LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — John Calipari felt a mixed bag of emotions after watching the NBA Draft unfold Thursday night on Brooklyn, New York.
Four of his former players — Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo and Jarred Vanderbilt — were among the 60 players taken in the draft, while Wenyen Gabriel will have to take the long road to reach his dream.
“Graduation day is over,” the Kentucky coach said. “Last night was both exciting and disappointing, as it always is. I’m excited for the four players who got drafted. I’m excited for Kevin, Shai, Jarred and Hami because they are all in good places. I’m disappointed Wenyen’s work to get on a team is not done yet, but I always tell every player that I coach when we go through this process, ‘It may not go perfectly, but if it’s your dream, you’ll make it.’ And I know our guys are made for this.”
Calipari compared Gabriel’s future path into the league to the same one taken by former Wildcats DeAndre Liggins and Andrew Harrison.
“I can look back at DeAndre Liggins and Andrew Harrison and know that the draft doesn’t define your dreams,” he said. “Everybody’s path is different. Now my work begins with next year’s team. With the added hours, I’m going to spend more time in the summer than I normally do trying to create something special. This team is as hungry as any team as I’ve coached, individually and collectively. They inspire me to want to do more.”
Knox was chosen as the ninth pick by the New York Knicks and called his professional starting place a “great opportunity.”
“It’s the mecca of basketball, the media capital of basketball,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to come here and play alongside (Kristaps) Porzingis, (Tim) Hardaway, and some of the great players on the team.”
The former Kentucky standout said he’s prepared for the media pressure he will feel in moving forward and added his experience in Lexington will be beneficial.
“Kentucky is a powerhouse school in college basketball, so I think it gets you ready. You play a lot of top games on ESPN, packed crowds everywhere,” he said. “That’s kind of how Madison Square Garden will be. I think Kentucky helped me really well. I think it’ll be really fun.”
Despite his status as a lottery pick, Knox knows playing in the NBA won’t be an easy task.
“I’m going to go in with the mindset that I’m going to compete every day and work hard to have a starting spot,” he said. “But nothing is guaranteed, especially in the NBA. Fizdale is going to let me fight for the position, fight for the spot. I know I’m going to have to earn it, but I’m willing to work. Nothing is guaranteed. The goal is to start, and I’m going to compete for that starting spot.
“I think that versatility in the league is something that a lot of teams really need, and I think that’s something I can bring to the Knicks right now.”
Gilgeous-Alexander was chosen at No. 11 by the Charlotte Hornets, but was then traded to the Los Angeles Clippers and didn’t mind the switch.
“I was ecstatic to be going to Charlotte, to be going to the NBA really. It’s a great feeling, and whoever I got drafted by, I was going to feel really good,” he said. “And then figuring out I was going to go to the Clippers was even a better feeling. I feel like I fit really well with them and had a great workout and dinner with those guys and feel really comfortable. I guess I feel like I’m on top of the world.”
Vanderbilt was drafted at No. 41 by the Orlando Magic and then traded to the Denver Nuggets. Diallo was taken at No. 45 by the Brooklyn Nets.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.