Kentucky Basketball: Calipari Shows The Cleveland Cavaliers What "Players First" Means


John Calipari is touting Cleveland as the destination for Nerlens Noel, because he thinks it's good for Noel.

One of the things you really have to love about John Calipari is that sometimes, you can really tell that he runs a "players first" program.

Consider this article by Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. In it, she discusses Calipari's desire to see Cleveland draft Nerlens Noel with the #1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft that they earned the other day:

Kentucky coach John Calipari hopes the Cavaliers draft Wildcats center Nerlens Noel with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft on June 27.

It's not because it would be a feather in Calipari's cap. He had six players drafted off his roster last year, tying the record for one school, including No. 1 Anthony Davis and No. 2 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the first time two players from the same school have been taken at the top of the draft. There were five first-round picks in 2010 and seven players who have been taken in the top five, including top picks Davis, John Wall and Derrick Rose. [my emphasis]

Boyer comments extensively on her piece with a Cleveland radio station, and in it you get the sense that she understood Calipari's motivation was all about Noel rather than him.

This is something you'll never hear from Calipari's detractors. They'd tell you it is all about self-promotion with him, and to be sure, Calipari does his share of self-promotion. This, however, doesn't happen to be one of those times. He does benefit, but Noel definitely benefits more.

But Kelly Dwyer writing for Yahoo is unconvinced:

Because Kentucky has top overall pick-like players, and will every year. And hey kids, if you want to be a top overall pick in the NBA draft, come to Kentucky for the year! Just suggestin’ things, John is. [ ... ]

To Calipari’s credit, he’s basically come clean about his current gig.

This is what you'd expect from those who don't really pay that much attention to Calipari. He has never been shy about self promotion, but this effort is transparently more about Noel than him. Yes, the ancillary benefits are there and yes, I'm sure that's part of the calculus. But what PR guy wouldn't consider it a wonderful serendipity when his interests, and his client's, coincide.

SB Nation's Cleveland blog, Fear The Sword, was much more complimentary:

One has to wonder how much of this is posturing from Calipari, hoping his own player is the first overall pick. However, Chris Grant being in their gym a lot bodes well for the Cavs making the correct decision and selecting Noel with that pick. Finally, it's awesome that a guy of Calipari's stature is a big fan of where the Cavaliers are headed in the future, and it'll be fun watching this team grow together with the basketball world watching.

Does Calipari want to promote his program, and does that promotion include touting his #1 draft picks? Yes, but who wouldn't? Calipari, however, has preached "players first" over and over again, and literally fell on the "players first" sword last year to the ultimate detriment of his team.

It's clear even to him he went too far there, but in the final analysis, the program isn't changing from "players first" to "Calipari first," but rather recognizing the reality that when you don't have the bench as a motivator, your options are really, really limited and none of them are particularly good.

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