NEW YORK – Kentucky coach John Calipari is set to spend most of Thursday, NBA Draft day, appearing across all of ESPN’s various platforms to trumpet his four 2016 hopefuls and brag about the Wildcats’ unprecedented run of pro picks since he was hired in 2009.
“He’s very proud of it,” said Skal Labissiere, who will likely add to to Calipari’s totals of 19 first-rounders and 13 lottery picks as UK’s coach. “Even on my recruiting visit, he was talking about it. You could tell. And you want to play for someone like that, who’s very passionate about what he does.”
Kentucky has churned out 25 total NBA Draft picks in Calipari’s first six seasons. Labissiere, Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis and Alex Poythress could join that list Thursday. There’s a lot to boast about.
“Any chance I get to brag about my kids, and they give me that opportunity, oh, I’m braging about my guys,” Calipari said. “The chance to brag about the 25 guys in the league and talk about what we’ve been able to do – you give me a chance to do that and I can do it with a player, with Karl Towns (who’ll join him on the ESPN circuit), he and I can have some fun and have a couple good hours together – I do it.”
Then comes the not-so-fun part: draft night. Calipari said his lasting memory of draft nights past is “being so nervous that I want to throw up.”
That, Labissiere said, is because he cares so much – another draw to UK’s coach in recruiting, and a reason his past players still pledge such strong allegiance to him.
“He looks out for us,” Labissiere said. “He treats us like Brad Calipari, like we are his own son. That’s all you can ask for. Takes us to his house, feeds us, cares for us. He has a lot to be proud of.”
Calipari said his nerves Thursday night, as he waits to see where the Wildcats will be picked – he plans to sit in the green room with Labissiere and Murray – will be greater than before a bitter rivalry game or even the national championship game.
“Because these families are going to get a chance to breathe for the first time in their lives, and you sit there and it’s hanging over you,” Calipari said. “I can remember sitting there with Brandon Knight before he was picked by Detroit, sick because they passed on him at four, they passed on him at five, they passed him at six. And all of a sudden, we’re looking at each other and I’m nauseous.”
As excruciating as it is, Kentucky’s coach wouldn’t miss it. Draft day is like a holiday for him, an infomercial for the program, and an important step for players he frequently refers to as “sons.”
“Somebody may say, ‘Why do you go? You’re there to be seen.’ No, it’s their graduation night. I’m not going to go to graduation?” Calipari said. “I’m going to my sons’ graduation and I’m going to enjoy it with them and their family (and let them know), ‘I’m here for you.’”
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