John Calipari Regrets Not Drafting Kobe Bryant in New Jersey

Cal’s decision to draft Kerry Kittles instead of Kobe Bryant — something he insists he was pressured to do — was the beginning of the end of his pro coaching career. Yahoo! has the story: “There was no way to get Bryant to drop all the way to the Lakers, so [Jerry] West began working potential trades. If Kobe could get to Charlotte at 13, he said, the Lakers could trade Vlade Divac for the young phenom. Team Bryant wanted it to happen. Only Calipari still was enthralled. [Agent ArnTellem] spun a 180 and now began claiming Bryant wouldn’t show up in Jersey, began saying they’d send the kid to play pro ball in Italy, where he’d spent much of his youth. Everyone now admits it was an idle threat. ‘Arn [wanted the Nets to draft him] until he knew he could get him to the Lakers,’ Calipari said. ‘Then he was against it. Arn was all over me, and then all of a sudden [I] get the call the day before the draft.’ Some people told Cal to stand strong and not get pushed around. Others suggested the safe pick – promising Villanova senior guard Kerry Kittles. It was the call of a lifetime. ‘Everybody knows that I was talked out of [it],’ Calipari said. He picked Kittles, a good player with bad knees. Bryant went to Charlotte, then L.A. The Lakers have won five NBA titles and counting with him. The Nets have won zero. Calipari was fired in 1999, his shooting star of a career suddenly plummeting to earth only to slowly be rebuilt … Cal’s sin was almost taking Kobe Bryant. He shrugs. It’s a lot easier to discuss now, when he’s on top of his game at Kentucky, when his career is back in the stratosphere. ‘Look, it all played out for everybody,’ he said. ‘I’m telling you I enjoyed coaching Kerry Kittles. Could it have turned out differently? Would [Kobe] have stayed in New Jersey? How about he says, ‘I’m not staying here. I’m not going to be here; I’m going to get traded in a year or two.’ All sorts of stuff could’ve happened.'”