Wall and Cousins Headline Kentucky's 5 Players Declaring For NBA Draft
John Calipari's 2009 recruiting class may have not delivered a national title back to their coach, however, they did help Kentucky return to the nation's elite teams. Most likely, they will never help deliver a national title to their coach as four of the class' five recruits declared for the NBA Draft this past week. John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, 1st Team All-Americans, are both believed to be selected in the first few picks of the 2010 NBA Draft, with junior forward Patrick Patterson, freshman guard Eric Bledsoe and freshman center Daniel Orton all following in the 1st Round.
Wall, was as good as advertised as the freshman point guard for the Wildcats that started three first-year players. After sitting out the first game of the season, the 6'4" guard, exploded onto the national scene with a game-winning shot in his Kentucky debut. From that moment on, he was a walking highlight-reel for his exceptional play in the open floor, including punishing dunks, breathtaking passes and ball moves that left defenders in his dust. He averaged 16.6 points, 6.5 assists (setting a Kentucky single-season record) and 4.3 rebounds per game. The SEC Player of the Year is the likely number one overall pick of the draft.
Many of Wall's passes connected to the 6'11", 270-pound big man, DeMarcus Cousins down low. Cousins put up incredible figures of 15.1 points and 9.8 rebounds, despite being limited to 23.5 minutes per contest due to foul trouble and early-season conditioning issues. He was one of the nation's more dominant players at times, as he was almost unstoppable down low due to his soft touch and strength, but also because of his developed outside shot. He was seen as a talented prospect, albeit a troubled one due to his maturity and temper issues. Cousins certainly grew both on the court and off the court this past season under Calipari. He is likely to be selected with one of the first five picks of the Draft.
Patterson, the lone upperclassman in the group, led the Southeastern Conference in scoring and rebounding last season, took a reduced, yet complementary role to Wall and Cousins. He finished the season averaging a career-low 14.3 points, but spent a majority of the time playing the on the perimeter, developing his outside shooting. His new skills have greatly helped his draft stock, as there aren't too many 6'9", 235-pound forwards with an inside-outside game as adept as Patterson's. He is expected to be a late-lottery - mid-round pick.
Eric Bledsoe was the "other" half of Kentucky's backcourt, that was in Wall's tremendous shadow all-season, despite his excellent play. Bledsoe is an elite athlete who was just as fast and just as dangerous as his backcourt mate in the open court. His breakout performance came in the opening round of the 2010 NCAA tournament when he finished with a career-high 29 points, including 8 3-pointers. His skills will likely be coveted earlier than expected due to the lack of point guard depth in the 2010 Draft, but expect Bledsoe's name to be called in the late-lottery - mid-1st round.
Daniel Orton, is a 6'10" forward-center, who was usually the first frontcourt player of the bench for the Wildcats. He played a supporting role off the bench, but became an impact player quickly with his defensive prowess. He has a huge wingspan and great instincts, leading to him gathering rebounds and outletting to his guards or swatting away shots around the rim. He averaged only 13 minutes per game, but showed glimpses of his potential with his strong, physical play. If he remains in the Draft, he will likely be a late-1st round selection.
With potentially all five players leaving school for the NBA Draft coupled with the graduation of another three, Calipari has a difficult task ahead of him and only five returning players to his roster. He will try to replace them with another highly ranked recruited class featuring two of the top prospects, guard Stacey Poole and center Enes Kanter and several more surely on the way with a few more scholarships available.