John Calipari: All 7 players leaving for NBA can return later to finish degree

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Thursday April 09, 2015


John Calipari has openly admitted that his No. 1 job is to get players to the NBA, if that’s their goal, rather than win a national championship. They took a step toward that goal on Thursday, when seven Wildcats declared for the NBA Draft at a press conference.

Calipari also made a point to say their scholarships would be available if they choose to come back and finish their schooling at some point down the road. The idea and implementation of lifetime scholarships for student-athletes has seen an increase in recent years.

Of the seven players, three are freshmen, three are sophomores, and one is a junior. While the NBA’s one-and-done rule puts academics in an odd position, Calipari said they all did their job, and leaving in good academic standing is what helps keep Calipari’s system going. And don't underestimate the role of a lifetime scholarship in recruiting.

“They had a 3.13 grade point average,” Calipari said. “They had a 3.0 last year, the guys that were with us. They look after each other. They’re their brother’s keeper. They keep each of them walking the right path, keeping themselves together. They also know, if they choose to leave — I’m hoping they all stay — their scholarship is here waiting on them when they choose to come back.

The departing group could end up being eight players, depending on the decision of Alex Poythress. At the press conference, Calipari reflected on the goals the team set at the beginning of the season. Having a team full of future NBA players meant they would have to put the team’s success over their individual numbers, which would in turn, help them out. They didn't finish the goal of a national championship or undefeated season, but Calipari didn't want that to take away from their success.

“We had a meeting to begin our year, and the meeting was based on them,” Calipari said. “My comment was, ‘I’m on a mission. My goal is to have eight of you have an opportunity to be drafted if you choose to put your name in the draft.’ That was from the beginning of the year. They also knew that they would have to be the most selfless, sharing, sacrificing group of young people in this game, if that were to happen, and they were. They also knew they’d have to do some historic things, even at this crazy university.

“Historic things, and they did: 38-0 to start a season, 38 wins, the most ever. I can go on and on with what they did defensively. Things that are historic. We didn’t quite get our goal of winning a national title and 40-0, but it can’t and doesn’t take away from what these people have accomplished.”

Calipari has seen 19 Kentucky players drafted since he took over in 2009-10, and that number is about to see a big increase.

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with CoachingSearch.com and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News, MLive.com, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to chris@coachingsearch.com.