WILLIE CAULEY-STEIN, 7-foot, 244-pound center from Olathe Northwest (Kans.) High.
The big man admits to having thought Kentucky was a basketball factory. "When I got here it was like a slap in the face," Cauley-Stein says. "They make sure you are in class, they make sure you go to tutors. You have no room to mess up when it comes to schoolwork."
Cauley-Stein reminds one East exec of Tyson Chandler: "He has that same build, same size and very good defensive instincts." When he doesn't rely on them, his problems start. "He is thinking too much," says the East scout. "When he reacts and makes plays, you can see the skill level he has. But offensively he catches and is thinking, What do I need to do so I don't get yelled at? He just needs to get comfortable and start playing freely, because he has skills around the basket."
In three years as coach of the New Jersey Nets, Calipari was a disaster. He made the playoffs once, in his second season, and was fired 20 games into the lockout-shortened 1999 season after the Nets started 3--17. Now the 53-year-old coach's influence on the NBA is arguably much greater. On opening night 19 players on NBA rosters listed Kentucky as their college, the most of any school, and 13 of them had been coached by Calipari. "I don't know Calipari at all," says a Western Conference G.M., "but people want to stereotype him as this gunslinging, roll-the-balls-out-and-let-'em-play guy. And he's not. He gets big-time players playing together. He makes them better by the end of the season. You can't underestimate that. There are a lot of McDonald's All-Americas not playing in the NBA."
As a coach Calipari is a chameleon; his system changes to suit his personnel. "He is not committed to one way to play," says an East executive. "Bob Knight, Dean Smith, they played one way all the time. Calipari adjusts to his talent." But his basic principles—the Dribble Drive offense, the emphasis on spacing the floor—are taken from the pro game. "We're teaching Dribble Drive because it is a great way to teach how to play," says Calipari, "and the pro game is based as much on spacing as anything else. We don't play on the wings, we play in the corner. That's from the NBA."
Individually, says Calipari, the objective "is to develop a complete player." Patterson played two years at Kentucky before Calipari arrived for the 2009--10 season. Pre-Cal, Patterson played primarily in the paint. Calipari told him to play more from the outside. "He allowed me to go on the perimeter and work on my jump shot," says Patterson, who was drafted 14th overall by Houston in 2010. "That allowed me to guard perimeter players as well. Now that I'm in the NBA, I'm prepared to guard guys like LaMarcus Aldridge, who can play post or on the perimeter."
Players who need more seasoning might be better off taking their chances in the draft. Take next season, for example: Calipari has already signed the strongest class in the country, with commitments from twin guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison (Richmond, Texas), swingman James Young (Rochester, Mich.) and power forwards Marcus Lee (Antioch, Calif.) and Derek Willis (Mount Washington, Ky.). The nation's No. 1 prospect, Andrew Wiggins, a forward from Thornhill, Ont., who plays for Huntington (W.Va.) Prep, has Kentucky on his short list. "That team could go 40--0 and win the national championship without being challenged," says the East scout. "Those kids are that good."
What does that mean for someone like Goodwin, who could use another year to fill out and expand his game? "He'll probably come out," says the East exec. "And he should, because both the Harrison kids are better than him. And if it's not them, it's someone else."
Most NBA executives agree that this season's freshman class isn't the strongest of Calipari's tenure in Lexington. "There is not a standout talent like there usually are in his recruits," says the G.M. But if they all enter the draft next June? "Stone-cold first-round locks," the G.M. says.
Catch them while you can. "I'll be watching Kentucky all season," says the West exec. "It's NBA U."