From his 1995-1996 UMass Final Four team through his current position at Kentucky, John Calipari, an easily dislikeable and shady coach with ties to figures like World Wide Wes, has been "recruiting," top talent, most of whom are one-and-done players that ditch college early in order to play professional basketball.
But I'm not here to rant about the sketchy, sneaky methods of Coach Cal, or how the one-and-done mentality of most top recruits is ruining college basketball.
I'm here to talk about a few of the superstars that Calipari coached, three guards in particular whose careers seem to demonstrate his recruiting abilities: Chicago Bull Derrick Rose, Sacramento King Tyreke Evans, and soon-to-be Washington Wizard John Wall. Both Rose and Evans won Rookie of the Year in their debut NBA seasons, and there is a good chance that John Wall may be able to continue the legacy of All-Star caliber point guards. But of the three, which one is the best?
We'll begin by talking about the Bulls' point guard, stud Derrick Rose. Rose came out of high school ranked the third best recruit in the country (behind power forward Michael Beasley and off guard Eric Gordon) after leading Simeon HS to two straight state championships and averaging nearly a triple-double during his senior campaign with around 25 points, 9 assists, and 9 rebounds a game. He then committed to John Calipari's Memphis Tigers, and, along with forward/center Joey Dorsey and off guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, led them to a 38-2 overall record and a National Championship game appearance. After being drafted at number one overall by his hometown Bulls, following a college stat line of 15 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds per game, Rose won the NBA Rookie of the Year award after averaging about 17 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds a game, as well as getting his team to the NBA Playoffs (and scoring 35 against the Boston Celtics in his playoff debut). In his second NBA season, Rose and teammates Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng brought the rising Chicago Bulls to a 41-41 record and their fifth playoff appearance in 6 years, averaged 21 points and 6 assists a game, and was named an Eastern Conference All-Star.
Next up: Tyreke Evans. Tyreke came out of American Christian HS in Aston, Pennsylvania ranked as the 6th best national recruit after averaging 32 points a game. He too committed to Calipari's Tigers, and a very productive college career ensued. After averaging 17 points, 4 assists and 5 1/2 rebounds a game, he was drafted at number four overall by the lowly Sacramento Kings. In his first year in the NBA, Tyreke brought to Sacramento something that it had been seriously lacking for a while: excitement. Tyreke gave the Kings fans something to cheer about after he both won the Rookie of the Year award and became only the fourth rookie in NBA History to average 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists a game.
The most recent addition to the Calipari Club is point guard John Wall, a freakish athlete from Raleigh, North Carolina. Playing for Word of God High School, Wall quickly became the top overall recruit in the country (although some argue it was shooting guard Avery Bradley from Nevada's Findlay Prep). At Word of God, Wall averaged 22 points, 5 1/2 assists and 5 rebounds a game and quickly had about 1000 mix tapes made of him, as he would posterize defenders on what seemed like every trip down the court. He committed to the University of Kentucky, coached by - yes, you guessed it - John Calipari. At Kentucky, playing for a ridiculously stacked team that included four other first-round draft picks, Wall averaged 17 points and 6 1/2 assists per game, leading UK to the Elite Eight. He was drafted first overall by the Washington Wizards, and became the second Calipari coached guard to be picked number one overall and the third in a row to be picked in the top five.
Most exciting player to watch: This is a toss-up between John Wall and Derrick Rose. Although I'll admit I didn't see too much of Rose during his career at Memphis, his play in the NBA amazes me. Specifically in the recent playoff series against LeBron and the Cavs, Rose played exceptionally well (mainly his 31 point Game 3 performance) as well as his rookie series against the Boston Celtics, particularly Game 1 where he scored 35 points and tied Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with most points in a rookie's playoff debut. I did, however, get to see John Wall play a lot of college games. From his college basketball debut where he buried a last second shot to put away the Miami Redhawks to his 25 point performance against UConn, Wall amazed me with his handles and ability to get to the rim. Until I see John Wall in the NBA, I won't be able to make a definite decision, but I think that both players will dazzle fans for a long time.
Most productive so far: Tyreke Evans. Although he plays for a mediocre Kings team, his 20-5-5 average for a rookie season marks only the fourth time in NBA history that a rookie has been able achieve this. The other three? Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James. That's a pretty elite group right there. And with the addition of another Calipari coached player in Kentucky big man DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke's assist average will most likely increase and the Kings might eventually become a dangerous team in the Western Conference. I know that Derrick Rose had a better overall stat line in his second NBA season, but since I only have one season of professional basketball to look at for Tyreke, I would say that in his first year, given the below-average team that he plays for, Tyreke has been more productive than Derrick Rose.
Most Underrated: Tyreke Evans. Playing for Sacramento, a team that lacks the kind of glitz that Derrick Rose has with his Bulls and that John Wall will have in Washington, Tyreke's Kings don't have a whole lot of national airtime. Rose has the advantage of both playing in one of America's top five media markets, as well as playing for a Bulls team that won 6 championships in 8 years in the 1990s, a powerful combination that gives Derrick Rose huge amounts of national attention. If the tables were turned, and Tyreke were playing for the Bulls, the situation would be the same. It just comes down to numbers: Chicago has more people, more NBA success, more fans, and more national media coverage than Sacramento. Most of America just hasn't seen Evans play very much, and his lack of national recognition is why I think he's not only the most underrated of these three guards, but one of the most underrated players in the entire NBA.
Player with the most potential: This is an extremely difficult decision. Literally all three players have Hall of Fame potential, and I believe that all three guards (maybe even four after future Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight gets drafted next season) will bring lots of success and star power to their teams. But I'm going to have to go with Derrick Rose. Now, I know that most college basketball junkies and Kentucky fans will disagree with me, but think about this: despite his missed free-throw against Kansas in the National Championship Game, Derrick Rose has demonstrated that he knows how to win, and proves it by playing big in big games. He won two state championships in a row in high school, and was a fifteen foot free-throw away from a National Championship. Rose demonstrated his leadership and determination when he improved his regular season college stat line from 15 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists a game to 21 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists in the NCAA Tournament. He made similar strides in the Bulls' playoff series against the Cavs, where he improved on his 21 point and 6 assist regular-season average to 27 points and 7 assists a game in the playoffs. Tyreke Evans never got an opportunity to play in a Final Four or even an Elite Eight in college, and he has not had an opportunity to participate in an NBA playoff series, so there isn't a whole lot that I can go off of for him in pressure situations. But John Wall, despite his truly superior athletic ability, was unable to win a high school championship in his senior year in high school, despite the rest of the talent on his high school team (particularly C.J. Leslie, the 5th ranked forward and 14th overall recruit in the 2010 recruiting class) and was also unable to reach the Final Four, despite having one of, in my opinion, the most talented (albeit immature) teams in college basketball history. His tournament play seemed to regress, a fact eminent when he was able to manage a mere 8 points against a far less athletic Cornell team in the Sweet 16. His tournament average was 14 1/2 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds per game, a good - but not great - stat line and not a major improvement over his regular season averages. Despite his increase in assists, he still had 15 turnovers in the tournament. In Kentucky's Elite Eight loss to West Virginia, he had 5 assists, but neutralized these with 5 turnovers. On a team with DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton, a player as talented as John Wall should at the very least have gotten to the Final Four, but he seems, in my opinion, to lack the poise that Derrick Rose has under pressure, poise that separates Derrick from the other two point guards.