Sports

Players give John Calipari a chance on their way to NBA

The results say to do otherwise, but the temptation is too great not to try.

How does a coach pass on a certain top NBA lottery pick when the results say the chances of actually winning a national championship are no greater? Derrick Rose? He was national-title-game-overtime close.

Greg Oden? He was Final Four close.

Kevin Durant had a shot, the same for so many others who left college early: Chris Webber, Shaquille O'Neal, O.J. Mayo, et al.

In reality the plan acts more like a shortcut that can get you close but, unless your team has some experienced upperclassmen, it is not going to end up with a championship banner.

To rely on kids who might not be long for college can be an almost certain invitation to trouble, not to mention the inherent challenges of creating a top-heavy roster that can be in a constant state of flux every spring.

College basketball began to change in 1996 when Kevin Garnett skipped college and went to the NBA. Other players, most notably Kobe Bryant, followed suit. College players began forgoing more than just their senior year, leaving coaches left to build championships around guys who did not always stay for "senior year."

The lack of stability on some of the nation's top teams is thought to be one of the driving reasons why mid-majors such as George Mason, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth have reached the Final Four and title game in recent years.

In 2006, the NBA instituted a minimum age that, basically, forces high schoolers to attend one year of college before they can declare for the draft.

Top-seeded Kentucky, which has at least three projected NBA lottery draft picks, is the latest to try to win an NCAA title relying on a bunch of kids who would prefer to be in the NBA.

No man has routinely challenged this more than Kentucky coach John Calipari, who, despite being arguably the best recruiter in the nation, remains without a title.

For the third time since 2008 Calipari has the top player projected to go No. 1 in the June NBA Draft in center Anthony Davis.

In 2008, Calipari was at Memphis when he had freshman Derrick Rose. Rose went No. 1 to the Bulls that June, but the Memphis Tigers lost in overtime to a veteran Kansas team in the title game.

In 2010, Calipari was at Kentucky when he had freshman guard John Wall and freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins. The Wildcats lost in the Elite Eight that spring, and in June Wall went No. 1 to the Wizards and Cousins went No. 5 to the Kings.

In 2011, Calipari had freshmen Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb reach the Final Four where the Wildcats lost to UConn, which had senior Kemba Walker. The threat of a lengthy NBA lockout is thought to be the reason so many talented freshmen returned to school for their sophomore seasons, which both Jones and Lamb did.

Here in 2012 as the Sweet 16 begins with four games today, Calipari might be coaching the most talented team he has ever assembled. He has Davis, Lamb, Jones, along with freshmen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague; all five are projected first-round NBA draft picks in June. Even senior center Darius Miller is a projected NBA pick.

The gamble is all of this talent will overcome a lack of maturity associated with freshmen.

With its stable of players itching to go to The Association, Kentucky might join Syracuse as the second team to win it all with a collection of guys who aren't old enough to drink.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @MacEngelProf

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