Lottery picks playing mega ball at right time

Jared Sullinger of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates

Jared Sullinger of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates after defeating the Syracuse Orange. (March 24, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS

Not only are four of the most storied programs featured at the 2012 Final Four, but Kentucky coach John Calipari said the individual talent on display might be comparable to the 2008 Final Four that included five of that year's first-round NBA picks and six more second-round picks.

As king of the one-and-done coaches, Calipari knows his stuff. In 2008, he was coaching Memphis, which was led by freshman guard Derrick Rose, who became the No. 1 overall pick and now is the reigning NBA MVP. Calipari's current roster includes college player of the year Anthony Davis, who projects as the No. 1 overall pick as a freshman, and at least two other surefire first-round picks in freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and sophomore Terrence Jones.

Saturday night's second national semifinal between Ohio State and Kansas matched likely lottery picks in Buckeyes forward Jared Sullinger and Jayhawks forward Thomas Robinson. Sullinger might have been the No. 1 overall pick ahead of Duke guard Kyrie Irving if he had come out a year ago as a freshman.

Robinson was stuck playing behind twin first-round picks Markieff and Marcus Morris, but it's a good bet he would have made it into the first round if he hadn't come back for his junior year.

Sullinger was disappointed the Buckeyes lost in last season's Sweet 16 and felt there was more to accomplish in school. "Me coming back was pretty much I wanted to make a statement that not everybody is using college basketball as a pit stop to go to the next level," Sullinger said. "That there's more than money and endorsements. There's championships you've got to win at every level. That's what I pride myself on.

"I've won a championship all the way from elementary to now, and now I'm trying to look toward the bigger trophy in the national championship. I pride myself on winning. That's the biggest thing. That's why I came back."

Kansas' Robinson also felt he had something to prove even though he knew he likely would have been a first-round pick after playing a backup role. So Robinson returned and won Big 12 player of the year honors and finished second to Kentucky's Davis for most of the national awards.

Now, Robinson is a high lottery pick if he forgoes his senior season. "I felt comfortable with my draft stock last year," Robinson said. "But I didn't want people to guess and be like, 'I think you can play. We've seen glimpses.' I wanted to come back and prove to everybody that I'm a good player."

Sullinger and Robinson can take pride in their accomplishments this season, and so can Davis, who came into this season more as a project than as the projected No. 1. His play moved him up the rankings, and Davis figures to be Calipari's next one-and done player.

Asked if he and Calipari discussed the situation this season, Davis said: "He said nothing about it. He prepares guys to go to the NBA, but he lets the guys decide whether they want to leave or not. He never tries to hold guys back. He always tells guys to make sure they're ready."

There's no doubt the cream of this crop is ready.