John Calipari was surprised Keldon Johnson slid down the charts during the NBA Draft last week.
Johnson was the last of three former Kentucky players selected in the yearly draft last week and was chosen late in the first round as the No. 29 pick by the San Antonio Spurs.
“They said he was a Top 10 pick when he left here and then a month and a half later he’s picked 29th,” he said. “Knowing the draft the way I do, I haven’t spent time really going into that knowing that there are teams that you didn’t work out for and you slip a little bit and then all of a sudden you slip by those teams, and then it’s like what’s wrong with this kid?”
Calipari was relieved when the Spurs, coached by Hall of Famers Gregg Popovich, chose Johnson and said San Antonio will be the right fit for the former Kentucky guard.
“San Antonio is about a culture, about good kids who will compete and fight and be coached,” he said. “By them taking him, it confirms who he is. But 29, I had no idea what went on and I was on the phone the whole time.”
Two of Johnson’s former teammates
— PJ Washington and Tyler Herro — were back-to-back lottery picks in the draft. Washington was the 12th overall pick by the Charlotte Hornets and Herro went to the Miami Heat at No. 13.
Calipari said Washington’s decision to return to school for another season after declaring for the NBA Draft last year was the right decision.
“What he says to every player here in this program, if you’re not quite ready, it’s OK to come back and get yourself right physically, mentally, emotionally, skill sets — he did all that,” he said. “But he not only told our kids in this program, he told every college player: Don’t come out until you’re ready.”
Herro’s ties to Kentucky played a role in his ability to climb the draft chart and begin his professional career in Miami. Former Kentucky standout Pat Riley, the Heat team president, heaped praise on Calipari for getting players for next level.
“Well, let me just say I watched them in person and told coach (Erik) Spoelstra that if you have five Bams (Adebayo), you’re in the Finals,” Calipari said. “Pat Riley has said to me before, ‘The best thing about your guys is they know how to fight, and the second thing is that they’re good teammates because they know how to share here.’
“It doesn’t mean that we don’t have volume shooters in the NBA — we do. Six or seven guys that are good volume shooters, but they weren’t here (to do that). They learned to be good teammates.”
Reid Travis received an invite from the Atlanta Hawks to participate in the organization’s summer league team.
“Every kid is on a different path,” he said. “Whether it was Isaiah Briscoe that went to the Ukraine or whether it’s Derek Willis playing in Germany having a heck of a year, so he’s now putting himself in a position that way. They’re all on different paths.”
Prior to the draft, Calipari advised Travis to be patient and stay the course.
“He’s a better player,” Calipari said of Travis. “He did not get to work out for one team. Not one. Any question marks, he couldn’t. What I wanted him to do, and I told him right away, every team you worked out for a year ago, go back. Work out for that same team. They’ll see. He didn’t get to do it because of his leg. But he improved himself immensely. No question in his mind, my mind or anybody else in the NBA that watched him.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.