Shedding the Light on John Calipari's 5 Most Controversial Players at UK
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Whenever John Calipari is your head coach, your program is bound to receive a lot of unnecessary negative press, and Kentucky fans know exactly what that's like.
Ever since Calipari took control of this program, national sports writers and local bloggers alike have taken their jabs at the enigmatic UK coach, who has had controversy follow him ever since Marcus Camby accepted money from an agent during Calipari's days at UMass.
Whether or not this controversy is warranted is another discussion altogether. Coach Cal has been extremely successful and charitable at every college destination at which he has coached. However, the saddest part of this constant negativity is how it affects his players.
Many people believe that John Calipari's players are cheaters and thugs, and represent all that is wrong with college basketball. Because of Calipari's willingness to recruit so-called "one-and-done" players every year, his players supposedly do not care about coming to school and only come to Kentucky in order to make it to the NBA one day.
This article highlights the five most "controversial" players during Calipari's tenure. For many of them, the controversy was overblown by a negative media outlook and most of these players ended up having excellent careers in Lexington and exemplified what it meant to be a student-athlete.
Although there was a rotten apple in the bunch, these players ended their careers making a positive impact on the university and its fans.
5. John Wall
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"I'm here [at UK] because I can recruit the best of the best here. That's why I'm here. We can get who we need, then, it's changing the culture of the program."
It turns out that he was not lying when he made this statement, as Calipari quickly backed it up by garnering a commitment from basketball phenom John Wall.
The nation's top-ranked point guard was more than just a star recruit for Calipari; he served as a giant statement to the nation that Kentucky basketball was back on the map and ready to return to its former glory.
However, there were questions surrounding the recruitment of Wall and some of the activities that he took part in. Before he committed to UK, John Wall was charged with a misdemeanor for breaking and entering into an empty house with a few of his friends. There were no signs of forced entry and no items were stolen, so the misdemeanor did not lead to any arrests.
Wall certainly did not use good judgment in committing this act, especially since he was the nation's most popular hoops star, with the media following his every move. However, it was a minor misdemeanor and no further harm came of it.
Regardless, some media outlets attempted to turn this into a giant black stain on Wall's reputation, and even going so far as to say that schools such as Duke and North Carolina should stop recruiting him following the incident.
The officer saw Wall leaving from the rear door of the residence and detained him without incident, [Raleigh police spokesman Jim] Sughrue said.
A few minutes later, a second teenager, Bria Renea Draughn, 16, was detained while walking on a nearby street. A third, Reginald Leonard Jackson II, 17, was detained when he returned to the Laurel Glen Drive house, Sughrue said.
Each of the three was issued a citation on a misdemeanor charge of breaking and entering, said Wake County chief magistrate Gary Wills.
The citation is similar to one issued for a traffic violation, Wills said. "You can be cited for a misdemeanor breaking and entering," he said. No warrant was executed.
In the end, this was an overblown media report that turned out to be a big worry over a simple, albeit unwise, lack of judgment. Soon thereafter, John Wall chose to play at Kentucky and the excitement was building in Lexington and the commonwealth.
However, the status of Wall's eligibility became another issue in his quest to play for the Big Blue. In October 2009, the Raleigh News-Observer sent out this press release:
Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive told ESPN.com on Thursday that the NCAA’s agents and amateurism group is looking into the eligibility of Wall, who chose the Wildcats over Duke, Miami and Memphis, among others.
The Web site reported that Kentucky has been researching Wall’s eligibility for months because Brian Clifton, who is in charge of Wall’s D-One club program, was a certified agent with basketball’s international governing body, for about a year. Wall, a Raleigh product, played for the team from 2006 to 2008.
The NCAA and the UK athletic department investigated into the relationship between Wall and Clifton, and an agreement was made shortly thereafter. Wall would have to sit out the first two games of the 2009-10 season, and he would also have to repay $800 in benefits that were incurred during official school visits in Wall's junior year of high school.
Despite all of this controversy surrounding John Wall's recruitment and eligibility, in the end everything turned out great for him and the University of Kentucky. Wall sat out an exhibition game against Campbellsville and the regular season opener versus Morehead State on November 13, 2009.
The next game was against Miami (Ohio), and Wall made his college debut by hitting a game-winning jumper as time expired to take home his first victory.
From that point on, John Wall would blossom into a college superstar, leading Kentucky to a 35-3 record and an SEC regular season and tournament championship. He was one of the nation's top point guards, averaging 6.5 dimes per contest, and he led the Wildcats to the NCAA Elite Eight.
