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Looming draft deadline isn't rushing Cats into quick decisions

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Aaron Harrison and Julius Randle are among UK's players facing early-entry decisions this month. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Aaron Harrison and Julius Randle are among UK's players facing early-entry decisions this month. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Ten days have passed since Kentucky's final game of the season and only nine days remain before UK's remaining draft-eligible players have to make a decision on their future.

The math will tell you that there isn't a lot of time left for what figures to be six more players to make a decision before the NBA early-entry deadline, but John Calipari isn't going to rush his players.

"This is about them, not me and the program," Calipari said Thursday. "They have until the 27th (of April) to make a decision. ... I don't even know what the NCAA date is because we don't worry about it. It has nothing to do with us. The only date they have to be concerned about is the 27th, when they have to put their name in - or they don't put their name in."

Speaking to the media on Thursday as a part of his "Players First" book tour, Calipari said he spoke to NBA teams as recently as Wednesday to get information for his players so that they can make the best decision possible.

"There was information given to me that I needed to go directly to the parents, and the reason is, I don't want there to be any filter," Coach Cal said. "This is it. Happy, sad, angry, whatever, this is it. And then I told all the kids, when we met back on campus (last week), when I had the information that I had and it was pretty accurate, from what I learned yesterday, 'Whatever decision you make -- to leave, to come back -- this basketball program 50 years from now will be fine, and so will this institution. You don't make it because of me. You make it because it's right for you, whatever you do.' "

James Young was the latest - and the second Wildcat so far - to come to a decision. He announced Thursday that he will forego his sophomore season in college to enter the NBA Draft.

Earlier in the week, somewhat surprisingly, Willie Cauley-Stein announced he will be coming back for his junior year.

"He basically said, 'You know, Coach, I'm in no hurry to leave. I love going to school. I'm gonna be really close to my degree. I still have to grow as a player. And we left something on the table there that I'd like to try and get.' That's a good answer for me if you want to come back," Calipari said.

Those two decisions made, six more Wildcats figure to have the options of turning pro early and will have to make a choice one way or another over the next week. They include: Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee.

Randle is projected as a top-five pick if he decides to go, but he tweeted last week that he hadn't made up his mind yet. Most people expect Lee to return, but his performance in the Michigan game coupled his freakish potential means he would likely get picked up by a team if he decided to leave.

The other four guys, including the Harrison twins, are anyone's guess right now. Calipari said he had "no idea" when a reporter asked Thursday if Andrew and Aaron Harrison were coming back.

All that's on Coach Cal's mind right now is getting his players the information, letting them make a decision and then supporting it. He won't advise them to come back if they are doing it just because it's easier.

"What you have to do is accept their decision, understand it's been well thought out, they've gotten the information (and) they know the downside because I gave it to them," Calipari said. "They see the upside. I have to remind them of the downside of what could happen. And when they make that choice, you gotta live with it. It's them; it's their families."

Should some of the current question marks decide to return, Calipari said it would make his job different than it has been the last couple of years when he has coached some of the youngest teams in college basketball. But he didn't' sound worried Thursday that he would have too many players with too few opportunities to play.

"Our young players coming in wanted kids to come back," Coach Cal said. "They were calling kids and telling them to come back. So it's not any of that. Someone would say, 'Well, would someone leave because of who you have coming in?' Oh, it'll be easier against those guys in the NBA than a high school guy? What are you nuts? It has nothing to do with that. It becomes what is best? What is best for that family? You may look at it and say that's ridiculous, but you don't live their life. You haven't done what they've done."

With the potential for some players to come back, the coaching staff isn't actively recruiting anyone else for next year. The Cats have already signed four in the 2014 class and have three other scholarships accounted for with the known returns of Cauley-Stein, Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins.

Should a few more declare for the draft and spots open up, the staff would hit the recruiting trail again.

"There are some names out there ... and I would imagine there's players out there waiting to see: 'If these guys leave, I'm going because I'll be able to step in,' " Coach Cal said.

Calipari said he's talked to 19 NBA general managers since the season ended last week. He asked each of his players on the bus ride to the airport after the championship game if they wanted helping exploring their NBA possibilities, and all but one - a player Calipari said is a potential first-round draft pick -- said yes.

"So I called him back in and said, 'You need to get with your mother and we need to talk about this, because I need you to know what you're passing on by coming back,' " Calipari said. "What I told he and his mother: 'I got to live with myself.' I told him, 'I want you to come back. I think you need to come back. But you need to know what's out there.' And so I've had to walk through that."

Calipari admitted that what his team was able to do in the NCAA Tournament boosted some draft stocks that were starting to decline near the end of the regular season.

"Kenny Payne says this all the time: You guys don't understand, people want winning players. So winning matters. It does," Coach Cal said. "If our team had gotten in the NCAA Tournament last year and we had advanced, it would've been different for some of those guys. Just how it is. Winning matters, and that's why you gotta keep convincing them, 'You gotta do this together. You gotta give up some of your game.' "

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