As a 6-foot-1 high school kid from Alabama, Eric Bledsoe had the confidence to tell Kentucky coach John Calipari, of all people, that he “didn’t care who else he was recruiting.” And even with John Wall running the point and DeMarcus Cousins hogging the headlines in his first season with the Wildcats, Bledsoe entered the draft as a freshman.
That decision was a surprise to some. A late-bloomer in high school, Bledsoe didn’t benefit from years of big exposure prior to Kentucky, and he was at best a third option offensively while playing there. Largely because of this, he fell out of the lottery to the 18th pick, where then-Los Angeles Clippers general manager Neil Olshey did something almost completely unheard of during Donald Sterling’s reign of terror: traded up to get him.
Olshey’s risk would soon be rewarded. Baron Davis and his bloated salary would hit the sideline with acute Baron Davis-ness, and Bledsoe, drafted 10 slots after the Clippers selected Al-Farouq Aminu, took on a temporary starting role. The then-21-year-old showed flashes as a rookie, particularly on the defensive end, but his debut season mostly took a backseat to the one by Blake Griffin, the No. 1 overall pick from the previous season who quickly turned into a nightly must-watch.