However, don't think that reaching the Elite Eight was a success for Wall. People might think that a "one-and-done" player does not care about his college results, as long as he reaches the NBA in the end.
This could not be further from the truth for John Wall. In an interview conducted after his rookie season with the Washington Wizards, Wall was asked about not winning a title at Kentucky and he had this to say:
"I think about it every day. I will think about it until I am off this earth."
Wall displayed another uncommon characteristic of the "one-and-done" player that is so negatively portrayed in the national media. He celebrated his final college semester by posting a 3.5 GPA to end the year.
That's right: the future #1 overall pick in the NBA draft, the future millionaire, and the superstar of college basketball went to class and earned a 3.5 GPA in his final semester. This is the type of story that the national media outlets won't report, even though they should. Obviously, Wall took care of his business in Lexington and finished up with a strong academic performance that many full-time college students would be proud of. This is remarkable and is a true display of Wall's character and commitment to the program.
Now that Wall is in the NBA, he continues to serve as an excellent ambassador for the program. Wall has always given his time to the fans, and he has become one of the most beloved players in the program's storied history. Wall regularly comes back to Rupp Arena and refers to Lexington as his home away from home.
Despite all of the negative press surrounding his recruitment and concerns about his college eligibility, John Wall rose above it all and turned into a University of Kentucky legend. What more could you ask for from a college athlete? Apparently, these "one-and-done" players might not be so bad after all.
4. Terrence Jones
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Following the success of Calipari's 2009-10 squad, all five freshmen declared for the NBA draft and left the program with very few star players on the roster. Calipari had to completely reload for the following season, and one of the most important pieces of all was Terrence Jones.
The recruitment of Terrence Jones was extremely unusual and called into question the tactics used by Calipari. Jones was a 6'9" point forward prospect hailing from Portland, Ore. and was a Top-15 recruit according to Rivals and Scout.
Jones' best friend, Terrence Ross, was a big-time recruit himself and eventually committed to play for the Washington Huskies.
As Jones' recruitment came down to the end, it was clear that he had two favorites: Kentucky and Washington. Jones had a tough decision on his hands: play for his favorite coach and the premier program at Kentucky, or follow his best friend and stay close to his family and friends by playing at Washington.
Coming to the final day of his recruitment, Jones announced a press conference to finally make his decision. No one from either side had a clue as to where he would choose. In fact, some recruiting experts thought that Jones was still unsure and would decide during his announcement speech. This was bad news for Kentucky fans, as Jones was easily swayed by emotion and the home crowd would persuade him to choose the Huskies.
That is exactly what Jones did. In one of the most awkward recruiting announcements in recent years, Jones chose the Washington hat, the crowd erupted in cheers, his family hugged him, yet Jones did not sign a Letter of Intent to the Washington Huskies.
It turned out that Jones chose his second-favorite school. Earlier in the day, Jones had told John Calipari that he would commit to Kentucky. However, Jones caved under the pressure of the moment and chose Washington.
Following the press conference, Terrence Jones called coach Calipari and told him that he had "made a mistake and didn't know what he was doing." Calipari then told Jones to take as much time as he needed to make the best decision for him. It turned out to be Kentucky.
During a radio interview with a Portland news station, Calipari had this to say about the recruitment of Terrence Jones:
"When the young man calls you and says, 'I made a mistake, coach, I want to reconsider this,' it changed everything. If he had committed to Washington and that was the end of it, then we wouldn't have done anything. But this was a unique situation now. I have never been in anything like this."
As long as Calipari is telling the truth, then he did absolutely nothing wrong by continuing to pursue Terrence Jones. He did not sign a letter of intent, he wavered and eventually backed off of his commitment to Washington, and all of this was of Jones' own desires, not Calipari's.
Therefore, this recruitment was an odd, albeit legal, saga that led Jones to Lexington. He just completed his second and final season at UK by reaching two Final Four appearances and winning the 2012 NCAA National Championship.
Jones' time at Kentucky has been controversial in itself, simply because of Jones' up-and-down play that resembled a roller coaster ride at times.
However, his character was never in question and Jones has ended his time at Kentucky by establishing himself as a fan favorite. For example, Terrence made a hustle play during the 2012 Final Four and ran into a University of Louisville cheerleader. After the game, he promised to bring her flowers during the offseason and apologize for the incident. Yes, that sounds sweet, but who is he kidding?
