this point? I don’t know. I don’t think all eight will leave. How about that? We finally will have some guys come back. I don’t think eight will go, but five, six, four, I don’t know,” he said.
He also addressed the rumor former Kentucky star Rex Chapman put out a few hours before the national championship game that he had been told it was a “done deal” that Calipari was going to be the next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Obviously it is not true,” Calipari told Patrick.
He said he was “surprised” that Chapman put that message on Twitter.
“You know, every year I have coached I am going somewhere. That is all part of being the coach at Kentucky but that disappointed me in that unless the Lakers told him, which I know wasn’t done … They had a coach. We had a coach. Getting ready for the championship game. I am not mad at Rex. We are moving on,” Calipari said.
Calipari said the rumor was not a distraction for him or the team because they didn’t know about it until after the game.
Patrick asked if Calipari would one day like to be offered the Lakers job?
“No, I am good We need to get this thing to two years (before a player can leave college for the NBA),” he said.
He said on Kentucky Sports Radio that he had a “great job” where he could impact the lives of players and their families and wanted to keep doing that. However, he told Patrick if players are still able to leave school after one year that it would “be hard” for him to still be coaching in three to five years.
“The option is to recruit players that are not good enough (to leave UK for the NBA after one year) or convince kids that should leave that they should stay,” Calipari told Patrick. “I am not comfortable with that and BBN is not comfortable with the first one (recruiting players not as good). Let’s get to two years because that is good for everyone.”
Calipari said even if he didn’t get the top-ranked players, the 50th rated recruit would still think he could be a one-and-done player.
“If I try to talk them into staying, people are going to say I am doing it for me,” he told Patrick. “I give information to families and they make the decisions. I can’t go at this any other way.”
Could Kentucky lose seven players — five freshmen starters and sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress — to the NBA draft?
As unlikely as that might seem to Kentucky fans, it doesn’t seem that unlikely to some who closely monitor the NBA draft.
Start with ESPN analyst Chad Ford who indicated on ESPN.com Wednesday that UK could lose more than the expected trio of Julius Randle, Cauley-Stein and James Young — all projected first-round picks in every mock draft I have seen.
Ford agreed that Randle and Young are “for sure gone” and put Cauley-Stein in the same category even though the sophomore explained after the title game that there would be reasons for staying in school — as well as having several millions reasons (dollar-wise) for going to the NBA. He has Randle ranked as the fifth best player with Young 16th and Cauley-Stein 19th
“The Harrison twins have wanted to leave all year according to multiple sources around the twins, but their draft stock made them iffy first rounders. I’m not sure it’s to the point that they are clear first rounders,” Ford said on ESPN.com. “Andrew probably has the most claim, but he’s not a lock. Another year at Kentucky would help.”
Aaron Harrison Sr. told the Houston Chronicle that he had not discussed the NBA with his sons before the title game and that he expected them to discuss the subject this weekend when the twins likely will come home. Harrison Sr. said about a month ago that he was fine with his sons staying at UK if that was their decision.
NBADraft.net has Andrew Harrison going 27th in the first round with Aaron going in the second round with the 35th overall.
Draftexpress.com has Randle going fourth, Cauley-Stein 12th and Young 17th. Draftexpress.com does not have any other Wildcat going in the first or second rounds. CBSSports.com has Randle, Cauley-Stein and Young in the same slots with Poythress 46th and Aaron Harrison 47th in the second round. CBS has Andrew Harrison as the 61st best prospect — there are 60 spots in the draft.
Most assumed that freshman Dakari Johnson would be back. While he said he had not thought about his draft status after Monday’s national title game loss, he also didn’t want to say he would be back at UK, either.
“Dakari Johnson would be a bubble first rounder as well,” Ford said.
He said he’s also heard rumblings that Poythress could declare, but says he would be on the same first-round bubble as Johnson.
“I think there’s a chance all of them are gone. There are certainly rumblings that direction. But the only three that really make sense right now are Randle, Young and Cauley-Stein,” Ford said.
