LEXINGTON, Ky. – So let’s play a game: Which Wildcats are worrying about their NBA draft stock? Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari seemed to hint Thursday, on the eve of a trip to Las Vegas to face seventh-ranked North Carolina, that at least some of his guys are preoccupied with their pro prospects.
“I think most of these kids – and can you blame them? – have their mindset down the road a little bit,” Calipari said. “And when stuff doesn’t go right, you start having anxiety.”
The sixth-ranked Cats (9-1) have six former 5-star recruits on the roster: sophomore Isaiah Briscoe and freshmen De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones. Draft Express has four of them being selected in its 2017 mock draft: Monk at No. 5 overall, Fox at No. 10, Adebayo at No. 15 and Briscoe with the 60th and final pick.
“I sent them a text yesterday: ‘Anxiety is not going to change tomorrow, but it can change your fight today, your battle today, because you’re worrying about stuff that your anxiety is not changing,’ ” Calipari said. “Whatever will happen will happen. So I’m trying to get them to stay in the moment and try to get better. You cannot worry about six months down the road, two months down the road. You can’t worry about our game the following week, the league play, the league tournament.
“Wonder what’s going to happen, what if I don’t … if I don’t make this shot … if I can’t … uh … uh … ah! Well then you can’t play. The battle they have every day in their minds, I tell them all the time: It’s not fair what we do here at Kentucky to you kids.”
He means putting 18-year-olds on the biggest stage in college basketball, in front of the most rabid fan base, which expects nothing less than Final Four appearances but celebrates only national titles, and balking when they aren’t ready to turn pro after just one season.
“We throw them to the wolves,” Calipari said. “They thought they knew what they were buying into, but until you’re in the middle of it, you really don’t know. ‘Yeah, I can do that. Yeah! I want that!’ Now, you really want this? ‘Whew, can I take two days off and then get it on Wednesday?’ No. It’s every day.”
The good news for Kentucky is its coach has become a master at managing such things, at quieting the outside noise, and getting future pros to play together and focus on the task at hand. Camp Cal is a major part of that process, and the between-semesters gauntlet is under way again.
Final exams are over and the holiday break from school has begun, meaning no practice-time limits.
“We’ll practice this morning, get on that plane,” Calipari said Thursday. Upon landing: “Wash your face off, put your stuff back on, let’s go. We’re going to practice out there (to0), so we’re going twice today. I have no restrictions now. Guys, hey, after breakfast we’re going to watch video – and if you don’t stay awake and someone falls asleep, we’re going out and we’re conditioning for an hour. They’ve got toothpicks in their eyes.
“It’s just really focusing their attention on what’s at hand. That’s what this time of the year does.”