It turns out that he was not kidding anybody, as Jones surprised the cheerleader at one of her practices with an assortment of flowers that he promised to give her. Check out the news report in the link below:
In another example of Jones changing his public image, he signed autographs on a statewide tour and even signed a baby decked out in Kentucky blue. As crazy as these stories seem, they have drastically improved Jones' image and reputation with the fans.
As he embarks on his path to the NBA, Terrence Jones erased the memories of his recruiting follies, left an indelible mark on the program, achieved incredible on-the-court success and left the fans cheering.
3. Daniel Orton
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Remember that there would be one bad apple in this group of players? Daniel Orton is that bad apple. I am not here to blast Orton or to say anything about him personally, as I do not know him and I am also thankful for his time in the blue and white.
With that being said, Orton is in a unique position from every other Kentucky player who has played for John Calipari: he does not embrace the program. In fact, Orton has seldom made an appearance back in Lexington since he left for the NBA draft and it does not appear that Coach Cal is going out of his way to make this happen.
The main reason behind this semi-fallout between the two is still to be determined, as both people have declined to give specifics about their relationship with the other. Here is an interesting quote from a report on the Straight Pinkie website, an online source for UK and UofL news:
"Remember when Daniel Orton and John Calipari got into it a little bit during the SEC Tournament game? It seemed relatively minor and was quickly dismissed after the fact, but based on information that has come out this week, it’s looking like it may have been slightly more significant that we thought.
Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted today on the subject, saying "Kentucky frosh Daniel Orton doesn’t love playing for Calipari and Cal doesn’t love coaching him, sources say. Expect him to stay in draft." Quotes from Daniel Orton’s father about how Orton would have made DeMarcus Cousins "look bad" if he had been more of an opportunity suggest the same."
Despite this report, these were only rumors and nothing concrete has come from either side.
However, there is one large incident that is factual, and it brought Daniel Orton at odds with every fan and coach of the program.
After the 2009-10 basketball season, the UK basketball players still had classes to complete before heading off to the NBA. Every player on the team, including future top draft pick John Wall, completed their courses and actually raised the team's GPA from the fall semester. Yet there was one holdout who left school as soon as the season ended: Daniel Orton.
According to sources, Orton left school and moved to California immediately following the season. He flew to California to train for the NBA draft, but in turn he damaged the team's APR rating and could have placed the team in a postseason ban if it sank low enough.
Thankfully, the collective team GPA was high enough that it could absorb Orton's no-show, but the gesture itself was completely selfish and left a sour taste in the mouth of those connected to the program. Orton left his teammates behind and selfishly erased some of the academic strides that the team made during that spring semester.
On top of not reporting for classes, Orton lied to the press about the situation by claiming that he would finish his classes while he was in California. This appeared to be a strange resolution to him leaving early, but at least his grades would not lead to a penalty to the team's APR rating.
However, this proved to be untrue. Orton did not finish classes and he failed to follow through on his promise. Lying to UK fans is not the way to endear yourself to their hearts, and this has led to Orton's diminishing reputation in the commonwealth. Why betray your teammates by leaving early, then lie about it and not follow through with your own commitment?
Since then, Orton struggled to find playing time for the Orlando Magic as he sat behind All-Star center Dwight Howard for most of his rookie contract. Lately though, Orton has benefited from Howard's injury woes and played well to close out the 2011-12 season for Orlando.
His reputation with Kentucky fans will always be a divisive one. On one hand, he was the first major recruit of the Billy Gillispie era and brought forth a lot of excitement to the team. He also had some memorable moments on the court during his only season at UK.
On the other hand, why would a player who is loyal to his teammates bail on them and not complete his final semester, then lie to the fans about it? Daniel Orton leaves something to be desired, but hopefully he figures it all out in the NBA and creates a long career for himself.
2. DeMarcus Cousins
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This was probably the player that you figured would be in the number one slot, and maybe he should be. However, DeMarcus Cousins has one thing going for him that the remaining player does not: Cousins was never ineligible for an entire season. With that in mind, let us take a look at the big boy from Alabama.
DeMarcus Cousins followed John Calipari when Coach Cal agreed to become the head coach at Kentucky. Although Cousins originally committed to Memphis, he did not sign a letter of intent and he followed Calipari to his new destination.
The recruitment of DeMarcus Cousins was not the roller coaster ride that it was for John Wall and Terrence Jones. Instead, Cousins became the first high-profile recruit of the Calipari era and signaled to the college basketball world that Kentucky was back with a vengeance.
