CHICAGO -- Hall of Fame coach John Calipari knows it's not always in his players' best interest to participate in portions of the NBA draft combine. Calipari's comments come in the wake of Golden State Warriors All-Star Kevin Durant telling ESPN.com recently that top prospects should stay at home and work out on their own time. Calipari said he hadn't read Durant's comments yet, but when apprised of what Durant said, Calipari's answer was blunt.
"He may be right," Calipari said during Day 1 of the NBA draft combine Thursday. "For the guys, if you think there's anything here that would hurt you, don't come. If there's anything here that would help you, come. If you have to play to help yourself, come. If it doesn't help you [to] play, then don't play. This is for these kids. My job is to protect my guys. The job of these NBA teams is to get as much information as they can to make a great pick. So they would like to see every one of them play 5-on-5. Do all the [drills]. It's not the way it is for [all] these kids."
Calipari was asked if he had ever advised one of his players to skip the event all together.
"Not skip the event," he said. "But skip things in the event, like the playing.
"If there's no reason to play, how do you help yourself if you're some of our guys? You're not going to help yourself, so don't play."
The usefulness of the combine was a hot topic of conversation Thursday after Durant's comments, but it's clear that Calipari and many of his counterparts still believe that the event itself is a good thing for many players who are trying to find their way into the league.
"You don't need to worry about the top guys," Calipari said. "All these guys out here playing, you get a chance to see them against each other. You've got a lot of guys that are trying to move into the late first round. You've got a lot of guys that are second-round picks. Are you kidding me? If you can get a second-round pick that makes it, it's unbelievable for that franchise, what you save and all the other things to build. You're always looking for guys like that.
"What the NBA is doing, is good for these kids. And if it doesn't help the kid to play, they don't play. If it doesn't help them to lift weights, they won't lift weights. How about an athletic kid like [Hamidou Diallo] you think I encouraged him to do the agilities? Did I tell him, try to put your nose on the rim and let them see it? And then [the advice] is just try to stay away from all the other stuff. Go individually and work with them and if they want to draft you, they'll draft you."
Calipari's program is expected to have at least two lottery picks in De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, and potentially a third in Bam Adebayo, in next month's draft. He repeatedly sang the praises of his players during a 20-minute session with reporters Thursday and is confident his players will continue to produce on the NBA level.
"What our kids learn to do is fight," Calipari said. "So when you watch a Devin Booker, you look at Tyler Ulis -- they fight. And that's what with us because they have to practice every day and go against [each other]. And the kids in this year's draft will do the same. Malik Monk is special. Special. There's stuff that he does -- if you iso him, he could play a 1, a 2, head's on the rim, fast, good with the ball. A scorer, but he can do other things. Defensively, he could be that guy. But they're all young, they're 19. They can't get a beer. They can't go to a club. And if you're going to draft them, know that. Don't think they're 25. Don't think they're 25, they're not 25. They're 19. [People say] I can't believe this kid -- [I say] Huh? He's 19 years old."
Calipari says he believes part of the reason why his athletes are so successful at the next level is because of the intense pressure that comes with playing at the University of Kentucky.
"[People say], 'Why are his kids doing so well in the NBA?' Well first of all they went for a year against each other. They learned from each other. They learned to be good teammates. Pat Riley told me, 'Your guys know how to be good teammates.' Then the second thing that happens is, they're not overwhelmed by it."