Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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John Calipari Says Ben Simmons Looks Like the No. 1 Pick: ‘It’s early, but yes’
John Calipari has coached a few No. 1 overall draft picks in his day, from Derrick Rose to John Wall to Anthony Davis.
Now he has joined the near-unanimous chorus of folks who say that LSU freshman Ben Simmons looks like the No. 1 pick in 2016.
“Well it’s early, but yes,” he said Monday on the SEC conference call.
The 6-foot-10 Simmons is projected at No. 1 by virtually every major mock draft of significance, including DraftExpress.com.
Calipari denied his interest in leaving Kentucky for the NBA, but ironically if he were to take over the Nets, he would not have a shot at drafting Simmons because the Nets don’t control their first-round pick until 2019.
Calipari said he watched Simmons for a half in high school at Montverde Academy at an event in Sacramento and said, “That is the best high school player right there.”
Calipari was interested in recruiting Simmons, but was told he was going to LSU, where Simmons’ Godfather, David Patrick, is an assistant.
“I go, ‘Is it done already?'” Calipari said. “He’s that good, he’s that good a player.”
Simmons went for 14 points and 10 rebounds last Tuesday when LSU beat Kentucky, 85-67. He’s averaging 20.6 points, 13.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists on the season for LSU, which would not be an NCAA Tournament team at this point.
“He’s a tough matchup,” Calipari said of Simmons. “He’s getting better that if you put a small guy on him, he now will go in the post, which early in the year he wasn’t. That makes it a different dynamic. The other thing is, he’s a terrific passer…He’s a terrific player, he’s a tough matchup. You put a big on him, he’s going to beat you on the dribble. You put a small on him, he’s going in the post. I think Johnny [Jones] has done a great job with him.”
Kentucky freshman big man Skal Labissiere, initially slotted ahead of Simmons at No. 1 by DraftExpress.com, has struggled, with NBA scouts and analysts all weighing in on what has gone wrong.
ESPN’s Chad Ford moved the 6-foot-11 Labissiere down to No. 10 in his latest mock draft released Monday, while DraftExpress.com has the Haitian sensation at No. 5.
Calipari hasn’t shied away, pointing out at one point that it make take Labissiere, who is averaging 8.1 points and 3.3 rebounds, “two years” to get to the NBA.
Calipari sounds unlikely to redshirt freshman big man Tai Wynyard, who joined the program from New Zealand in December, and mentioned that Labissiere’s level of play figured into that.
“I don’t think so, we haven’t talked about it,” he said. “I think he’s going to be able to help our team, he’s just now getting in shape. You gotta understand, he’s only been here a couple weeks now.
“I’m still trying to work Skal into where he needs to be, which means I can’t just take those minutes and just give them to Tai to get him going. You could do that if Skal was really playing well and he didn’t need the minutes, but he needs them. And also, we’re still giving a look at Isaac [Humphries] and see what Isaac can do.”
Of Wynyard, he added: “There are times when we look at each other and just say, ‘We just gotta put him in,’ but it’s early.
CAL ON MALIK NEWMAN
Kentucky recruited Malik Newman before the Mississippi native chose the home-state school Mississippi State.
The 6-foot-3 Newman is averaging 13.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists for the Bulldogs, who visit Kentucky Tuesday.
“He’s doing a lot of catch-and-shoot,” Calipari said. “He’s got a quick trigger, he can jump over you. He’s good in the pick-and-roll, he’s a terrific player.”
Newman is projected as the No. 33 pick in 2016 by DraftExpress.
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John Calipari has coached a few No. 1 draft picks in his day, from Derrick Rose to John Wall to Anthony Davis. Now he has joined the near-unanimous chorus of folks who say that LSU freshman Ben Simmons looks like the No. 1 pick in 2016.N
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.