Menu

COLLEGESPORTS

One and done? Not so fast at Kentucky this year

John Calipari cringes when people bring up the subject of one-and-done players, those freshmen who use college basketball merely as a springboard to the NBA.

He's certainly had his share of them, four last year alone.

But every time newcomers Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb knock down key baskets, it seems that senior big man Josh Harrellson's offensive rebound made it happen. Or it was junior DeAndre Liggins' screen that set up the open look. Or Darius Miller providing the assist.

The freshmen have delivered most of the highlights this March, with Knight's second game-winner of the NCAA tournament lifting the Wildcats past top-seeded Ohio State on Friday night and into the regional finals. But it's been Billy Gillispie's holdovers that have been holding everything together, providing the leadership necessary this time of year.

One and done? More like three and won.

"We've been together for six months," Calipari said Saturday, fewer than 24 hours before playing North Carolina for a spot in the Final Four. "We've got freshmen playing with three vets who weren't 'the guys' a year ago. It's a new team, so we're trying to figure it out."

It's nothing new to Calipari, though. He's figured it out before.

The NBA declared in 2005 that players must be at least 19 years old or complete one year of college before entering the draft, so elite prospects do just that: spend one year on campus.

Calipari doesn't like the rule, but ever since he returned to college coaching at Memphis, he's chosen to embrace the unique opportunities that it presents.

Derrick Rose truly began his one-and-done wave, starring for the Tigers in 2007-08 before jumping to the Chicago Bulls. Tyreke Evans came the following year, and when Calipari moved on to Kentucky last season, perhaps the richest crop of freshmen ever signed on. Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton and John Wall all turned pro after one year.

"I don't agree with one-and-done, never have, but it is the rule," Calipari said. "And I am not holding kids back. If they have the chance to go, I will tell them to go."

Usually he has more in the pipeline.

It's been Knight and Lamb this year, providing scoring punch from beyond the perimeter with the same youthful exuberance of their predecessors. But for the first time, it seems, there are some guys who have been around the block to help them along.

"Every team needs experienced players. Coach Cal does too," Liggins said. "He kept us around because we're experienced guys. It helps the team out a lot if you have experience."

Liggins acknowledged that it's sometimes difficult to watch elite freshmen come in every autumn, taking the minutes that the veterans believe they earned.

It's one of the reasons he was wary of Calipari taking over.

"I knew how good a recruiter he was, he recruits one-and-dones, and he recruits great players. I just thought he's a winning coach, so whoever he brings in, we have a chance to compete," Liggins said. "When he came in, he talked to me. He said, 'This is what you need to do, you need to do this and this in order to play,' so that's what I've been doing."

Liggins has blossomed into one of the premier defenders in college basketball, in part because he spent last season wearing the white jersey of the second team in practice. He would go up against Bledsoe and Wall every day, and it only made him better.

He's now passing that knowledge on.

"DeAndre does a great job of leading by example," said Miller, also a junior. "He picks up the intensity and it rubs off on all of us. Josh is the same thing."

Yes, Harrellson certainly has some unique experiences to draw upon.

Two years ago, Gillispie was so frustrated with him during a game at Vanderbilt that he banished him to a bathroom stall at halftime. Calipari was so underwhelmed that he played him a total of 88 minutes last season. And when Harrellson sent out an unflattering tweet directed at Calipari, he found himself doing extra work before every practice.

All of it has paid off this postseason, though. The senior had 15 points and 10 rebounds in the first round against Princeton, added 15 points and eight rebounds against West Virginia, then had 17 points and 10 rebounds against super freshman Jared Sullinger and Ohio State.

"I never thought I'd be the player I am today," Harrellson said. "I'm just so thankful for where I am, for the teammates that have been there for me. They've had more confidence than I've had in myself, and finally I'm playing like I'm capable of playing the last four weeks."

The Wildcats are playing that way, too.

Upperclassmen and newcomers alike.