From a college basketball perspective, there was one big winner at Thursday night's NBA draft: the University of Kentucky men's basketball program.
As if John Calipari needed to boost his NBA-friendly reputation any more. And yet he did: Calipari's first season at Kentucky produced the No. 1 overall pick in the draft (John Wall), the No. 5 pick (DeMarcus Cousins), a third lottery pick at No. 14 (Patrick Patterson), and two more first-round picks in point guard Eric Bledsoe and forward Daniel Orton. That's -- count 'em -- five first-round picks. Um, wow.
Yes, it was a good night for the Big Blue, though perhaps not quite as good as Calipari thought. Early in the night, he told an ESPN reporter that this was the "biggest night in the history of Kentucky basketball." There are seven national championships hanging from Rupp Arena that might disagree with Coach Cal on that point.
Still, considering Calipari's most notable coaching talent -- recruiting -- you can understand his enthusiasm. The coach managed to get five players, three of whom were one-and-done freshmen, into the first round of the NBA draft. The last two picks are especially impressive: Bledsoe could have taken his point guard brilliance somewhere else once Wall committed to Kentucky, but Calipari convinced him to stay and play combo-guard, and Bledsoe's draft stock not only didn't fade but actually improved. Meanwhile, Daniel Orton played a measly 13.4 minutes per game in 2009-10, averaging 3.4 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. And still he was taken in the first round of the draft.
Which is, in the end, the biggest weapon in Calipari's recruiting arsenal: the NBA draft. Calipari already has a track record of producing NBA-friendly talent. Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans, the last two NBA rookie of the year winners, came from Calipari's Memphis program. With Rose and Wall, the coach has now nurtured two of the last three No. 1 overall picks. This is already paying off in recruiting -- top young point guards like Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague have already committed to Kentucky for the next two seasons, and Calipari's point guard production is the main reason why.
But when you extend the depth and breadth of Calipari's draft success -- when you can get your off-guard and a 13-minutes-per-game role player drafted in the first round -- every elite recruit under the sun is going to take notice. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The most talented players will go to Kentucky to improve their NBA draft chances. Then they'll get drafted. Then a new cycle of players, observing the success of their predecessors, will repeat the process all over again.
You don't have to go to Kentucky to get drafted. At this point, though, it doesn't seem to hurt. That's an exciting prospect for Kentucky fans (so long as they're willing to deal with a slew of one-and-done players, and I'd assume they are) and a thoroughly scary one for everyone else.