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.
Kentucky Hosts 90 NBA Personnel for Combine, Calipari Says it May Become Annual Event
Kentucky is hosting 90 NBA front office personnel and scouts for basketball practice on Friday, and head coach John Calipari said he may make the combine an annual event.
The scouts will stay for two more practices on Saturday and one or two on Sunday.
Calipari said he will shut down his practices to NBA personnel for at least 2-3 weeks following this weekend, but wanted to show his players he had their backs by showcasing them early to pro decision-makers.
“They gotta know I got their back,” Calipari said on ESPNU. “That you can still play 20 minutes and accomplish your personal dreams as we try to do something unique. So by doing this right away, that was part of it.
“The other part of it was, what do I have to do to help these young men get where they’re going?”
Kentucky has produced seven one-and-done-players in the last three years, and the current team has nine McDonald’s All-Americans, including 7-foot New Jersey native Karl-Anthony Towns, a projected top-3 pick in the NBA Draft.
The event was closed to the media, so none of Kentucky’s beat writers, or national reporters, were allowed in. ESPN had Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg and Avery Johnson broadcasting, with Myron Medcalf as the sideline reporter.
Calipari had a similar event in 2011 after the season but noted that it was soon “outlawed.”
“This will probably get outlawed, too,” Calipari said with a laugh. “Since I did it first, it’s outlawed. I proudly wear the black hat.”
Still, he added that it may become an annual event.
“It may be something I want to do every year,” he said. “Get you [NBA scouts] in, get you out and let me get my team together. Let’s worry about us now.”
Johnson suggested that other teams may try to follow Calipari’s lead, with Duke, Arizona and Kansas among the few teams who might be able to replicate Kentucky’s talent level.
Kansas coach Bill Self is already on record saying he wouldn’t do it.
“That would certainly not be anything we would do,” Self told the Journal-World on Friday after the Jayhawks’ first practice of the 2014-15 season. “That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It just means it wouldn’t be for us.”
The Kentucky combine coincidentally overlapped with Kansas’ Midnight Madness, Late Night in the Phog. The two teams are competing for several of the same top 2015 players, including Jaylen Brown, Stephen Zimmerman and Brandon Ingram, all of whom are at Kansas this weekend and will be at Kentucky next week for Big Blue Madness.
“I promise you the recruits in Kansas at late night in phog are watching Calipari and UK in their hotel room right now before heading out,” one coach Tweeted.
The event — and the fact that 90 NBA personnel are at Kentucky — is obviously a great recruiting tool, and is not lost on guys like Roselle (N.J.) Catholic guard Isaiah Briscoe, who visited Kentucky recently and is at Missouri this weekend, or 2016 Gill St. Bernard’s guard Tyus Battle, who visits Kentucky next weekend.
“Coach Cal, he got a machine going right now with all the people he’s sending to the NBA,” Briscoe told SNY.tv.
Still, Calipari insisted recruiting wasn’t his main motivation in running the combine.
“I’m doing this for my guys,” Calipari said. “If it helps recruiting that’s fine but that’s not why I did it. I did it for my team and these kids here.”
Bilas said Kentucky could have two six-man teams that would be ranked in the Top 25, and Calipari has said he plans to play a platoon system where he plays 10 or 11 guys 20 minutes each.
“The upside is 10 kids eat, and really 12 kids eat,” Calipari said. “It’s easy to say you should only play eight or seven, unless that’s your two or three sons who aren’t playing.
“These kids all deserve to play. I did not expect Willie [Cauley-Stein] and Alex [Poythress], the twins [Andrew and Aaron Harrison] to come back. I wasn’t sure Dakari [Johnson] would come back, but they all did. And now I gotta take care of all of them.
“The downside. What if one or two kids separate and they deserve more minutes. This isn’t communism, and they deserve more minutes. Doc Rivers said to me, that’s gonna be your issue. How do you get them more minutes than everybody else. That will play over time.
“How do you finish a game? Who are our five best free throw shooters?”
Calipari has a highly unique team here and it should be interesting to watch it all play out going forward.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
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.