Players don’t have long to make a decision. The draft is not until June 26 but players who wanted official NBA input have already had to request that and will receive by Monday. Those not requesting information have until April 27 to enter the draft.
Photos by Victoria Graff, and property of Schurz Communications, Inc., and vaughtsviews.com. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners. Reprinted images must be attributed to vaughtsviews.com and linked to the original site.
By LARRY VAUGHT
ARLINGTON — Kentucky’s players were still trying to come to grips when their 60-54 loss to Connecticut in Monday’s national championship game when they started getting the question — would they be back at UK or head to the NBA.
“I don’t even know. I am not thinking about that right now. I am just thinking about this game,” said freshman center Dakari Johnson.
Next he got asked if that meant it was too early to say he would definitely be back at UK.
“I don’t know. I am still trying to deal with this loss,” Johnson said.
That’s basically what twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison said except they added they would have to discuss it with their family. Ditto for James Young. Julius Randle, considered the player that would be drafted the highest, dodged the question, too, as he softly answered question while trying to handle the disappointment of Monday’s loss.
Sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein, who was injured and did not play the last three tourney games, had more to say than his teammates about what the future might hold.
“I have no idea. I haven’t thought about it like that,” Cauley-Stein said when asked what it was like to be together with so many teammates for the final time. “I am just trying to relish the moment with my brothers and see what some of them are doing. That is kind of how I based my decision last year (to come back to UK rather than going to the NBA.)
Two NBA scouts at the Final Four said Cauley-Stein was UK’s most intriguing prospect after Randle. His size and athleticism have scouts contemplating what his potential could be once he fully commits to improving his offensive game. Both said his injury — Cauley-Stein said after the game he had a “cracked bone, stress fracture” in his ankle — would not be an issue unless it was more severe than it appeared.
“I can see coming back. I feel this emptiness in me like I’ve still got something to prove and I’ve still got so much stuff to work on in my game,” he said. “I went up from last year and now I want to make another jump in my game. Could I come back to school and make that step and be safe or do I make the jump to the league and mess everything up? What if I go there and don’t do what I thought and I’m stuck and can’t come back to school?
“I love school. I love being at Kentucky. I love the fan base. I love the community. So why not stay until they make you leave? IYou just get better as you get older. There are so many things that go through my head.”
That would be what he called “millions of dollars” and being able to work only on his game without balancing school, which he called a full-time job.
“That kind of weighs in. My family weighs in. I will talk to my family and coaches and then decide what is best for my future and my game and if I could be happy either way.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari does not discourage players from leaving if he feels they are ready to make the jump. The question becomes how many of these players are truly ready — and NBA scouts warn that what happens in March won’t wipe out a season’s worth of observations.
“Well, I’ll sit down with each young man individually, probably have their family either with us or on a speaker phone and get them information and say, ‘If I can help you with anything, let me know. Tell me what you want to do, what do I need to do to help you?’ Calipari said after Monday’s loss.
“I kind of stay out of the decision making. I just get them information. So we’ll see. I have no idea because I haven’t talked to them and none of us have talked about that. We were playing to win the national championship. But now that the season’s over, it is about the players. It’s no longer about the program. It’s no longer about the team.
“It’s about each individual player on this team now. They sacrificed. They surrendered to each other now, for our team and our program and our school. Season’s over. Now it’s about them. And we’ll sit down with each of them and they will make decisions for themselves.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
ARLINGTON — As Julius Randle rode in a golf cart on the way to postgame interviews with teammate James Young, he buried his heads in his hands as the tears flowed down his cheeks. At the same time, members of the Kentucky pep band waiting in the AT&T Stadium hallway gave him a huge ovations.
Kentucky may have lost the national championship game 60-54 to Connecticut Monday night, but the Wildcats won a spot in the their fans’ hearts with their gritty play in March that turned a disappointing season into a near miraculous season.
