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After four freshman declared for the NBA draft following John Calipari’s first season as the University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach, many UK fans expected his second group of freshmen to follow suit.
Following the 2010-11 season freshman point guard Brandon Knight went pro, but freshman forward Terrence Jones and freshman guard Doron Lamb elected to return to UK for their sophomore seasons.
“I think both of them were smart in, ‘this is what I want to do,’” Calipari said. “Now you got to take advantage of it. Don’t think, well, now I came back, get out of the way, it’s my turn. It doesn’t happen here that way.”
For Jones and Lamb, the chance to win a national championship was a major motivation for returning to school
“I’d say it’s one big reason,” Jones said. “With the (NBA) lockout, and having the thought of not having the opportunity to play, I just felt was not a better situation than staying in college.”
“It hurt us a lot last year, knowing that we could have won the whole thing but we fell short the last two games of the season,” Lamb said. “This year we have a great group of guys coming in, we’ve got great returning guys coming in. I think we’ve got a great chance to go for it all this year.”
Jones was projected as a lottery pick by many NBA pundits, but Calipari said he wasn’t going to be a top-10 pick.
“Terrence set a goal he wanted to be a top‑10 draft pick and it wasn’t going to happen,” Calipari said. “Don’t listen to whoever is telling you it would have happened. It wasn’t going to happen. We did our homework. He was in the middle of it.
“Could he have been a top‑10 player? Yeah. They just weren’t picking him there.”
Lamb’s draft status was less certain.
“I don’t know if he would have had an opportunity in the first round,” Calipari said. “If he would have, it would have been late, late.”
As a freshman, Jones averaged 15.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Calipari has said several times since Jones’ return that he has the chance to be the best player in the country.
“That motivates me a lot,” Jones said. “A guy that has coached a lot of great players thinking that about you is real special.”
Lamb averaged 12.3 points and two rebounds a game as a freshman. This summer Calipari made headlines when he proclaimed Lamb the best “basketball player” on the team.
“I think if he’s in great condition and he has a sense of urgency, he’s our best basketball player,” Calipari said. “He’s not our fastest. He doesn’t jump the highest. He’s not our toughest. He may or may not shoot it the best.
“But as far as knowing the game, having a feel for the game of basketball, he’ll have it. He may be one of the top five in the country.”
For Lamb the praise was unexpected.
“That’s an honor for him to say that,” Lamb said. “I was shocked that he said it though. I don’t worry about what he said, just work hard in practice and try to live up to that.”
While UK will rely heavily on its freshmen this season, the return of Jones and Lamb should give the Wildcats more veteran contributors than in Calipari’s first two seasons at UK.
“For them to come back it helps the team even more,” said senior guard Darius Miller. “We’re extremely talented. We’ve got leadership and young talent. With that combination we should be really good.”
“Most of these teams are led by freshmen,” said freshman point guard Marquis Teague. “This year we’ve got freshmen, and sophomores and even a few seniors who came back.”
“The first thing is we’re going to have a lot of depth,” said junior guard Twany Beckham. “It adds some guys that have some playing experience in big time games.”
Both Jones and Lamb said they would take the lessons learned from their freshmen seasons to improve this season.
“This year I know what’s going to happen,” Lamb said. “I’ve been there. I know what we have to do to win games, and go far in the tournament.”
“It was just fun, being here as a freshman new to all this,” Jones said. “Now coming back, I know what to expect.”
Calipari said neither player can settle for the status quo after turning down the draft.
“You got to put your mind, have a sense of urgency, be on a path that I am going to get better, I am going to compete every day and everyone I go against, I’m trying to be better than them, everybody I go against. I’m not here just to play now. I came back for a reason.”
Photo of Terrence Jones.