By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky is likely to have two first-round draft picks — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox — in Thursday’s NBA draft.
However, coach John Calipari admitted Monday that UK’s 26-11 record last season, and disappointing loss to Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament, hurt the draft status of Kentucky players.
“We lost four (games) in a row (during the season). That hurts your draft position. … If we won 38 straight games (as UK did in the 2014-15 season), what? These guys would have been considered right there,” Calipari said.
“That’s why winning matters here. That’s why winning championships matters. That’s why winning national championships and being in Final Fours matters. And you try to tell the kids.”
Kentucky has had a player go in the top seven picks of every NBA draft since Calipari has been at Kentucky. That seems unlikely this year even though Gilgeous-Alexander and Knox are both projected as lottery picks in various mock drafts.
Calipari compared Knox to Jayson Tatum, the former Duke star who was the third pick in last year’s draft and became a standout for the Boston Celtics as a rookie.
“People knew he was good. They didn’t know he was that tough. And Kevin falls into the same mold right now. When that toughness sprouts, that’s when everybody says, ‘How did we pass on this guy?’” Calipari said.
Many wondered whey Jared Vanderbilt kept his name in the NBA draft after playing only 14 games for UK in his third straight injury-plagued season. But the UK coach said Vanderbilt’s “analytics stuff was off the chart” and NBA personnel have noticed.
He thinks Vanderbilt could go late in the first round or no later than midway of the second round.
“NBA motor, goes after balls, quick twitch, can pass it, can bounce it. I think with his numbers, pro spirit, pro energy, NBA body all that stuff, my guess is he’ll be gone by the end of the first round,” Calipari said.
Calipari projected Hamidou Diallo as being picked late in the first round or midway through the second, too.
“You’re talking about one of the best athletes in the draft who played at Kentucky,” Calipari said.