Podcast: Why NBA scouts and prospects are drawn to John Calipari
Welcome to SEC Country’s weekly Kentucky Wildcats basketball podcast, “Everybody’s Superpod,” with Kyle Tucker. Today, we’re joined by ESPN NBA Insider Chad Ford to talk about three Cats’ draft stock and John Calipari’s reputation among NBA scouts and prospects.
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Chad Ford was raving about Washington freshman Markelle Fultz as the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Ford, ESPN’s draft guru, was saying how Fultz’s game has virtually no holes. However, there’s this one nit to pick: Sometimes it looks like the frustration of carrying a bad team is getting to him.
The Huskies are 9-16 and almost certainly not going to make the NCAA Tournament, and now people are scrutinizing Fultz’s body language, whispering about his attitude. Same thing happened to Ben Simmons toward the end of last season as he languished at LSU.
“It’s tough when you have guys that are that talented on bad teams,” Ford said. No wonder most elite prospects want to team up at places like Duke and Kentucky, right? “I’ve said this for years: If I had a kid who was an elite, 5-star prospect, I’d send him to Kentucky. And I’d send him to Kentucky because I know what John Calipari is going to do with my kid and I know my kid’s going to be surrounded by talent and that every year he’s got a chance to really be showcased and shine.
“Picking a Washington or picking an LSU, man, that’s a lot of pressure on one guy.”
That was only the beginning of Ford’s praise for Kentucky and Calipari as he joined Everybody’s Superpod to break down the Wildcats’ top three NBA prospects: projected first-rounders De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo. He also explained Calipari’s reputation in NBA circles for preparing players for the league.
There have been 28 Kentucky players drafted – 21 in the first round, 14 in the lottery and three taken No. 1 overall – since Calipari came to town before the 2009-10 season. Every single one-and-done player he’s coached (there have been 22, including Memphis) has been picked in the first round.
“I think by far, Kentucky is the gold standard,” Ford said, borrowing a line from Calipari himself. “As you look at teams and their scouting, it’s the system Calipari plays, it’s the access that he gives, it’s the transparency. I’ve heard a number of NBA scouts and general managers talk about the honesty with which he discusses privately with them the players’ strengths and weaknesses, which means there’s a lot of trust there. There’s some coaches who’ll try to hide the wards because their whole reputation is going to be around getting guys drafted.
“But it actually hurts their players in the process. The transparency with which Kentucky does things, as far as the NBA guys, I think is huge.”
To be clear, Ford said, Calipari advocates for every one of his players and does all he can to get them drafted as high as possible. But he won’t lie to NBA evaluators who will eventually discover the truth anyway.
“NBA teams, when they’re drafting a Kentucky player, feel like they have a complete picture of who the player is,” Ford said. “When they scouted DeMarcus Cousins, Calipari did not hold back about some of the challenges DeMarcus Cousins presented. He didn’t hide it. He didn’t sugar-coat it. He also told them all the great things about DeMarcus, and anybody that’s been around DeMarcus knows that he’s a very mixed bag that way.
“He does have a bad reputation, and some of it very deserved, but there’s also some great aspects about Demarcus Cousins and his personality, and they got a very complete picture from Calipari.”
There’s another interesting byproduct of Calipari’s straight shooting with pro scouts: it puts his players on notice that they’d better be worthy of his endorsement.
“I think that creates a certain level of accountability,” Ford said. “He wants to get everybody to the NBA. He’s not one of these coaches who’ll bury a player so he’ll come back next year because he doesn’t have a recruit ready to replace him so, ‘I’m going to mess with his minutes or give him bad information about the draft.’ Calipari always has a great reputation about being very open with the players. But also, ‘I’m going to demand accountability out of you and when these NBA people come and trust me, they’re going to get the real picture of who you are. So you ought to be the person you need to be.’ ”
So if you ever wondered why NBA scouts and prospects alike flock to Lexington, now you know.
Miss any of the previous five episodes of “Everybody’s Superpod,” where Jay Bilas talks aliens, Evan Daniels talks recruiting, Gary Parrish talks naked John Calipari, Tony Delk crushes on Malik Monk and Nolan Richardson relieves the SEC’s glory days? Find every edition of SEC Country’s weekly Kentucky Wildcats basketball podcast right here.