However, the controversy surrounding Cousins began once he started playing basketball games for the blue and white. During his first few games for the Cats, it was clear that DeMarcus enjoyed whining to the refs. But that was the extent of his on-court antics for those first few games.
Cousins' first run-in with on-court controversy occurred during the annual Kentucky-Louisville basketball game. Held at Rupp Arena in the 2009-10 season, Kentucky opened the game and had an early lead working against the Cardinals. Then a loose ball was fought over by Cousins and opposing Louisville player Jared Swopshire. What followed landed Cousins in the local and national news:
In the video link, Cousins was clearly kneed in the face by Swopshire. In retaliation, "Big Cuz" threw an elbow into Jared's face and the two had to be separated. The incident was not pretty and did not help either player's reputation. However, it was Cousins who received the majority of negative press from the event.
Obviously, this was not a good use of judgment by DeMarcus and he should not have thrown an elbow. At the same time, what would you do if a player directly kneed you in the face while on the ground? Swopshire's swift kick does not condone the action conducted by Cousins, but it is easy to see what prompted Cousins' actions.
Regardless, this was a one-time incident for Cousins and he did not repeat this kind of behavior for the rest of the season.
He quickly learned from his mistakes and took on the SEC conference schedule with a renewed swagger and confidence. Cousins turned into the best post player in the nation and dominated teams with his bruising low-post moves and relentless rebounding. He became a fan favorite and endeared himself to many UK fans.
In fact, here is an early-season report by popular Wildcat sports writer Larry Vaught, who wrote about how DeMarcus loved being at Kentucky:
Actually, Cousins seems to be enjoying everything about being a Kentucky player. He joked with fans lined up for tickets to Big Blue Madness. He cut up at Big Blue Madness. He likes signing autographs when he heads out.
"It is all so much fun here. You have the fans showing you so much love. It is just fun here all the time. Coach Cal is cool. He is real down to earth. He treats us like family like he said he would when he was recruiting us. It is all good."
Don't worry about personnel issues either.
"The whole thing about coming together and how we mesh is that basically it is a whole new team. We have never played under Cal before. Everybody is coming in and learning. We all start from the bottom up, so we will come together easily because it is new to all of us," Cousins said. "Plus, we all want that (national championship) ring and know if we don't mess it up, we can get one this year."
By the end of the 2009-10 season, DeMarcus Cousins cleaned up his act and was named 1st-Team All American by the Associated Press. After leading the Kentucky Wildcats to the SEC Tournament Championship, Cousins helped lead UK to the NCAA Elite Eight, where the team had a porous shooting night and fell one game short of the Final Four.
Since that time, Cousins has had his fair share of controversies and success in the NBA. During his first season and the beginning of his second NBA season, DeMarcus was often at odds with head coach Paul Westphal. Rumors even circulated that Cousins demanded for a trade, although that report has yet to be verified as Cousins' agent denied the validity of Westphal's claims.
Shortly after the incident, Sacramento fired Westphal and replaced him with Keith Smart. Ever since then, Cousins has flourished into one of the most improved players in the league. He finished his second season averaging 18 points, 11 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1 block per game, certifying himself as one of the best centers in professional basketball.
DeMarcus' reputation has also improved dramatically throughout the season, according to the Sacramento Bee. In an article that discusses Cousins' interest in playing for the 2012 Olympic team, he had this to say:
"I mean, who wouldn't want to play for Team USA? Go over there and represent your country. I would love to do it."
Cousins has grown tremendously from his early days at Kentucky. Although his maturity is not where it needs to be yet, he has made great strides in his on-court performance and his off-the-court reputation. Despite some of the stories that have come out about him, there is not one player who loved playing at UK more than Cousins. He left a tremendous legacy at the university and will always serve as a great ambassador for the program.
1. Enes Kanter
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The recruiting saga of Enes Kanter is an interesting one, as it details the NCAA's lack of awareness about itself and the ridiculous rules that it continues to put in place.
Enes Kanter was the top-ranked recruit of Kentucky's 2010 recruiting class. Hailing from Turkey, Kanter burst onto the national scene by setting a then-scoring record of 34 points in the Nike Hoops Summit during the spring of 2010.
He finished as the No. 3 overall recruit in Scout's final 2010 player rankings, one spot ahead of future college star Jared Sullinger. The future appeared bright for Kanter, and the only thing standing in his path to achieving a life goal of playing college basketball was resolving his eligibility issues with the NCAA.
