John Calipari will be entering his 12th year as the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats this upcoming season. Coach Cal has mentored an immense amount of basketball talent over the past decade, helping produce over 35 NBA draft picks and six NBA All-Stars.
Calipari was this week’s guest on March Madness 365 with Andy Katz. He and Katz break down Calipari’s ultimate Kentucky dream player categorizing his past players into 10 different basketball-related characteristics.
Coach Cal also talked about a new organization he and Harvard’s head coach Tommy Amaker started called the McLendon Minority Leadership Initiative — an initiative hoping to provide minorities the tools and opportunities to build their network. The initiative was named after John McLendon, the first African American head coach in any professional sport.
Here is Calipari’s breakdown of his ultimate Kentucky dream player:
The Quarterback — Tyler Ulis, Guard (2014-2016)
When it comes to playmaking, John Calipari had a slew of players he sifted through like John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight before landing on Tyler Ulis as his ultimate quarterback.
“Ulis was more in-tune, even with the size he didn’t care, never thought in him as anything but a big-time guard,” Calipari said when comparing Ulis to other guards he mentioned. “He was unique in that.”
The 5’9″ guard out of Ohio played for Calipari for two years and helped lead the Wildcats to an SEC tournament title in 2016. He was also named the SEC Player of the Year his sophomore season and led the team in assists with seven per game.
The Clutch Gene — Aaron Harrison, Guard (2013-2015)
When it came to making big shots, Calipari has never been lacking in that department during his 11 seasons in Lexington. Calipari rattled off several players in this category who he remembers making big shots for him like Devin Booker, Tyler Herro and Immanuel Quickley, but ended up landing on Aaron Harrison.
“Aaron probably had the biggest two [shots],” Calipari said. “We had five freshmen starting on that team and [Aaron] put us in the final game of the year for a national title.”
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Harrison not only hit late-game shots against Michigan in the Elite Eight and Wisconsin in the Final Four, but he also made a late 3-pointer against Louisville in the Sweet 16 — all three clutch shots that propelled Kentucky to the national championship game in 2014.
The Bucket Getter
With so many NBA-caliber players that have passed through Lexington during Coach Cal’s career, there are just some categories that are too loaded with potential options to focus on just one. Calipari’s ultimate “bucket getter” is the first example of that.
The Kentucky head coach listed Doron Lamb, DeMarcus Cousins, Devin Booker, Kyle Wiltjer Tyler Herro, Eric Bledsoe, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns as some of his top players who could go out and get a basket whenever needed.
As far as the most consistent “bucket getter” on that list, it would have to go to Anthony Davis. Davis is the fourth-most consistent shot maker in Kentucky basketball history with a field goal percentage of 62.31%.
“Anthony, by the end of the year, was ridiculous,” Calipari said of Davis. “He could go get buckets 10 different ways.”
The Lockdown Defender
Tyler Herro and Julius Randle were the first two to come to mind for Calipari before he started listing off guys who could go get a block whenever needed like Terrence Jones, Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel.
“We’ve always had shot blockers,” Calipari said. “That’s been our forte that we had that guy.”
As far as Coach Cal’s tenure at Kentucky, Willie Cauley-Stein led the Wildcats with 233 blocked shots over his three years playing under Calipari.
The Dirty Worker
Just like shot-blockers, Calipari had plenty to choose from when picking his ultimate “dirty worker,” or the guy who wasn’t afraid to get under the basket and grab boards. Calipari listed P.J. Washington, Terrence Jones, Nerlens Noel, Trey Lyles and Dakari Johnson as potential guys for this position.
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Cauley-Stein also finds himself here as the player who gobbled up the most rebounds during Kentucky’s Calipari era, with 655 rebounds throughout his college career. The only other player that was better, who played under Coach Cal, was Patrick Patterson who retrieved 791 career rebounds, but it should be noted he only played under Calipari for one of his three years as a Wildcat.
The Shooter — Devin Booker, Guard (2014-2015)
When it came to Calipari’s ultimate shooter, he wasn’t slow to name Devin Booker to this category. Booker only played one year in Lexington and was part of Kentucky’s 2014-15 undefeated team before losing to Wisconsin in the Final Four.
“He was unconscious,” Calipari said of Booker. “Every time he shot it everybody in the building thought it was going in.”
Booker shot 47% from the field during that season, shooting over 52% from two and over 40% from three.
The Glue Guy
Andy Katz ranked Darius Miller as his No. 2 glue guy on National Championship-winning teams on a previous episode of March Madness 365. Calipari agreed but also named other guys on other teams that kept squads together like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jamaal Murray and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
“We haven’t talked about Shai Alexander,” Calipari said. “Who I believe him and Jamaal Murray will be All-Stars in the NBA. Both scorers, clutch players but both willing to step-back so others can step-up.”
The Athletic Wonder — John Wall, Guard (2009-10) & Eric Bledsoe, Guard (2009-10)
It’s pretty hard to believe that two of John Calipari’s most athletic players played on the same team. John Wall and Eric Bledsoe played side-by-side during the 2009-10 season and were both lightning-quick and could jump out of the gym according to Calipari.
Calipari even asked Bledsoe how fast John Wall was, and he admitted he was very fast but not as fast as him. This competition bread greatness as Wall and Bledsoe, who are now NBA starters, were considered one of the best backcourt duos in the 2009-10 season.
“You talk about two athletes at guard,” Calipari told Katz. “Eric Bledsoe could put his head on the rim and so could John.”
The Coach — Ashton Hagans, Guard (2018-20)
When it comes to using basketball IQ to command the floor, Calipari initially went with Tyler Ulis but also mentioned Ashton Hagans as his latest player who was starting to develop into that role.
“I thought Ashton Hagans started to be a coach on the floor,” Calipari said. “Took him time because he’s never been into all that but he grew into it.”
Hagans’ growth into Calipari’s ideal “coach on the floor” is an example of what he said is the attraction of young players to Kentucky basketball noting that players come to his program as “basketball junkies” and want to get better.
The Captain — Anthony Davis, Forward (2011-12)
Coach Cal tapped Anthony Davis as his ultimate team captain because he continues to know when and where he is needed, even in the NBA.
“He would step back if he had to and then he would step up if he needed to. He was the ultimate teammate,” Calipari said. “He accepted what he had to do, and by the end of the year, he did it. He ends up being the Player of the Year, he ends up being first-team best, he ends being the first pick of the draft, he ends up being on the Olympic team, he ends being an All-Star in the NBA and he did it by stepping back.”
Davis is widely considered one of the best players in the NBA and one of Calipari’s best to ever emerge from his tenure at Kentucky. The 2011-12 Player of the Year averaged 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per game during his one season as a Wildcat.