Last night at the NBA Draft, nine players who played in the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans were drafted. Six of them were from UK (including the top two picks), two were from Kansas, and one was from Ohio State. For those bad at math, that means there were ZERO players drafted from the University of Louisville. Zero. Zilch. Zip. Nada. UK fans will no doubt celebrate the draft, and U of L fans will most certainly get annoyed, but honestly have no reason to be.
The primary reason UK got to the Final Four was by having one of the most talented rosters in decades. John Calipari will pretend like it was his “coaching” that got these kids to the Final Four and NBA and will arrogantly gloat about it. He will ignore the fact that all would have been drafted around the same position had they gone straight out of high school (and ignore the fact Terrence Jones dropped about 15 spots by staying a year to be further “developed” by Cal) and UK fans will eat it up. That is not to say that Calipari deserves no credit for the team’s success. While no other teams had the talent that UK had, he can hold his head high and say that he got them to play together as a team, unlike teams like UCONN, who had close to the same talent and were just awful. Yet, as Ethan pointed out on Twitter last night, while it is extremely impressive to have six players drafted, including the top two picks, it is just as impressive U of L made its Final Four run with not one NBA draft pick.
For people who do not follow basketball closely that may have watched last night’s draft, they likely saw the number of UK picks and said, “Well of course they won. They had the most talent.” They then may have remembered that U of L was also in the Final Four, had no players drafted, and thought, “How did that team get there?” They got there not by pure talent, but by coaching, teamwork, and heart. People forget things too quickly at times, and may forget just how much this team had to overcome and how hard they had to work to get to New Orleans. Around February, people were wondering if we would even make the NCAA Tournament. All the so-called “analysts” had written us off. Many of our fans were angry that a consensus top 10 preseason team was getting blown out by teams like Providence and looking so out of sync. Many others were understandably frustrated with Pitino and went so far as to demand his firing (of course it did not help his popularity when he was publicly speaking out against joining the Big 12). Siva was playing terrible, Russ was taking years off of everyone’s life, and no one on the team could consistently score or hit an outside shot to save his life. Once the Big East tournament started, all those angry fans remembered just how long a season it is and just how quickly a team can turn it around.
While many of us were enraged with the team’s performance, we chose to forget how many injuries we were fighting through. Stephan Van Treese, Mike Marra, and Rakeem Buckles all suffered season-ending injuries early in the year. Not only were we losing impact players, it was disastrous for our frontcourt depth. Freshman stud Wayne Blackshear suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out until February, and incoming freshman guard Kevin Ware was deemed ineligible until December. Losing Blackshear, who many thought would be our best player, was a killer, and having Ware for a full year would have been huge. Additionally, team captain Peyton Siva suffered a concussion as well as an ankle injury and never seemed himself all season. Our best player at times, arguably, was Russ Smith, a guy many fans did not even expect to be on the roster for that year. Then the Big East tournament happened. Siva all of a sudden became the best point guard in the NCAA (seriously, I would put him above any other PG in March and April), the team played together, and Pitino was flat out outcoaching everyone. Then the tournament came. Many analysts (*cough* Gottlieb *cough*) did not pick us to win one game. Then we won in the first round. Then the second round. We made it to the Sweet 16 and to the surprise of many, got sweet revenge on Michigan State and Tom Izzo (who Pitino just outcoached) to advance to the Elite 8, where Pitino outmaneuvered his former apprentice Billy Donovan and Florida. The team that had no guarantee of making the tournament in January or February and was now in the Final Four, and despite losing that game, they played eventual champion UK tougher than any team in the tourney.
This team that accomplished and overcame so much had zero players drafted, and guess what? Who freaking cares? If it does bother you, then know this. Peyton Siva, Wayne Blackshear, Chane Behanan, and Gorgui Dieng all could have gone pro if they wanted. On talent and potential alone, at least one of that group would have gone in the first round. Yet, they chose to go back to school. They were not satisfied with how the season ended and wanted another shot at the crown. That is extremely rare these days as most highly touted players couldn’t care less what they do in college as long as they get to the NBA. These U of L players know the NBA will be there eventually. They just want to win, and that’s okay with me. The website NBADraft.net updated its 2013 mock draft last night and projected not one U of L player will be drafted. Again, this does not bother me at all. First, the 2013 draft will definitely feature U of L players, and second, the players are focused on bigger things. They are focused on winning, not the draft, and they will no doubt prove projections like this wrong regardless. This is, once again, going to be a fun team to rally around. UK can have its draft picks. I would not trade our guys for anything. Go Cards.