Kenny Payne recruited Eric Bledsoe and John Wall at Oregon. He watched DeMarcus Cousins play. He says all three former UK players who were first-round draft picks after one year at Kentucky made remarkable progress under John Calipari.
"Everybody talks where they are at today, but from their senior year to where they ended up is night and day. Even Wall. Those kids played hard every time they were on the floor in college. That did not happen in high school. Very talented, but did not play that hard. Something happened between those times and that would be coach Cal," Payne said.
"Last year they were really talented. I don't know how you can go through a season and lose three games. What Cal did from the moment he got here to the end of the year was phenomenal. You don't know how good these kids can be, but you also have to embrace the path they are going to take. The path where they start out will not be where they end up at."
Payne just laughs when asked if maybe making the Final Four last year in his first season at Kentucky would have set the bar too high for Calipari like it did for former UK coach Tubby Smith when he won a national title in his first season.
"Anytime you can get to the Final Four, you want to get to Final Four and deal with repercussions lately. This team last year could have won it all. Make a couple of shots and they win it all," Payne said.
Payne says the talent at Kentucky is "very good" and he's learned a valuable recruiting lesson already.
"It is different because you have to be careful who you are recruiting. If you recruit a kid, he might say I want to come. Let's say you have seven great players and recruiting one in case the other one may not come, well they may all come and you are sitting there saying, ‘Oh my God.' Not many programs have that problem. At Oregon, I am begging, pleading just to get a visit," Payne said.
Payne praises Calipari's talent development
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