NBA Draft: Kentucky Wildcats make history, and coach John Calipari’s leadership deserves another look


Anthony Davis, head coach John Calipari and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of the Kentucky Wildcats pose during the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft. (Elsa/GETTY IMAGES)

The Kentucky Wildcats made history last night in the NBA draft, with six of their men’s basketball players—three of them freshmen—going pro in the NBA’s annual rite of passage. While that ties University of Nevada at Las Vegas’ record from 1977, according to ESPN, the difference is that none of the Rebels went in the first round. Moreover, two players from the Wildcats’ national championship-winning team, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrest, went first and second in the draft, the first time that has happened.

This is unlikely to calm the critics of John Calipari—the Kentucky coach known for the number of “one-and-done” players who spend a year playing college ball before joining the NBA. The controversial coach has been criticized not only for turning the collegiate experience into an NBA waystation, but for reportedly saying privately that he loves freshmen who turn pro. And while this is just one of the many reasons many hoops fans make Calipari the villain (there is also the rich pay package, the salesman approach, the past infractions by players), one can’t deny that he is very, very good at winning.

True, Calipari’s approach to recruiting stars, who are lured to his team at least in part by their chances at making it in the NBA, may make him millions. But it also makes his job harder: Losing six players to the draft in one year, including two extremely promising freshmen, means he can’t coast through the next couple of years with an experienced team of veteran players.

In some ways, he has to start from scratch each year. As SLAM editor-in-chief Ben Osborne pointed out in a March piece for On Leadership, Calipari regularly has to develop fresh, raw talent, build team camaraderie quickly, and get new players to focus on their current team rather than their future fortunes. Calipari’s coaching style may be controversial, but he’s certainly not taking the easy way out, either.

More from On Leadership:

John Calipari’s controversial leadership style

Kentucky Wildcats and the ‘one-and-done’ rule


View Photo Gallery: Highlights from the commencement addresses given by politicians, celebrities and other notables this year.

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.

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