Eric Bledsoe is one example of a player who was a marginal NBA prospect out of high school.
"The key phrase is 'developing pros,'" Bilas said the morning of the NBA Draft on Thursday. "Nobody is developing pros.
"It implies that coaches choose. 'I'm going to develop a pro.'"
I'm not totally sure I buy that argument. I agree that no college coaches are entering the season with the objective of creating professional players. College coaches try to develop college basketball teams. With that said, there is little doubt that at the end of the year, one of Calipari's objectives is to have players who are ready drafted into the NBA.
This is clear from his own words:
"Five families reach their dreams. Five new millionaires created. If you told me we'd win a national title and no one gets drafted, I'm probably disappointed. I'd be happy we won. I'd be happy for the school. We get to put up another banner. How did it benefit the players?''
Clearly, if Coach Cal would be disappointed if no players got drafted, he has an expectation -- nay, an objective -- to see players move on to the NBA. How is it possible that something so obviously important to him does not factor into his coaching philosophy?
"Anthony Davis was a pro no matter where he went to school," Bilas said. "That's true of most of them."
Bilas likened any school or coach claiming credit for developing pro players to a modeling agency saying it created, say, Kate Moss or Christy Turlington.
Bilas is correct about Davis, but he's filibustering here. His analogy fails on the obvious difference between what an agent does and what a coach does. This is the kind of analogy that I don't normally expect from Jay Bilas, who is nothing if not sharp and fair in his reasoning.
Now, some of you might object, at this point, that I made the opposite point in the previous post on this topic, but that's not the case. My argument there was that college coaches are focused on developing college teams, not professionals, and to the extent that was Bilas' point as well, I agree with him. I also agree with him that most of the players that Calipari has put in the NBA were sure draft picks at some level when they entered college. Most, but definitely not all.
In rejecting the idea that any coach can develop pro players, Bilas cited his alma mater, Duke.
"Does anybody believe Kyrie Irving played 11 games and he was developed by Duke to be a pro?" he asked.
Again, this is a bit of a dodge by Bilas. Irving would have been a draft pick out of high school, as would Davis and John Wall, and possibly Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and DeMarcus Cousins. But every one of these worthies save perhaps Davis and Wall were higher draft picks, arguably, because of their association with their college coaches. I know Eric Bledsoe was, and so was Marquis Teague, Daniel Orton, and Patrick Patterson. Josh Harrellson's association with John Calipari turned him into an NBA professional, although arguably that was more because of Harrellson's determination than Calipari's coaching.
Bilas said he did not mean to criticize Calipari or any other coach.
"John Calipari is not a good coach," he said, "he's a great coach."
That's nice to hear, and I agree. Even his most vociferous detractors are going to have trouble disagreeing on any rational basis.
Bilas just doesn't buy — despite the mounting numbers — that Calipari has a formula for producing pro players.
Instead, might the 15 UK players drafted reflect great recruiting?
"That's exactly what it means," Bilas said. "It's a great sales pitch. If your goal is the NBA, you see a path has been blazed."
I'm not sure if that first sentence is an editorial comment by Jerry Tipton or an actual observation by Bilas, but it's demonstrably wrong. Calipari does have a formula for producing professional players, even if that is not its main objective. His formula is to recruit at the highest level, then transform those high-school stars into a great college team. That's his formula for producing winning college basketball teams, and it also produces a high percentage of NBA draft picks. The two are pretty much inextricably intertwined.
What we are really arguing about here is intent. Is it Calipari's intent to produce professionals? No, not per se, although he clearly expects to see a high percentage of his players drafted. His main intent, however, is to produce NCAA champions. But he knows that if he does that, professional success will follow because of his aforementioned formula. And contra Bilas' implication, that does matter to Calipari -- a lot. So you can't really separate his desire to see his charges succeed at the next level from his formula for college basketball success.
In sum, Bilas' argument moots itself, and the only really useful characteristic of it is that college coaches don't get paid to produce pros, but to win college games, and hence, that is their objective rather than to produce professional players. To the extent that was his point, he's right.
He really should have stopped there.