LEXINGTON, Ky. -- "Are you proud that you send so many players to the NBA?"
Sipping on a coffee at a local Dunkin Donuts, John Calipari pondered the question. Over the last decade Calipari-coached teams have become a pipeline to the next level, first in Memphis and now at Kentucky. Consider: As of opening night, 19 players in the NBA were from Kentucky, most from any school, the majority of which came from the teams Calipari has coached the last three seasons.
"I do take pride in it," Calipari said. "I'm not embarrassed about trying to help kids reach dreams. My mother used to tell me, 'Dream big dreams. Don't be afraid to see yourself outside your surroundings.' Here, I am in a position to break generational cycles in families. This Kentucky effect is real. From draft positions to shoe contracts to branding yourself, all those things happen here. You wonder if you are in the business of basketball or you are in the business of helping families."
There's more on Calipari's ability to produce pros -- hint: he doesn't just roll the balls out and let 'em play -- in this week's Sports Illustrated, including perspective from NBA talent evaluators on his current freshman class: Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein. Here is what four of those decision-makers had to say about Kentucky's next batch of pro prospects:
Western Conference executive: "He plays hard. He competes all the time. He has all the intangibles that you like in a big guy. Most big guys don't have the passion. He has a passion for the game. He's limited offensively and needs a lot of work on post moves, but he has all the tools to play in the NBA next season."
Eastern Conference executive: "The first time I saw him was last summer and he was obviously gifted. You could see that he was so quick off his feet. But you could see he doesn't have a wide body. And I didn't see much else from him. I saw a kid that didn't have a high motor, that was maybe an overhyped kid. I have seen him since. And it's a total change. I'm talking about a night and day difference. When he is out there, if he doesn't block a shot, he challenges it. Cal has clearly gotten to that guy and got him to buy into his way of playing. He was too cool this summer, too laid back. There has obviously been a transformation. Defensively, he is pretty special. The only thing that will hold him back is his body, which needs another 15-20 pounds."
Eastern Conference scout: "I like him. ... I know he is a better offensive player than he has shown. He uses both hands pretty well around the rim and he passes the ball well from the high post. He's too unselfish at times. There have been some opportunities for him to score that he doesn't take advantage of. Part of trying to fit in, maybe. But he is athletic, a legit shot blocker and he plays so hard. He gets on the floor after loose balls. He's a top-five pick, for sure."
Western Conference GM: "Noel impacts the game so much from the defensive end of the floor. He's more skilled than people realize. His thing right now is consistency. The other thing that is impressive is he seems to embrace what it is that he does versus trying to prove what he can do outside of his box. You don't see that from a lot of young guys."
Western Conference executive: "He's a beast. He has a good body and I think he will eventually play outside and shoot the three. He's a definite first-round pick and he should rise on most people's boards quickly. He has a tendency to try to make too many plays, but he will get better with coaching."
Western Conference GM: "I think he has a tremendous tool set. He is the type of guy Calipari does well with. He's a guy who is going to get better as the year goes along. He plays like a 4 but in the NBA, he's a 3, no question."
Eastern Conference executive: "For his age, he has a phenomenal body. But he doesn't have much of a game. He can go get rebounds, but he doesn't have a small forward game. He is a little limited in that way. Against Duke, he was going up against the same caliber of an athlete, and he struggled. He has been a power player I'm sure since high school; now he has to develop a perimeter game."
Eastern Conference scout: "I haven't seen him do anything off the dribble. He doesn't have the ball handling skills of a small forward right now. He's a freak athlete with a great body and a great offensive rebounder who can score around the rim. He puts up points, but he's a power forward. Maybe as the season progresses he will get more comfortable at the 3 spot."
Eastern Conference executive: "He makes things look easy on the court. He needs more consistency on his stroke. He is so good athletically and so quick. But in the games I've seen he has made spectacular plays and really dumb plays. He just has to be more of a team leader. He's not a natural point guard, but there are a lot of guys like that in the NBA. He could play two positions for some teams. But his athleticism is so good, I can see real All-Star potential."
Western Conference executive: "Archie is a freak athlete. The issue is he plays too wild. He can't play the point guard in our league because he looks to score every time. He needs to learn to play off the ball as a 2 more. There are too many times that I watch him and he is a little out of control."
Eastern Conference scout: "He has to develop his outside shot. I think it will come with reps because he doesn't have bad form. The kid can get to the basket. That is his skill; he will get fouled because he can create his own shot off the dribble. Cal has been playing him as a point guard, but he is not a point guard. He doesn't have a feel for the position. He has the athletic ability and the body to be a really good defender. Over time, because Cal stresses it, he will get better at defense. Right now he is poor. He falls asleep on the backside on defense. Sometimes when he is defending one-on-one, he stands up in his stance and that's when his man beats him. He has the tools, he just needs the mentality."
Western Conference GM: "Goodwin is very high end, in terms of talent. He has a good spin move in traffic but he is at his best in transition and in the open court. He can shoot the NBA three, I think, already. He looks lost on defense. He's a really bad pick-and-roll defender. That's a bread-and-butter play in the NBA that he is going to have to work on."
Western Conference executive: "I see him as a fourth big in the NBA. You have to watch him closely because he is not ready yet. He needs a lot of work. But he will probably come out. He is limited offensively. Right now he is a rebounder who alters shots, blocks shots. He is decent out of the post but he doesn't look like he has a good feel for playing there. And I didn't see any moves from him that stood out."
Eastern Conference executive: "I like him more than a lot of people. Calipari has yo-yo'd him in and out of games. But he comes off the bench, and is a 7-footer with low post capability. He has very good defensive instincts, too. Bringing him off the bench, he is only going to get better. He's a role player in the NBA next season."
Eastern Conference scout: "He has skills around the basket. I'd love to see him extend his range a little. He has a chance to be really special. You can tell right now that he could use another year in college. He needs to grow as a player before he jumps."
Western Conference GM: "His skills are underdeveloped because he has not not been playing that long. But he is very active and he has high NBA potential because of his length and mobility. I think he is the one in this group that is likely to have a tough decision to make at the end of the year. He could really explode or he could be so inconsistent that he may not have firm footing in the draft."