Calipari expects ‘interesting’ draft for UK players

Published 1:17 pm Tuesday, June 19, 2018

LEXINGTON (KT) — John Calipari isn’t sure if all of his players will get chosen in the NBA Draft Thursday night and is still in the process of figuring things out.

“There is a lot of interest in a lot of our guys,” Calipari said. “I don’t have exactly a feel for where everyone will go but we still have a few days (when it will) start shaking out to get an idea. I think they’re all ready. … This will be interesting.”

What Calipari does know is Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will be part of the contingent in the green room in Brooklyn, while Hamidou Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt and Wenyen Gabriel will watch from elsewhere hoping to be among the 60 players selected in the one-day event.

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Knox and Gilgeous-Alexander are projected by many analysts to be lottery selections, while Diallo and Vanderbilt are considered to be picked in the late first- to early second-round. Gabriel is a long-shot, but Calipari said his former forward has been turning heads during individual workouts for several teams leading up to the draft.

“A couple of teams (that have picks in the late first round) really like him,” Calipari said. “The reason is (because) he is 6-foot-10, he can really shoot and that’s kinda where the league is going, Now physically, he’s got to get stronger and I think in an NBA environment, I think within a year, you will see someone who is 6-10, physically able to battle and shoot it. Right now, the physical part is a little tougher for him, but I think if someone can get him in that late second (round), that’s a steal. My hope is that he goes somewhere in the second round. He may not.”

Although Vanderbilt was hampered by injuries last season and appeared in 12 games during the second half of the season, Calipari said NBA teams took notice of his energy, drive, and skill when he was on the court.

“I don’t think Jarred will be late second round,” Calipari said. “His analytics … all of those teams that are looking at the analytic stuff, in those 12 games (he played for us) are off the charts. … My guess is he will be gone before the late second (round). There are some teams in the late first round into the early middle second round (that are looking at him).”

Calipari, who has had 31 players selected in the draft in his eight seasons, including 24 first-round selections, 17 lottery picks and three top picks, said players selected in the later rounds have succeeded in the league despite taking the longer route. He singled out Dakari Johnson, DeAndre Liggins, and Andrew Harrison.

“I have had guys that have gone second round and had to play their way into the NBA and it’s a great way of doing it,” he said. “You have the up and down stuff and now you have some two-way contracts, which I think are beneficial to those kind of kids too.”

Calipari had several discussions with PJ Washington during the past four weeks regarding his decision to remain in the NBA Draft or return for a second season. Washington ultimately opted to return for his sophomore campaign, a decision, Calipari said, was up to Washington and his family to decide.

“You try to be honest, which is what you do in the recruiting process,” he said. “I’m not going to oversell (with their decision). It’s not what I do, it’s what they do. I’m not into the business of over-riding (their decisions).”

Knox has been projected as a No 9 pick to the New York Knicks and Calipari said his former forward is among the sleeper picks in the draft.

“There are going to be teams pass on him,” he said. “And people are going to say two years from now, ‘why would we have passed on him?’ He’s the youngest player in this draft. He’s mentally mature and he has a great drive and will within his body, but physically his body is not there yet.

“You’re getting a 6-10 scorer who is tougher than you think. What you find out when you get him is that is what the league is moving to — a 6-10 guy that can score the ball, can shoot it, block shots and athletically can do it.”

Gilgeous-Alexander also is considered a lottery pick. Calipari doesn’t have a complete idea where he will fall in the draft but said his former point guard is limiting his pre-draft workouts.

“I don’t know what that means,” Calipari said. “Sometimes it means they have a good idea of where he’s going to go. I have not talked to his agent about it. The teams love this kid. You’re talking 6-6, seven-foot wingspan.”

Like the rest of his players, Calipari thinks Diallo also will be a surprise in the draft.

“I’m hearing good stuff with Hami,” Calipari said. “He may end up going probably where he was going to go a year ago late first, early to middle second-round somewhere. I know this, he’s way more to prepared to make it than he was a year ago. … Athletically, there’s probably not a better athlete in the draft.”