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Kentucky basketball loses all five starters to NBA draft

April 17, 2012|By Chris Dufresne
  • Kentucky forward Anthony Davis celebrates as he cuts down the net after Kentucky's victory over Kansas in the NCAA championship game April 2.
Kentucky forward Anthony Davis celebrates as he cuts down the net after… (David J. Phillip / Associated…)

Maybe there's a reason incoming Kentucky recruit Nerlens Noel shaved "UK" into his flat-top haircut last week instead of opting for a tattoo.

Tattoos are meant to last.

What lasts, these days, at Kentucky?

Barely a fortnight after Kentucky won its eighth NCAA title by beating Kansas in New Orleans, the basketball team's starting lineup announced Tuesday it was skipping out early for the NBA.

The exodus includes starting freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague and sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. Also departing are seniors Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas.

"They came to me and said we want to do this together," Kentucky Coach John Calipari said at the afternoon news conference in Lexington.

Calipari put out a teaser when he first announced only three players were leaving early for the NBA draft. After a pause, he mentioned the two others.

"I tried to scare some coaches," Calipari said.

Calipari also expects Miller, the senior, to get drafted.

Players have until April 29 to announce their intentions, but the news was hardly a shock. Kentucky players stayed in college longer than some predicted only because Tuesday’s original 2 p.m. Eastern news conference time was pushed back five hours.

Davis, the star center and college basketball’s player of the year, thanked Kentucky for "letting me come here and follow my dream." Davis is expected to be the first player taken in the draft.

The NBA rule prohibiting players from joining the league until they turn 19 has turned college basketball into a temporary stop for the nation's elite players.

Calipari has adeptly used the rule to assemble all-star teams, recruiting top players with the understanding they won't be around long.

In Lexington, the motto is: "Out with the new, in with the newer."

Calipari's philosophy was validated this year when his three freshmen, two-sophomore starting lineup won the national title.

The strategy hasn't always worked. Two years ago, Kentucky had five players drafted in the NBA's first round — four freshmen and a junior — led by No.1 overall pick John Wall.

That team, though, fell short in the NCAA regional finals against West Virginia.

Calipari is not responsible for the age-limit rule — it's an NBA collective bargaining issue. He is only guilty of, brilliantly, exploiting it.

"I don’t apologize," Calipari said at the Final Four. "It’s not my rule."

 NCAA President Mark Emmert said he opposes the rule but estimated it affects only about 15 out of 5,500 basketball players.

"I’ve made no secret of the fact I would prefer to have a different model," Emmert said at his Final Four news conference.  "I think most people would prefer to have a model that keeps young men and women in college as long as you can. But I don’t think we should blow the one-and-done out of proportion and suggest that’s somehow undermining all of academics in the NCAA. It’s 15 kids. They have a chance to play professionally because that’s what the rules allow and they all want to pursue it, so that’s fine."

Calipari doesn't wallow in what he's lost. He’s already assembled another top-ranked recruiting class. It's led by Noel, a 6-foot-10 center from New Hampshire who will succeed Davis.

Noel announced his college intentions last week on ESPNU in the form of a haircut.

"I’ll be taking my talents for college to play at the University of… "

Noel then turned around to reveal the "UK" coiffed into the back of his scalp.

No long-term harm done. The missing hair for Kentucky’s next potential "one-and-done" should easily be filled in by next April.


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