Vaught's Views: Calipari supports Meeks, Patterson, but hopes to coach them next year
By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON -- John Calipari would like to coach Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson.
Meeks led the Southeastern Conference in scoring last year at almost 25 points per game and was one of nation’s top 3-point and free throw shooters. Patterson is a brute inside who averaged almost a double-double -- 17.9 points, 9.3 rebounds -- per game.
Add a couple of star recruits to those returning players and Kentucky could go from playing in the NIT this season to a top 15 team going into next season.
Yet Calipari was sincere Wednesday when he said he fully embraced both players putting their name into the NBA draft to see what market value they have, especially since neither is hiring an agent to safeguard their collegiate eligibility.
“I think both he (Patterson) and Jodie should go for it. I have talked to them about the process. Obviously, I lived it. I drafted players in the NBA. I know what can hurt them, so I am going to talk to them about it,” said Calipari, a former head coach with the NBA’s New Jersey Nets.
“I hope I get a chance to coach them. I think they have improved themselves in their position, but they have to do what is right for them and their families. That’s why I said you have to go about recruiting not really knowing who is here and who is not. That is going to be a yearly thing for us I believe.”
A yearly thing? At Kentucky?
Now won’t that be a change.
It got to that point when Rick Pitino had the Big Blue rolling and players like Antoine Walker and Ron Mercer left early for the NBA.
Tubby Smith had players leave -- Rajon Rondo, Kelenna Azubuike, Randolph Morris -- but he never embraced their decisions. Instead, Smith eventually chose to quit recruiting players he thought might leave early in their careers.
Calipari doesn’t mind players leaving. If anything, he’s all for it and that’s why he wants UK fans to understand an early departure to the NBA is not a bad thing.
“If those two choose to go now, I will be all for them. I will be disappointed because I want to coach them, but none of us should be mad,” Calipari said before Wednesday’s practice. “This is about a decision they make for themselves and their family.
“I am going to tell all you folks (in the media) sitting here. Every year we are going to be doing this. There is going to be a guy in here for one year and he’s going to make that decision.
“Don’t be mad. Be happy for him and his family and we will go get another guy that may only stay one year. Then we will have guys stay for four years and then go on to pro careers hopefully or careers otherwise.”
Think Calipari knew highly-touted, and unsigned, recruits John Wall, Xavier Henry and DeMarcus Cousins might read those comments since all three hope to be one-and-done players at the college level?
It’s not like Calipari is pushing Meeks and Patterson out the door.
“I think they are talented. They have a chance (to be drafted),” he said.
However, he said both need to evaluate where they will be drafted because the higher they are chosen, the better odds they have of staying in the league.
“When you start talking later in the draft or second round, there’s just a small, small percentage that make it,” Calipari said.
He says both will avoid pre-draft camps in Chicago and Orlando because he’s seen players play there, decide to return to college and never overcome the impression they made on NBA personnel then.
“They (NBA personnel) will never change their minds. I can say that because I drafted players (for the New Jersey Nets). You do not want to put yourself out there like that,” Calipari said.
The new UK coach pushed both players in Wednesday’s practice. He made Meeks do the same fullcourt drill three times to open practice. However, when he went through a drill “with the game on the line,” he called Meeks from the back of the line to the court to take the imaginary game-winning shot.
He also challenged Patterson’s ballhandling and running.
“What I am saying to Patrick right now is that I want him to play like he’s a guard. If the game is on the line, where is he going to be? He is going to be right there next to the basket. I told him that. In the interim, you can’t be that size and play in that league standing under the basket. You can’t do it,” Calipari said.
The coach had new T-shirts made for his players honoring Meeks’ 54-point game at Tennessee in January. The blue practice shirts were a reminder to players of the performance they witnessed.
“Jodie is one of the great people I have been around. Not only that, he is an unbelievable leader,” Calipari said. “He has the ability to shoot and make free throws. When you have the ability to beat people on the bounce and just go, his game is going to ... He could be a lottery pick.”
And the first of many lottery picks that Calipari wants to bring to Kentucky.
Copyright:The Advocate-Messenger 2009