As fans of Big Blue Nation are well aware, John Calipari is a lightning rod for criticism. Amongst the myriad of reasons is that Calipari makes no qualms about the fact that he runs a "players-first" program. His ultimate goal as a coach is to optimize his players' chances to make it to the NBA. As a Kentucky fan, I'm not complaining. Number one recruiting classes, Elite 8/Final 4 seasons, and first-round draft picks clearly demonstrate that Calipari's philosophy has been an all-around success.
To that end, John Calipari may also be revolutionizing the NBA Draft. In a release from his website, CoachCal.com, Calipari has announced the creation of the 2011 Kentucky Combine, a showcase for the four Wildcats eligible for the draft. Per the release:
Three of our underclassmen – freshmen Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight and junior DeAndre Liggins – have declared for the draft but none have elected to have any agreements with advisors or agents. A fourth Wildcat, senior Josh Harrellson, is preparing for the upcoming draft.
With that in mind, I’m proud to announce the Kentucky Combine to be held May 2-3, 2011 at the state-of-the-art Joe Craft Center on the UK campus. All the NBA teams have been invited to the private workouts for our players that will be conducted by NBA personnel.
The "combine" is a common occurrence in college football, as all major programs hold "pro days" for their seniors and draft-eligible underclassmen on campus. Further, college basketball players have been holding private workouts for teams prior to the draft for years, usually showcased by sports agencies.
However, it appears the Kentucky Combine will be the first of its kind in combining both scenarios to the benefit of the program and the players. With two potential lottery picks and four players that could be drafted overall, Kentucky is one of the few programs that could have put on this type of event. Further, given Calipari's track record, Kentucky is one of the few programs that can potentially hold this event on a yearly basis.
Calipari clearly states the rationale for such a combine:
1. NBA teams are prohibited from working out or having contact with any players until after the Declared List is released, which happened on April 28.
2. This means players have only just over a week in which to meet with and workout for teams before an ultimate decision must be made.
3. The players are not allowed to miss class during the week to travel to workouts or to visit with teams.
Thanks to the NCAA's inane rule that states that players have to withdraw by May 8 (a rule that is getting only more ridiculous), Calipari has built a "loophole" of sorts that will maximize the visibility of his players while also giving them ample opportunity to gauge whether or not they are NBA-ready. In essence, it sounds like Calipari has built a mechanism by which he is (1) helping his players prepare for the NBA, (2) helping Kentucky by making the withdrawal decision more crystal clear, and (3) abiding by the NCAA rule that is supposedly looking out for the "interest of student-athletes." Sounds like a win-win-win, no?
Despite this, it's not hard to envision critics coming out of the woodwork. They may decry the "professional nature" of such an event that doesn't adhere to the "spirit of the student-athlete." They may point out that a college-run showcase for NBA scouts is just another part of the Calipari NBA factory. They may even somehow tie this back to recruiting as another point that surely what Calipari is doing must be against NCAA regulations.
To all this, I'm fine with hitting the ignore button. John Calipari says it best in how it will help the player and the program: "My hope is this will allow our players to get direct feedback from NBA decision-makers and hopefully create a clearer picture of what their NBA potential may be."
This is a great avenue for Knight, Jones and Liggins to make the most informed decision possible. It's a way to showcase the NBA potential of Josh Harrellson. It continues to shine a light that Kentucky's program is dedicated to helping its players succeed. In the end, it may even help Kentucky return one or more of its underclassmen. Even if that doesn't come to pass, these student-athletes are, in theory, keeping up with their schoolwork. Finally, in a point that goes mostly unsaid by Calipari, the event is a way to cut out the middleman, whether it be agents, runners, fellow early-entrants, or even the obtuse NCAA. For that, I applaud the 2011 Kentucky Combine.