The Wildcats were a No. 8 seed and given no chance to reach the Final Four when March Madness started. But after falling behind 30-15 in the first half — the fifth straight game they were behind by nine or more points — they came roaring back and actually had chances to take the lead in the second half. But missed 11 of 24 free throws, shooting only 39 percent from the field and giving up 17 points off 13 turnovers was just too much to overcome.
“I can’t believe what these guys got done together. Talking about a bunch of young kids that just went out there and believed and believed in each other and just kept fighting,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari. “I needed to do a better job for these kids today, because they needed more help in this.
“You could tell early on they were feeling the game. One of the things we tried some stuff, pick‑and‑roll, obviously it didn’t work. We had to play zone. Tried to get their sweat to dry a little bit, make them less aggressive and it worked and these guys performed. They came back, We tried doing different things, but we didn’t have enough answers for these guys to finish that team. Their guard play was outstanding. But again we had our chances and that’s all you can ask of your basketball team.”
He’s right and that’s why he told his team he was proud of them and to hold their heads high despite the loss.
“We know he meant that and eventually this will be okay, but it hurts right now,” point guard Andrew Harrison, who had eight points, five assists, five rebound, three steals and one blocked shot — he also had four turnovers — said in a much softer voice than normal.
“We had a great run. Nothing went wrong tonight. We could have got blown out, but we came back. We are a team full of competitors, but they just made plays and beat us,” freshman center Dakari Johnson said.
Connecticut did make the big plays this time that Kentucky had in wins over Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin. When Aaron Harrison had a chance to hit a key 3-pointer in this game, he missed. When Julius Randle drove inside late needing a basket, it came out. When Kentucky desperately needed a defensive rebound with about two minutes to play, it went to UConn.
Kentucky got just two field goals in the final six minutes after cutting the deficit to 51-49 — a big reason the Cats scored a season-low 54 points.
“We always think we are coming back,” Randle, who had 10 points, six rebounds and four assists against UConn’s sagging defense, said. “This time we just didn’t quite get it done.”
“We just kept our heads up and just kept fighting for each other. And we had a couple chances that we had to bring it back and we just kept fighting,” Young said as he sat at his locker with tears running down his cheeks. “This hurts. We’ll get over it, but it hurts.”
Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart hopes fans will remember the remarkable March journey, and not just the ending. He expects a bit crowd at this afternoon’s welcome home celebration in Rupp Arena for a team that started five teenagers and learned how to play as a team as the season went on.
“I am awful proud of them,” Barnhart said. “I don’t know if you could have four more memorable back-to-back games than we did. Those were four pretty spectacular games and fun to watch. It was really good stuff.
“I probably didn’t see this run coming. Not many probably did. These kids had a lot of talent. People questioned their character and heart. The kids responded the right way with a remarkable run. Don’t lose sight of how special that was because of this 60-54 score. We just came up seven point shorts, but it was still a remarkable run.”
It was and give Kentucky credit for making no excuses. No complaints about officiating. No complaints about Willie Cauley-Stein being out with an injury. No complaints about missed shots.
“They played a great game. They hit big shots. Just take your hat off to them. They played better than we did,” sophomore Alex Poythress said.
Calipari had to plead, push and pull this team much of the season. He said he never lost faith in his team, but he often admitted it had not been an easy year and that he had made as many mistakes as his players. But it was obvious, even in this difficult moment, he was proud of what his team did.
“These kids really fought and tried and what they accomplished, I told them, this was the best group I’ve ever coached as far as really being coachable and wanting to learn. I’ve never coached a team this young. Never. Hope I don’t ever again,” Calipari said.
Then he even showed he still had his sense of humor.
“I think all these kids are coming back, so we should be good,” Calipari said.
That’s not going to happen with the NBA big bucks waiting, but it shows that Calipari truly had enjoyed this run.
“We’ve all had so much fun the last month,” Johnson said. “You hate to see it end this way, but what a month it has been. I’ll never forget it.”