Calipari Says He Missed on Kemba Walker, Dirk Nowitzki
Everyone knows about all the recruiting success John Calipari has had over the years, but what about the players he’s missed on?
Colin Cowherd asked Calipari to name a couple of misses during his show Wednesday on Fox Sports 1.
“Oh yeah,” Calipari said before launching into his analysis of Kemba Walker, then at Rice High School in New York.
“I watched him play in high school and I said, ‘He’s not big enough for me and I’m not sure how good he is,'” Calipari said. “And then he beats us early in the year, and he beat us in the Final Four game [in 2011], 57-56. But he had like 30 himself.”
(Walker actually had 18 points, seven assists and six rebounds in a 56-55 UConn win.)
“You know the other one I missed on, Dirk Nowitzki. I went over. I was the coach and President with the Nets and I went over [to Germany] to watch him and I said he’s supposed to be really good but I said I’ve gotta see him more and I wasn’t totally sold, so I’ve missed.”
Asked who his biggest find on the recruiting trail was, Calipari said, “I can go with Eric Bledsoe. Didn’t play in the Jordan Game, didn’t play in the McDonald’s Game…Karl Towns was the ninth-rated player in the McDonald’s Game that year. Willie Cauley from Kansas wasn’t recruited by Kansas, so I’ve had a lot of guys that have come on the scenes.”
Calipari also held forth on Sixers rookie Jahlil Okafor and many of his own former players.
On Okafor’s issues: “If you’re going to draft a 19-year-old, deal with it…If you don’t understand that, do not take him.”
On NBA money: “The money now is so big, $20 million doesn’t matter because you’re going to get another contract that’s worth $300 million.”
On Boogie Cousins: “He’s a little crazy but he’s got a wonderful heart.”
On Karl-Anthony Towns: “[Karl-Anthony] Towns is setting historic records creating double-doubles…That kid works so hard to create what he is today. He is one of the great kids of all time. You’re never going to hear him in a problem. There’s never going to be one.”
On Terrence Jones: “He’s the next one. He’s gotta break through….Terrence Jones is another max player in the right kind of situation”
On what he tells some of his players about the NBA Draft: “There are kids that I say, ‘You’re a second-rounder, you do know that? Can you deal with being a second-rounder?’ If they tell me yes, then I gotta let ’em go.”
On Derrick Rose: “He doesn’t have a real high pain threshold and while he’s getting injured, he knows, ‘I gotta be right.’ He’s beating you with speed, with explosiveness and if I’m the Bulls I don’t want him at 70 percent, you gotta get him at 100. They’re going to win because of Derrick Rose, you watch.”
On Kobe Bryant: “I was going to take him at 8 [in 1996]. I took [Kerry] Kittles and at the time the ownership was on me, ‘You can’t take a high school kid, blah, blah blah.’ And I said if Kittles was available I’ll take him. If he’s not, I’m taking Kobe. And then Arn Tellem called me, he’s a friend, ‘Don’t take him, he’ll go to Europe.’ I said you have to go to Europe then. They had their deal with L.A…Here was my thing, in the beginning Kerry will be better. In 5-7 years, Kobe will be better. But the couple, and I was right, Kerry was better the first couple years. But by Year 3, Kobe went off.”
Calipari also said Bryant told him a few years ago, “You know if you drafted me, you’d still be in the NBA.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.