(Written By Tom Shanahan)
Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier put on a senior refuse-to-lose run — one I believe Michigan State senior Keith Appling would have recorded without his wrist injury — to beat Kentucky Monday night for the NCAA title.
You have to celebrate for Napier and ache for Appling, who was similar in size to Napier as well as skill before Appling’s wrist injury limited his game. A savvy senior guard was needed to spare us watching John Calipari exploit five Kentucky freshmen en route to cutting down the nets at Jerry’s World football stadium in Arlington, Tex.
I used to say the late Al Davis’ reign of terror in the NFL with his Los Angeles/ Oakland Raiders in the 1980s and 1990s represented everything evil about sports.
Now we have Calipari — who had Final Four trips by Massachusetts in 1996 and Memphis in 2008 vacated by the NCAA — and his latest cast of one-and-done Wildcats. They represented everything evil about college athletics.
Calipari twists college and NBA rules to delude kids to think they’re ready for the NBA. Then he pleads innocence that it’s the NBA rule — not a college rule or his doing — that allows college players to turn pro one year after high school.
“Every player that I’ve recruited, and they will tell you, I say the same thing: ‘Don’t plan on coming to school for one year. You make a huge mistake,'” Calipari said. “But if after one year, you have options, that will be up to you and your family.”
Hint, hint — “options” translates to money. There’s a reason Kentucky had more one-and-dones than anybody else.
You might defend Calipari with his record. He’s taken three of his five Kentucky teams to the Final Four. He’s won one title with the 2012 team. He’s rich and famous. But where has he left his players? Do they have degrees? Do they have a legacy after only one year of college? Kentucky’s academic reputation is tarnished, too.
Let’s look at the NBA records of Calipari’s one-and-done players:
2010 one-and-done players
— John Wall. The No. 1 overall pick of Washington needed his fourth season this year to make his first NBA All-Star game. He has yet to make an All-NBA team. In other words, he’s immensely talented but still learning the game. The No. 1 overall pick is supposed to turn around a franchise; he has failed to come close to doing so with the Wizards.
— Eric Bledsoe, 18th pick, Oklahoma City. No All-Star games.
— Daniel Orton, 29th pick, Orlando. Orton hears a Who? Not only no All-Star games, he’s out of the league. He’s playing in the D-League with the Maine Red Claws. That’s not quite the glamorous picture that was fed to him.
2011 one-and-done players
— Enes Kanter, 3rd pick, Utah. No All-Star games.
— Brandon Knight, 8th pick, Detroit. No All-Star games.
2012 one-and-done players
— Anthony Davis, No. 1 overall pick by Utah. Davis might be the only one of Calipari’s one-and-done players who develops into a giant of the game. But he wasn’t ready for an immediate impact. He didn’t make an All-Star team until this season, his second year.
— Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, 2nd, Charlotte. He averages only 7.2 points so obviously he hasn’t made an All-Star game. He also plays with the curse of being picked high by Michael Jordan, a proven poor judge of talent.
— Marquis Teague, 29th, Chicago. He averages 2.6 points a game, so, obviously, no All-Star game selections.
2013 one-and-done players
— Nerlen Noels, 6th, Philadelphia. He has spent the year rehabbing a knee injury suffered at the end of his freshman college season and hasn’t played as a pro.
If you think judging the Kentucky’s one-and-done players by their All-Star games is unfair this early in their careers, think again.
Let’s look at the golden age of the NBA in the 1980s and 1990s when rosters were stocked by players who didn’t leave college until their eligibility expired (Larry Bird, many others) or they were universally judged as ready when they left school (Magic Johnson, sophomore, Michael Jordan, junior, and a handful of others).
They became giants of the game.
At the NBA level of play, a lack of confidence can neutralize talent. Orton may never regain his mojo. Kentucky’s one-and-done players are getting beaten down before they’re ready for the NBA.
Magic was the first pick of the 1979 NBA draft. He turned around the Los Angeles Lakers as a rookie, leading the team to the NBA title. He was 5-time champion, 12-time All-Star and nine-time All-NBA pick.
Bird might have been the first or second pick in 1979, but he was a unique situation. Boston drafted him in 1978 as a fourth-year senior and retained his rights when he returned to Indiana State as a fifth-year senior. Boston signed Bird before he would have re-entered the 1979 draft. But the point is, Bird turned around the Celtics as an All-Star in his rookie year. He was a 3-time NBA champion, 12-time All-Star and 9-time All-NBA.
Jordan was the third pick in 1984 (Hall-of-Famer Hakeem Olajuwon was first and injury-plagued Sam Bowie second) by Chicago. He was a 6-time champion, 14-time All-Star and 10-time All-NBA.
In the 1979 draft, four of the top 10 picks were All-Stars in their careers. In 1980, three of the top 10 were All-Stars; 1981, 6 of the top 10; 1982, 3 of the top 10; 1983, 3 of the top 10; and 1984, 5 of the top 10.
Calipari’s one-and-done players will never live up to a similar success rate. Calipari’s players are rich, but what else do they possess from their college stint?