by Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
NEW YORK - John Calipari is getting used to the NBA draft.
Former Wildcat Nerlens Noel is in contention to be drafted with the top overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight, just a year removed from last year's Kentucky-themed NBA draft that saw Anthony Davis garner the top pick and his teammates drafted close behind in the first round.
Noel could become the third Kentucky player drafted first overall in the last four years since John Wall went No.1 in 2010.
While Calipari is "humbled" in many ways, he admits he's far from comfortable waiting to hear his players' names called by NBA commissioner David Stern.
"I'm going to be sitting at that table with my fingers crossed because I'm so nervous," Calipari told USA TODAY Sports. "I don't care if it's Anthony Davis, John Wall or Derrick Rose, you really don't know when they're going to get picked until you hear their name. It's a sick feeling. I don't even get that type of ill feeling before the national championship game."
Calipari said the draft is far from a consolation prize following a 21-12 season in which Kentucky missed the NCAA tournament and bowed out of the first round of the NIT. But he said it's the ultimate gratification to see his players accomplish their dreams.
"There's no better feeling as a coach than getting to see a family like Nerlens' family celebrate this moment with him, wherever he goes," Calipari said. "His mother immigrated from Haiti and worked her butt off to get him there."
Calipari believes Noel deserves to be the top pick despite recovering from an ACL tear, but also understands how the drafting process works. He was discouraged when negative criticism surfaced on Noel.
"He shows up at the combine and weighs in at 206 (pounds) and everyone's concerned?" Calipari said. "You want him at home eating cheetohs and donuts, weighing 260? Give me a break. That was dumb but it became an issue. Then you hear questions about his character? What? This kid doesn't drink or smoke, he's a regular 19-year old. Well you know what? You can't take away that he's a (near) 7-footer who blocks shots and hustles more than anyone."
Calipari is convinced Noel will pan out to be a star in the NBA, mainly due to his work ethic.
"When I got him in September all the way up until he got hurt, his progress was ridiculous," he said. "Just think of what he can do with more time.
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