Kerry Kittles over Kobe Bryant? It’s the decision that might have changed John Calipari’s career trajectory.
Back during the 1996 draft, the New Jersey Nets had the 8th selection. Some expected them to take the talented high school guard Kobe Bryant, but instead, the Nets picked Villanova point guard Kerry Kittles.
When asked by Ernie Johnson why Kittles over the future Hall of Famer, Calipari said Kittles was a bigger need. (1:04:01 mark)
“Were you listening to Peter Vecsey when he said Kobe Bryant is your guy? Where did Kobe Bryant enter the equation?”
“We really liked Kobe and he’s going to be a terrific player in the NBA, but for us right now, where we are, and what we needed, I felt in the end, it was Kerry Kittles.”
Calipari’s decision making was in-line with his success in New Jersey. In two and a half seasons, the Nets won 72 of 184 games with the now Kentucky bench boss leading the charge. Coach Cal was fired after starting the 1998-99 season 3-17.
Kittles wasn’t bad, averaging more than 14 points per game in his NBA career. Of course, he obviously wasn’t Kobe. Charlotte would draft Bryant and deal him to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Vlade Divac. Bryant would win five Championships in L.A. and become an all-time great.
Sure, Calipari would eventually find his way to Kentucky, but, this decision probably still irks him. The NBA Draft isn’t easy – a fact of which Calipari is probably aware by now.