This turned out to be the very issue that would prevent Kanter from playing in college. Being that Enes was raised in Turkey, his pre-college experience was completely different from that of an American basketball player.
In Turkey, players do not play for high school basketball teams. Instead, Kanter and other players are allowed to play for national and professional teams.
Therefore, Kanter reserved a spot for the Fenerbahce Ulker Turskish professional team and appeared in nine games for the team. According to FIBA guidelines, a player is not allowed to become a professional player until he reaches 18 years of age.
Therefore, Kanter was not deemed a professional since he was underage and simply received money for necessary travel expenses from the club. This was completely legal and was done so that Kanter could maintain his amateur status.
In fact, Kanter's parents were adamant about prepping Kanter to play college basketball and went out of their way to make sure that he was eligible to play for the NCAA. This was illustrated after Kanter's first season with the professional team, as the young basketball prospect was offered a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract to play for Fenerbahce and the Olyimpiacos B.C. team out of Greece.
Rather than accept millions of dollars and become a professional, the Kanter family declined these offers and continued to prep their son to play in the NCAA. The family was wealthy and money was not an issue for them; they simply wanted their son to receive an American education and play Division I college basketball.
After the season was over, Enes Kanter moved to Simi Valley, California and enrolled to play basketball at Stoneridge Preparatory School. From there, he would burst onto the national scene and initially committed to play for the Washington Huskies, before eventually backing out and committing to play for Kentucky.
Up to this point, it seemed as if the Kanter family had maintained their son's amateur status. However, the NCAA reported that the family had received $33,033 over his necessary travel expenses for the 2008-09 Turkish team. Therefore, Enes Kanter was ruled permanently ineligible to play Division I athletics.
The Kanter family offered to pay back all of the extra expenses, which they did not know were considered to be illegal, in order to maintain Enes' college eligibility. The NCAA declined this option and maintained his permanent ineligibility.
Here is the first confusing part of this saga. The NCAA allows for prospects to play for professional teams as long as they maintain their amateur status before enrolling in a Division I college program. This is exactly what the Kanter family believed that they were doing. However, additional expenses cannot exceed costs for meals, transportation and lodging. The additional expenses identified by the NCAA were educational expenses, so they deemed Kanter ineligible.
Yes, you read that correctly; the NCAA ruled that Enes Kanter had received excess educational expenses. Note, these are not benefits, salary, wages, or any other form of professional income. He received educational expenses. Isn't the NCAA an educational institution? How ridiculous does this sound?
The Kanter family had every intention of maintaining their son's amateur status and even offered to repay the additional funds that they received. They declined a multi-million dollar contract offer in Turkey with the intention of Enes being eligible for the NCAA. How did this family acting out of conduct?
This shows the Kanter family's true desires and character. An international family wanted their son to play basketball in the NCAA—not even the NBA. Throughout the entire process, their goal was to watch their son play amateur basketball, yet the NCAA wouldn't allow that.
Meanwhile, a somewhat similar ruling was laid down on Auburn football's Cam Newton. His father willingly admitted to attempting to coerce Mississippi State in the prior season to pay a six-figure amount for his son's commitment, so Newton was deemed ineligible. This news came out and initially had Newton suspended for one game, but the NCAA quickly reestablished him and let him continue to play.
However, the NCAA did not budge on the issue of Enes Kanter.
As it stands, the facts look like this: the NCAA rewards parents who admitted to taking bribes for their son's commitment, while they also rejected parents who turned down millions of dollars to maintain their son's eligibility.
The final straw comes when you compare Kanter's situation to that of Josh Selby's, who played during the same season that Kanter would have. Selby was ruled ineligible to play college basketball because of impermissible benefits, but was soon ruled eligible as long as Selby repayed $5,757.58 in expenses and sat out the first nine games of the season.
Yes, Selby was allowed to play by simply repaying his extra expenses, but Enes Kanter had to sit out the entire season and was not given the option of repaying his educational expenses. Those two rulings are very inconsistent.
It's unclear why Kanter could not have simply paid back the money, served a suspension and returned once his record was clear. Instead, the NCAA ruled in favor of Selby and Newton, but not Kanter. There is no rhyme or reason for it and it is a shining example of why the NCAA needs to be more self-aware and its article book much easier to interpret.
Enes Kanter tried to become a college student and play for Kentucky, yet the NCAA forced him prematurely into the professional NBA route. NCAA president Mark Emmert effectively ended the academic future of Enes Kanter before it began.